What is Shark Fin Soup?
Shark fin soup is exactly what it sounds like. This Cantonese delicacy was served traditionally only for special occasions. Now, it can be found at many restaurants and is available to the masses, not just royalty and at weddings!
Traditionally, the soup contains shark fin, garlic, ginger, lard, broth, eggs, ham, mushrooms, soy sauce, kelps, seaweed, bean shoots, bamboo shoots and vinegar. The shark fins do not add to or alter the taste of the soup but rather add a unique texture.
Shark Fin Harvesting
There are both legal and illegal shark fin available. If you do choose to eat shark fin soup, you may want to make sure that the establishment you are going to uses only legal shark fins.
Shark fining is an atrocious practice that cuts all of the fins off of a often live shark. They then toss the often still living carcass back into the ocean. Where the shark sinks to the ocean floor and dies either of suffocation or is preyed upon and eaten by other predators.
The declining numbers of these apex predators is leading to habitat destruction and prey species going out of control. As well as to loss of coral reefs. The extent to which this will affect ecosystems is not currently known.
Unfortunately, avoiding shark fin soup will not alone be enough to stop this practice. As shark fins are also sold for folk medicine practices.
Also it is important to know that shark fins are shown to be high in toxins and should only be eaten occasionally. Research has shown that sharks bio-magnify the toxins in their bodies and they get stored in the highest concentrations in their cartilage. Which is of course the main part of the shark fins.
Further, folk medicine suggests shark cartilage is useful for many things. Thus far research has found absolutely zero positive health benefits. So, it is highly recommended you check current research before consuming shark for any suggested health reasons.
There are several alternatives now for this popular soup. They use things like gelatinous noodles, seaweeds, starches, chickens, and the like to replicate the texture. Otherwise, the soup recipe is much the same. However, imitation shark fin soup is often much cheaper and is a common street food. Not only is it often easier to prepare, but because the replacements are often healthy options like seaweed it is often much healthier for you too!
Now you know the critical facts behind this tasty soup! While exact numbers of illegal harvest are impossible to find, estimates place between 30-60% of all shark fins being done so illegally. However, the best way to help is to ensure the source of your shark fins.