Turtle soup

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

Turtle soup is soup or stews made from the flesh of the turtle. The dish exists in some cultures and is viewed as a luxury or delicacy.[1]


The soft-shelled turtle was commonly used for turtle soup in Singapore while the snapping turtle, found mainly in the United States, was typically used there; and is still found in certain regional cuisines, particularly in Philadelphia cuisine and some Southern United States cuisines. Chinese and other East Asian cuisines use primarily soft-shelled turtles for turtle soup. An alternative form of this dish without actual turtle meat is the mock turtle soup.



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

United States[edit]

19th-century American cookbooks advised homemakers that for the best turtle soup one should choose a turtle about 120 pounds (54 kg) in weight, as a smaller one would not have enough fat, and a bigger one would have too strong a flavor.[5]

In many jurisdictions, turtle soup is illegal because many species of turtle are listed as threatened or endangered, and cannot legally be captured, let alone killed. Generally speaking, turtle populations cannot quickly recover from the loss of a breeding adult; thus, killing these turtles to make soup can rapidly depress populations below sustainable levels for many years.

The common snapping turtle has also long been used in the United States, especially in the South.[6] In this case the soup is commonly referred to as snapper turtle soup,[7] or simply snapper soup (not to be confused with red snapper soup, which is made from the fish called a red snapper).

In Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley, snapper soup is available at many area diners and is an established part of Philadelphia cuisine. It is a heavy, brown soup with a flavor similar to thick meat gravy. The Philadelphia restaurant Old Original Bookbinder's served Snapper Soup which can also be purchased in cans at supermarkets.

As of 2016, 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 whom order the turtle dishes; younger diners are much less interested.[8]

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.[9] He brought a chef who specialized in the dish with him into the White House for the specific purpose of preparing this soup.[10]


Eating the flesh of some marine turtles can cause a type of rare, but possibly lethal food poisoning called chelonitoxism.[11]

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 2007-09-30 at the Wayback Machine, www.science.edu.sg, accessed 6 August 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. ^ Turtle soup recipe in The Household Cyclopedia of General Information (1881)
  6. ^ Keith Sutton, Snapping turtle makes for a delicious dinner
  7. ^ Turtle Soup/task/display/itemid/79787/recipeid/79449 Snapper Turtle Soup Recipe Archived July 13, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Wessel, Ann (2016-03-21). "A Lenten feature, turtle may drop off menu altogether".
  9. ^ "US Presidents – William Taft". Archived from the original on 2008-04-15. Retrieved 2008-04-01.
  10. ^ Burnett, Arlene (June 26, 2008). "Slow food: Turtle soup is a throwback to an earlier elegant time". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
  11. ^ 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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