DUBAI // Ever since the inventors of Coca-Cola came up with their famous secret ingredient back in 1886, rival soft drink companies have been trying to make their products stand out by using special additives.
One company has come up with a novel ingredient that it hopes will make its new drink take off in the UAE - bird saliva.
Kim Genuine Bird's Nest Beverage contains the edible nests of cave-dwelling members of the swift family, known as swiftlets. The birds excrete saliva that hardens to forms nests.
The nests are regarded as a delicacy in Asia and fetch high prices. They are, of course, used to make the Chinese dish, bird's nest soup - said to have several health benefits.
"People in Asia know that bird's nest is good for health in general," said Christine Lim, the international sales director for the drink at TTS Inter-Trade. "Women love to drink it because after that you get good skin."
Kim was launched by TTS a month ago in Singapore, and is being marketed under a slogan that the squeamish may find less than alluring: "Now you can drink bird's nest everyday[sic]".
The nests used to make Kim are sterilised to make sure the drink is safe.
"Swiftlets are usually farmed in Indonesia and Thailand, so bird's nests are produced in those countries," said Ms Lim. "Our factory is in Thailand: we do the sterilisation and everything there."
The drink is being showcased in Dubai at the Gulfood exhibition, where the manufacturer is looking for a distributor or partner who can help to unleash it on the unsuspecting UAE market at around Dh9 for a 230ml bottle.
Ms Lim said the first target market in the Middle East would be Asians living here who are already familiar with bird's nest.
"Bird's nest usually comes in a small bottle and it's a very expensive thing," she added. "Traditionally people boil it into a hot soup, but we have made it into an everyday drink. We want to make it very affordable."
Lester Lu, the Dubai-based regional director of International Enterprise Singapore, said: "The UAE market is becoming more adventurous in all aspects and a product like this has a chance here. We have a large Asian community, though I think the Western palate might take a little time to understand this."
Kim comes in a clear tear-shaped glass bottle and two flavours are being shown at Gulfood: rock sugar and ginseng, with bright red and yellow labels respectively. A sticker proclaims: "100% genuine bird's nest", and the drink is halal certified.
The tiny white translucent strands of bird's nest can be seen clearly inside the bottle, and when the container is shaken they rise up like particles in a snow globe.
The National asked a number of Gulfood visitors to taste Kim and give their verdict. Gabriella Zuniga, from Peru, was warned that it contained an unusual ingredient, but she gamely agreed to take a sip without knowing what it was.
"The taste is not bad but it's not nice, and because my mind now knows it's made of something weird I feel, why am I drinking that?" she said. "I wouldn't buy it just as a drink, but if you assure me that it will improve my skin, and that's been proved, then I could buy it."
Sanu Khadgi, from Nepal, was unperturbed when told Kim contained saliva. He said the taste was good, though he would prefer the drink chilled, and added: "It would be good with snacks."
Dubai-based businessman Stafford Batchelor, from Jamaica, was told about the saliva just as he raised the sample to his lips, and he immediately put it back on the table undrunk. He said: "I tasted it, that's enough."
The National also tried Kim, and can report it is sweetish but lacks any other flavour, and the bird's nest gives it an unusual, not particularly appealing, texture.