Since ancient Greece, when Aristophanes debuted The Birds in 414 B.C, the phrase “the milk of the birds” has denoted items of exceptional rarity. Someone with everything on Earth could only long for bird’s milk, because—as far as anyone knew—it didn’t exist.
Jan Wedel, owner of the E. Wedel candy company in Poland, capitalized on this concept in 1936. Ptasie Mleczko (“bird milk”) is a chocolate candy that encloses a creamy marshmallow-meets-meringue filling. There’s nothing highly unusual about the decadent morsel, but the name bestowed the treat with the aura of a rare delicacy.
As it turns out, bird’s milk does exist. While it’s not technically “milk” in the sense of mammary glands, some birds (male and female) can produce hearty secretions for their young. Pigeons feed their squabs a highly nutritious secretion called “crop milk,” which contains more protein than cow or human milk. Both Greater Flamingos and Emperor Penguins can secrete “milk” from their upper digestive tracts to feed chicks, as well.
But before you think each bite of Ptasie Mleczko is flavored with rare pigeon secretions, think again. The name is a misnomer, both literally and figuratively. Instead of being an unobtainable delight, the candy is widely available and quite affordable. There’s even a popular cake inspired by the confection. Sure, it’s a misleading name, but at least chocolate-covered marshmallows are tastier than the real deal—unless, of course, you’re a squab.