Edible bird nests (EBNs) are consumed worldwide for various health benefits. EBNs are nests built from the saliva of swiftlets of Aerodramus species. The global market for EBNs is on the rise, especially from Hong Kong and mainland China. In the past, EBNs were harvested mainly from natural caves; however in the recent years, there has been a rapid growth of swiftlet farming. Little is known about the actual composition of EBNs except for protein, carbohydrate, ash and lipid contents, amino acids, vitamins and macro/ micronutrients. Besides the biochemical components of EBNs, are there any other structures that are associated with EBNs? This paper reports on the structural analysis of raw unprocessed farm and processed commercial EBNs. The raw EBNs were purchased from swiftlet farms in five locations in Peninsula Malaysia: Kuala Sanglang (Perlis; 6° 16' 0"N, 100° 12' 0"E), Pantai Remis (Perak; 4º 27' 0" N, 100º 38' 0" E), Kluang (Johor; 02º 012 303N 103º 192 583E), Kajang (Selangor; 2º 59' 0"N, 101º 47' 0"E) and Kota Bharu (Kelantan; 6º 8' 0"N, 102º 15' 0"E). The commercial nests were purchased from five different Chinese traditional medicinal shops (Companies A-E). A portion of each EBN was randomly broken into small fragments, attached to carbon tape and coated with gold and palladium particles for examination and photography under a scanning electron microscope. Structural analysis revealed the presence of mites, fungi, bacteria and feather strands on both the raw and commercial nests. Mite eggshells and faecal pellets, and body parts of other arthropods were seen only in the raw nests. The commercial nests had a variety of unidentified structures and substances coated on the nests' surfaces that were not found on the raw nests. The presence of these contaminants may jeopardise the quality of EBNs and pose health risks to consumers. Further identification of the mites and their allergens, fungi and bacteria are on-going and will be reported separately.
* Title and MeSH Headings from MEDLINE®/PubMed®, a database of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.