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!