Turtle soup

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Turtle soup
Turtle soup chinese.jpg
Chinese turtle soup
TypeSoup or stew
Place of originVarious
Region or stateChina, Malaysia, Japan, Singapore, and United States
Main ingredientsTurtle meat

Turtle soup is a soup or stew made from the meat of turtles. Differing versions of the soup exist in some cultures and are viewed as a delicacy.[1]



In China, and in several countries in Southeast Asia such as Singapore, turtle soup is a delicacy. The meat, skin and innards of the turtle are used in the soup. Soft-shelled turtles such as Pelodiscus sinensis are commonly consumed in this manner in Chinese cuisine,[2] while consumption of hard-shelled turtles is often avoided due to their mythical connotations.[citation needed] However, the hard shells of certain turtles are used in the preparation of a dish called Guilinggao or "turtle jelly".[3][4]


Turtle soup gained popularity in England in the 1750s but declined rapidly about 150 years later due to overfishing.[5] According to food historian Janet Clarkson, the dish, which she calls out as one of several "noteworthy soups", became a symbol for civic dinners; she wrote, "From 1761 to 1825 it was never absent from the London Lord Mayor's Day Banquet. It is probably not unreasonable to hold several generations of aldermen and other civic leaders responsible for eating the turtle almost to exctinction."[5]

Green sea turtle first became popular in England as "sea-tortoise" circa 1728: "Its Flesh is between that of Veal, and that of a Lobster, and is extremely pleasant ... They are frequently brought to England in Tubs of Sea Water, and will keep alive a long time."[6] The earliest English recipes are for roast or boiled turtle, only later being used in a soup. About 1740–1750, it began to be widely imported to England, from Ascension Island or the West Indies.[5] Samuel Birch is credited with being the first to serve turtle soup in London, spicing it with lemons and cayennes; it quickly became immensely popular, and as Lord Dudley has stated, "Of British soup, turtle always takes precedence in the list of honour".[7] Giles Rose made turtle soup as follows: "Take your tortoises and cut off their heads and feet and boyl them in fair water, and when they are almost boyl'd, put to them some white wine, some sweet herbs, and a piece of bacon, and give them a brown in the frying pan with good butter, then lay upon your bread a-steeping in good strong broth, and well-seasoned; garnish the dish with green sparrow-grass [asparagus] and lemon over it."[8] In Cookery and Domestic Economy (1862), the recipe begins as follows: "take the turtle out of the water, turn it on its back, tie its feet, cut off its head".[9] By about 1800, a good dinner portion was six pounds of turtle, live weight, and in London Tavern in August, 1808, 400 men ate 2,500 pounds of turtle in their dinner soup.[10]

According to Clarkson, "It is difficult to overestimate the magnitude of the demand for turtles" during the period of the soup's popularity.[5] As many as 15,000 turtles were shipped live to Britain from the West Indies.[5] Because of its popularity, the green turtle population plummeted, and its cost rose correspondingly. As Isabella Beeton noted in 1861, "This is the most expensive soup brought to the table".[11] Thus, long before that time, mock turtle soup made from calf's head was widely adopted as a more economical substitute and became popular in its own right, with the two dishes sometimes being served at the same banquet.[5]

United States[edit]

In the United States, the common snapping turtle has long been the principal species used for turtle soup.[12] In this case the soup is also referred to as snapper turtle soup,[13] or simply snapper soup (not to be confused with red snapper soup, which is made from the fish red snapper). It is a heavy, brown soup with an appearance similar to thick meat gravy.

In Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley, snapper turtle soup is an established part of Philadelphia cuisine. The famed seafood restaurant Old Original Bookbinder's is known for its soups, including snapper soup; a canned version is also sold in grocery stores.

Turtle soup (and other dishes from turtle meat) are still served by a few restaurants in Minnesota, mostly on Fridays during Lent. It is said that it is primarily older customers who have previously eaten turtle who order the turtle dishes; younger diners are much less interested.[14]

Among Creole communities, turtle soup is known as Caouane. In New Orleans, it is a specialty of several neighborhood and classic Creole restaurants such as Commander's Palace, Brennan's, and Galatoire's.

Turtle soup was the 27th U.S. President William Howard Taft's favorite food.[15] He brought a chef who specialized in the dish with him into the White House for the specific purpose of preparing this soup. The Campbell Soup Company once sold a condensed canned turtle soup.[16]


Eating the flesh of some marine turtles can cause a type of rare, but possibly lethal food poisoning called chelonitoxism.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Collin, R.; Collin, R.H. (1987). New Orleans Cookbook (in French). Alfred A. Knopf. p. 27. ISBN 978-0-394-75275-4. Retrieved January 31, 2015.
  2. ^ Forest Soft-shell Turtle (Dogania subplana) Archived September 30, 2007, at the Wayback Machine, www.science.edu.sg, accessed August 6, 2007.
  3. ^ Subhuti Dharmananda. "Endangered species issues affecting turtles and tortoises used in Chinese medicine". See in particular APPENDIX 1: "Golden Coin Turtle" (A report dated April 27, 2002 by ECES News (Earth Crash Earth Spirit)), and APPENDIX 3: "Tortoise Jelly (Turtle Jelly)". Quote: "The popularity of turtle jelly can be seen in the success of Ng Yiu-ming. His chain of specialty stores has grown from one shop in 1991 to 68 today, in Hong Kong, Macau, and mainland China. Ng also packs turtle jelly into portable containers sold at convenience stores. He insists no golden coin turtles are used. 'They're too expensive' he said. '… [I]f you know how to choose the herbal ingredients, jelly made from other kinds of turtles will be just as good.'"
  4. ^ "Turtle Medicine Preparation". chelonia.org.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Clarkson, Janet (2010). Soup : a global history. London: Reaktion. pp. 115–118. ISBN 978-1-86189-774-9. OCLC 642290114.
  6. ^ The Country Housewife and Lady's Director, by Prof. R Bradley, 1728
  7. ^ Soup Through the Ages: A Culinary History with Period Recipes, by Victoria R. Rumble, McFarland, 2009, page 66. ISBN 9780786453900
  8. ^ Rumble, loc. cit.
  9. ^ Cookery and Domestic Economy, Mrs. Somerville, 1862.
  10. ^ Rumble, loc. cit.
  11. ^ Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management: Abridged Edition, by Isabella Beeton, Oxford University Press, 2008, page 93. ISBN 9780199536337
  12. ^ Keith Sutton, Snapping turtle makes for a delicious dinner
  13. ^ Turtle Soup/task/display/itemid/79787/recipeid/79449 Snapper Turtle Soup Recipe Archived July 13, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ Wessel, Ann (March 21, 2016). "A Lenten feature, turtle may drop off menu altogether".
  15. ^ "US Presidents – William Taft". Archived from the original on April 15, 2008. Retrieved April 1, 2008.
  16. ^ Burnett, Arlene (June 26, 2008). "Slow food: Turtle soup is a throwback to an earlier elegant time". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
  17. ^ Fussy, Agnès; Pommier, Philip; Lumbroso, Catherine; De Haro, Luc (2007). "Chelonitoxism: New case reports in French Polynesia and review of the literature". Toxicon. 49 (6): 827–32. doi:10.1016/j.toxicon.2006.12.002. PMID 17250862.

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