Things I didn’t know about shark fin soup

Shark fin soup (Image: Wikimedia - click on image to enlarge and see image source)

Recently I wrote about the effect of shark fishing and shark finning on the Mozambique coastline (see this post). I realized that I didn’t know much about it – what exactly shark fin soup is, who eats it and how it originated. So I did a little research and found some interesting facts about it.

  • Shark fin soup dates back to the Ming Dynasty in China – i.e. the period from 1368 to 1644. The emperors back then loved it because it was according to Wikipedia “rare, delicious and required elaborate preparation”. So it was a status thing symbolizing wealth, power, and prestige. Although today more people in China can afford it, it is still a luxury dish usually only served at special occasions. Regular folk are definitely excluded from this tradition as a bowl of shark fin soup can cost upwards of US$100.
  • Shark fins themselves are virtually tasteless and are really there to provide the gelatinous texture in the soup. The taste comes from the broth that it is cooked in. This fact kind of negates the “delicious” description of the soup, given on Wikipedia as one of the reasons the tradition started in the first place.
  • Preparing shark fins to make them attractive and edible takes time, and involves skinning the fins, trimming them to shape, drying them. Sometimes they are treated with hydrogen peroxide to improve their colour. Huh? Wouldn’t this then also make them dangerous to eat? Before being able to use them in soups, they then have to be soaked for hours to soften them.
  • Nutritionally, the “vitamin content of typical shark fin soup is much less than that of typical vegetable soup” (Wikipedia), but the Chinese believe that it can “boost sexual potency, enhance skin quality, increase one’s qi or energy, prevent heart disease, and lower cholesterol”. Funny how the “sexual potency” issue always comes up in these strange customs. Customs which inevitably put the animal the product comes from on the endangered list!

Although there are aspects of Chinese culture I really admire, this is not one of them. This is a tradition which I think they should re-evaluate before there are no sharks left to make shark fin soup with. I recently read an article which called shark fin soup “extinction in a bowl”. How appropriate a phrase!

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Categories: Nature/Environment, Random

Author:lisa@notesfromafrica

I live on the Southern coast of South Africa, and write about the things that interest, amuse or inspire me. You can find me at https://notesfromafrica.wordpress.com and http://southerncape.wordpress.com (my photoblog)

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40 Comments on “Things I didn’t know about shark fin soup”

  1. June 22, 2011 at 9:11 am #

    Thank you so much for teaching us about this, Lisa. I really appreciate this emotive issue being putting into some context. Interesting comment re the sexual potency issue – isn’t that why rhinos and abalone are being poached in our part of the world too?

    A delightful list of foods that are supposedly aphrodisiacs can be found here: http://www.eatsomethingsexy.com/wordpress/aphrodisiac-foods/ . Why can’t people in need of a little extra … er … lift, just eat a delicious fruit salad of apples, apricots, bananas, blueberries, pineapple and mango, possibly with a sprinkling of oats and a drizzle of honey?! Or drink a decadently rich hot chocolate made with daaaaark chocolate and a dash of cinnamon and vanilla? 😉

    • June 22, 2011 at 4:29 pm #

      LOL Good to have Dr Reggie in the house to answer all your questions about diet and sexual potency! 😉 Thanks for the link.

      Yes, definitely the rhino horn is said to have the same “enriching” properties! I wonder if this only works for the men, or does it have some benefit for women too?

      • June 23, 2011 at 5:00 pm #

        Giggle… Glad I could be of assistance. 😉

        Personally, I can’t imagine why anyone in their right mind in these times of increasing awareness of the global environmental impact of human decisions could condone the large-scale slaughter of elephants, rhinos, abalone, sharks, whales, etc.

        Never mind all those other practices that are damaging our beautiful planet… Don’t get me started on the whole FRACKING in our precious and unique Karoo debacle!

      • June 23, 2011 at 7:13 pm #

        Fracking in the Karoo – another environmental issue which really upsets me! Do you know what the status is of this? Do they have the go-ahead or has it been put on hold?

