Considered a controversial Chinese delicacy, shark fin soup is made from raw shark fins with their cartilages chopped. They are then shaped and bleached into a more presentable appearance before mixing into stews or soup broths. Shark fin soup can cost up to $100 depending on where it’s served.
Shark fins were sold virtually everywhere in China, especially in Hong Kong. Food stores, supermarkets, pharmacies, you name the place and they would most likely be available there. They were sold as frozen, cooked, dried, or wet and placed in plastic bags.
So why do people eat shark fin soup? Simply because eating shark fin soup is seen as a sign of wealth and social prestige.
Read this article to know more about shark fin soup, and why it is a delicacy eaten by Asians, particularly the Chinese.
Why Do Asians Eat Shark Fin Soup?
This dish dates back to over 7 centuries ago when it was served to the Chinese imperial family and members of the court. As such, it was seen to be of high cultural value for the next hundreds of years—a delicacy eaten by royalty and the wealthy.
Due to the booming economic growth in China, shark fin soup was made more mainstream but only exclusively served in expensive restaurants, weddings, birthdays, and made to order for other important celebratory parties. It truly has become a staple for occasions that call for a gourmet meal.
Asians eat shark fin soup for the prestige it brings to the consumers. Being able to afford the hefty prices of shark fin soup means that they have excellent socioeconomic statuses. Likewise, when hosts serve it to their guests, it’s seen as a reflection of the guests’ importance.
How Is Shark Fin Prepared?
Raw fins are obtained from almost any shark species. The preparation includes slicing off the skin and denticles before moving onto cutting into various shapes and sizes, then finally bleached to give a more appealing color. Shark fins alone were commercially sold in markets.
Afterwards, the fins are then boiled until it becomes soft enough for the cartilage to break into string-like shark meat, similar to noodles. The broth is then cooked and can either be made up of mushroom, chicken, ham, scallops, or whatever the chef desires.
The fins can also be softened further to give a more chewy texture that’s nearly crunchy.
Do Chinese People Actually Like Shark Fin Soup?
Consuming shark fin, and consequently shark fin soup, was banned by the Chinese government in 2011 because sharks were declared endangered species. However, locals claim that you could still find shark fin soup sellers if you know the right places where to look for them.
Shark fin itself is virtually tasteless and the soup broth is the one that’s actually giving the flavor. The luxury dish is an acquired taste and whether or not people actually like shark fin soup depends solely on the preferences of the eater. Some citizens attest to their delicious taste and some say it tastes bad.
Chinese especially love a popular broth called The Buddha Jumps Over the Wall, which uses animal meat, usually chicken, and sometimes seafood like scallops. It also includes a lot of other ingredients such as quail eggs, ginseng, and bamboo shoots.
Regardless of broth ingredients used, it’s the sole provider of the flavor for shark fin soups and not the actual shark fins.
Does Shark Fin Soup Really Give People A Buzz?
‘Buzz’ here is used as a figure of speech—consuming shark fin soup gives people a sort of ‘high’ since spending so much money on an expensive dish, especially when you have the budget for it, makes you feel giddy and excited.
There are consumers who claim to pour in some equally expensive wine into the soup which adds more to the giddiness they feel.
Why Do People Only Consume The Shark’s Fin?
The consumption of shark meat is not uncommon. However, shark fins get the spotlight due to the alarming concerns of environmentalists and people opposing animal cruelty worldwide regarding their harvesting process.
Fishermen capture sharks and butcher off their fins before letting them go back into the water alive but severely injured. They won’t last long because they are physically suffering from the loss of their fins, and eventually, they’d die. Hence, the more heavy the price is paid for shark’s fin.
Shark fins’ popularity skyrocketed, leaving other parts of the shark and its meat hiding behind its shadow, since it is more widely and commercially available.
What Is The Benefit Of Shark Fin Soup?
Whatever they’re claiming: it’s all pseudoscience.
Shark fins are perceived to have healing properties in Chinese culture that could enhance skin conditions, increase vital energy, prevent the risk of diseases, and lower cholesterol levels. It was also claimed to have restorative abilities. Nonetheless, there is no scientific evidence to back this up.
In fact, sharks are known scientifically to have neurotoxins that could increase the risk of mercury poisoning and brain-related diseases such as dementia. Sure, cartilage is healthy but it doesn’t really have a nutritional value in shark fins.
Moreover, the consumption of shark fin soup leads to negative environmental impacts, particularly in interfering with marine biodiversity and reducing shark populations. The very act of shark finning is seen to be unethical.
Substitute For Shark Fin Soup
For a non-environmentally destructive option, those who have previously eaten and enjoyed shark fin soups but now want to fight against animal cruelty can substitute sharks’ fin. The most commonly used substitutes are vermicelli pasta or cellophane noodles.
Other less common substitutes are ham, chicken breast, gelatin, and soy.