Turtle soup

For the album by The Turtles, see Turtle Soup. For the album by The Mock Turtles, see Turtle Soup (Mock Turtles album).
Turtle soup

Chinese turtle soup
Type Soup or stew
Place of origin China and Singapore,
Region or state China, Malaysia, Japan, Singapore, and United States
Main ingredients Turtle meat
Cookbook: Turtle soup  Media: Turtle soup

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][2] The soft-shelled turtle was commonly used for turtle soup in Singapore and the United States. Soup made from the snapping turtle was found mainly in the United States 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 countries such as Singapore with large Chinese populations, turtle soup is a Chinese 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,[3] 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.[4][5]

United States

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.[6]

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 depress populations below sustainable levels.

The common snapping turtle has also long been used in the US, especially in the South.[7] In this case the soup is commonly referred to as snapper turtle soup,[8] 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 that tastes a little like thick 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 order the turtle; younger diners are less interested.[9]

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 U.S. President William Howard Taft's favorite food.[10] He brought a special chef into the White House for the specific purpose of preparing this dish.[11]


Eating the flesh of some marine turtles can cause a type of food poisoning called chelonitoxism.[12]

The symptoms appear 12 hours after consumption and may include vomiting, dizziness, a burning sensation in the throat, headache, abdominal pain, and occasionally diarrhea. After roughly two days, the mucous membranes of the mouth and throat become swollen, and swallowing is sometimes difficult. The papillae of the tip of the edges of the tongue swell and may remain enlarged for two months. Drowsiness may occur early. The patient may respond when spoken to but rapidly falls asleep again. Other nervous system signs may be present. The severity of the condition can vary depending upon the amount of meat consumed. Mild cases show mouth and throat symptoms while in severe cases central nervous system signs are always present. The patient may remain unconscious for a week or more. The mortality rate in cases which develop central nervous system signs is very high.

According to health authorities there is no known antidote or medicine that can specifically treat chelonitoxism, and children are more susceptible to the effects of the poison.[13]

See also


  1. Nyakupfuka, A. (2013). Global Delicacies: Discover Missing Links from Ancient Hawaiian Teachings to Clean the Plaque of your Soul and Reach Your Higher Self. Balboa Press. p. 27. ISBN 978-1-4525-6791-4. Retrieved January 31, 2015. Quote: "...with large Chinese populations, turtle soup is a delicacy".
  2. 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.
  3. Forest Soft-shell Turtle (Dogania subplana), www.science.edu.sg, accessed 6 August 2007.
  4. 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.'"
  5. "Turtle Medicine Preparation". chelonia.org.
  6. Turtle soup recipe in The Household Cyclopedia of General Information (1881)
  7. Keith Sutton, Snapping turtle makes for a delicious dinner
  8. Turtle Soup/task/display/itemid/79787/recipeid/79449 Snapper Turtle Soup Recipe Archived July 13, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  9. Wessel, Ann (2016-03-21). "A Lenten feature, turtle may drop off menu altogether".
  10. "US Presidents – William Taft". Retrieved 2008-04-01.
  11. Burnett, Arlene (June 26, 2008). "Slow food: Turtle soup is a throwback to an earlier elegant time". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
  12. 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.
  13. http://pacificfamilyhealth.wordpress.com/2009/06/25/turtle-meat-poisoning-in-papua-new-guinea-a-review-of-literature/[]
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