      • June 25, 2011 at 7:31 pm #

        On 21 April 2011, the government placed a moratorium on issuing licences for fracking in the Karoo – http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/04/21/us-safrica-fracking-idUSTRE73K45620110421 and http://protectingourwaters.wordpress.com/2011/06/06/anti-fracking-movement-in-s-africa-wins-a-victory-for-us-all-but-its-not-over-yet/ – and said they would not process any further applications until research has been completed on the long-term effects of this technique.

        I don’t think it’s an outright victory, though.

      • June 25, 2011 at 8:32 pm #

        Thanks for the info! At least the whole issue is being looked at more carefully.

      • June 28, 2011 at 9:19 am #

        Hi Lisa – just found another article that discusses some of the impact the fracking proposals will have on South Africa’s bid to host the SKA: “A fracture in SA’s astronomical advantage?” – http://ht.ly/5d31L.

      • June 29, 2011 at 7:12 am #

        Interesting article – thanks for posting the link. Seems the effects of fracking will be widespread. I don’t understand how the energy companies can give assurances that there won’t be any problems if they have had problems elsewhere.

  2. June 22, 2011 at 10:07 am #

    Wow, “extinction in a bowl”–what a great but tragic line!

    This is a great post, Lisa. I’ve lived in Hanoi, where they also eat this less–than-lovely dish and still didn’t know most of this!

    So, so sad!

    Kathy

    • June 22, 2011 at 4:32 pm #

      Thanks Kathy. I gather you didn’t ever eat this?! Judging by what you’ve said previously on your blog, I’d think you would have rather paid the $100 for a really good hamburger in Vietnam!

  3. June 22, 2011 at 11:54 am #

    Thanks for the information – not that I would ever eat this soup. I think the whole practice is disgusting. It is amazing how sexual potency seems to raise its ugly head so often.

    • June 22, 2011 at 4:35 pm #

      I wanted to illustrate just how insane this whole shark-finning story is. All these sharks getting killed, just for their fins, for THIS?! In an evolutionary sense, and given the size of the world’s population, we really don’t need anything that increases sexual potency.

      • June 23, 2011 at 5:01 pm #

        Oh gosh, I so agree with all of you.

  4. Lu
    June 22, 2011 at 1:50 pm #

    Haven’t they heard of “Viagra” in China?? 😉

    • June 22, 2011 at 4:46 pm #

      Mmm . . . you’re being way too logical here. Little blue pills don’t have the same prestige as shark fin soup! 😉

      • Lu
        June 23, 2011 at 5:59 pm #

        They really need to get with the times 😉

  5. June 22, 2011 at 4:43 pm #

    Ok, I’m officially grossed out now.

    • June 22, 2011 at 4:51 pm #

      By the post/photos or the discussion? 😉 Thanks for reading anyway!

      • June 22, 2011 at 8:32 pm #

        Oh Lisa! Not you! Just the imagery running through my head of shark slaughter and fin prep, then soup. Although, the soup does not look very appetizing to me. I keep seeing bloody, fin-less sharks in my head!

      • June 23, 2011 at 8:16 am #

        You’ll note that I shied away from posting any photographs of the actual shark fishing/finning operations. The descriptions are gross enough to make my point.

  6. June 23, 2011 at 5:25 am #

    I read that the smell of pumpkin is an aphrodisiac. Maybe they should bake some pumpkin pie and leave the poor sharks alone. 🙂

    http://articles.nydailynews.com/2010-11-24/entertainment/27082315_1_pumpkin-pie-scent-traditional-thanksgiving-dessert

    • June 23, 2011 at 8:10 am #

      Good idea – thanks for the link!

      • June 23, 2011 at 4:53 pm #

        I would hazard a guess that perhaps it’s the fresh fragrance of cinnamon mixed with the pumpkin that has this … um … enlivening and invigorating effect?

      • June 23, 2011 at 7:10 pm #

        And Dr Reggie would know! 😉

  7. June 23, 2011 at 7:15 am #

    I don’t know that this is a dish I’ll be trying anytime soon either. Ha.

