Turtle soup is any soup or stew that makes use of the soft flesh of a turtle. It is a delicacy in many countries. Different countries, however, use their local species of turtle, so turtle soup still generally differs from country to country. Countries in the northern hemisphere such as the United States and United Kingdom use green sea turtles in their soups, while countries in the southern hemisphere such as China use soft-shelled turtles. Other varieties use even more common species of turtle, such as the snapping turtle.
Turtle meat is considered a luxury dish because it has a very unique taste. Some have even gone so far as to claim that turtle flesh has seven different tastes, depending on which part of the turtle you cook with and consume. In addition to this, turtle meat is said to be very high in calcium, B vitamins, phosphorus and zinc, while being low in calories.
Serving real turtle soup, however, has been illegal in most countries. This is largely because of the fragility of turtle populations when subjected to human interference. As one turtle is able to lay thousands of eggs in its lifetime, the loss of several breeding adults can have a great impact on the stability of turtle populations in an area. In some countries, turtle farms have been established, though they have not been able to keep up with demand. These factors have made turtle meat quite expensive in most markets; this, unfortunately, makes turtles catch the eyes of illegal poachers who continue to catch and kill wild turtles for sale at high prices.
Due to the endangered status of most turtles, the capture of most wild turtle species is strictly monitored, if not prohibited entirely. People have learned to use other meats as substitutes for turtle flesh. This has led to people coming up with such dishes as “mock turtle soup,” which uses organ meats, calf’s head, and calf’s foot as substitutes for the unique texture and taste of turtle meat. People use different combinations of meats in mock turtle soup to imitate the so-called seven tastes of turtle meat.
The demand for turtles to use as food is similar to the story of one other animal’s endangering: the shark. The use of shark fins in soup for their texture made the dish such a popular Chinese delicacy that sharks have become hunted more aggressively for their fins. These days, shark’s fin soup is a very expensive and prized dish.