    By the way, I love the new layout. I’d been away from WordPress for a little while, so this is the first time I’ve seen it. Kind of has a magazine type of feel to it.

    • June 23, 2011 at 8:17 am #

      I’d definitely spend my $100 on something else. Even if doesn’t have any prestige value!

      The theme is new – only loaded a couple of days ago. I splashed out on a premium theme because I wasn’t getting the functionality I wanted with the free themes. I could change how my site looked with my old theme, but not how it worked.

  8. June 23, 2011 at 4:56 pm #

    I read or heard somewhere recently that rhino horn powder/potion/whatever is now being mixed with viagra before it’s sold. So that way it actually “works” and keeps the customer coming back for more. As everyone has already said – gross.

    • Lu
      June 23, 2011 at 6:00 pm #

      Ha! I knew there had to be some viagra involved somewhere…. 😉

    • June 23, 2011 at 7:11 pm #

      This makes the senseless killing of rhinos even more depressing.

      • Lu
        June 24, 2011 at 9:31 am #

        Senseless & depressing indeed – and now that I re-read my comment, I fear I may appear to be somewhat flippant about the whole topic, which of course I am not. With regards to the rhinos here in SA, what appalls me the most are the “hunters” who are operating within the criminal syndicates. They are not the poor locals but greedy businessmen who should know better. I’d like to poach them instead – only I am a terrible shot..

      • June 24, 2011 at 10:28 am #

        I don’t have a problem with your comment. I think humour is a way of dealing with a difficult and upsetting situation. Having followed your blogs for a while I know that you are concerned about nature and the environment.

        Yes, I agree with you that if it were really poor locals receiving the money, I could still understand it to a certain degree. About poaching: what really got to me was those veterinary surgeons who were involved in the rhino poaching in South Africa.

  9. June 24, 2011 at 9:58 am #

    Thinking about this, my guess is that since sharks must have been akin to rats or pigeons in the past. Given the industrious nature of the Chinese you wonder if they thought this would be a good way to get rid of a scourge of an animal and use all the parts. It’s a great example at how attitudes and customs needs to be reviewed for the times.

    • June 24, 2011 at 10:22 am #

      I don’t know how much of a problem sharks would have been, given that they are sea animals. Maybe stealing fish from fishermen? I don’t know. For me the senseless part of shark fishing, is that only the fins are cut off, and the rest of the shark (often alive still) is thrown overboard again. Shark meat isn’t great to eat because it has high ammonia levels (sharks blood has urea in it which breaks down to ammonia after death). In order for it to be palatable it has the shark has to be bled immediately after catching it – which obviously in a commercial fishing situation would be very time-consuming and difficult.

      Thanks for visiting my blog and for leaving a comment! 🙂

  10. June 25, 2011 at 4:20 pm #

    Why can’t they stick to rice or something and let the poor sharks do their thing!! Thanks, Lisa for telling us more about this. Enjoy your weekend!

    • June 25, 2011 at 5:40 pm #

      As this is a luxury item, there’s really no need to kill all those sharks. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment, Jan. Have a good weekend!

  11. mix
    July 6, 2011 at 5:45 pm #

    shark finning is really wasteful. If you must why not kill something humanly and use the entire thing. this video made me sick.

    • July 6, 2011 at 6:48 pm #

      Thanks for reading my blog and leaving a comment!

      I so agree with you – I think everyone who eats shark fin soup should be made to watch this video and the other even more graphic ones online, until they understand the issue.

  12. Lu
    July 17, 2011 at 7:26 pm #

    Are you watching Carte Blanche? The shark fin documentary WIllie et al witnessed is showing right now..

    • July 17, 2011 at 8:02 pm #

      Hi Lu! Yes, we did see it. Don’t always watch Carte Blanche, but we turned it on tonight quite by chance. Interesting to see that story on the screen.

  13. Richard Loh
    April 30, 2016 at 6:44 am #

    Eat whatever you can first and sharkfin soup is wonderful ..cos all will end anyway. I do find killing for beef nasty cos they are known to tear before being killed at the abattoir. Yes, I am a Chinese and dun eat beef.

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