One Of The World's Most Expensive Soup Ingredients Doesn't Come Without Controversy

Person stirring a steaming pot of soup
Person stirring a steaming pot of soup - Kyrylo Ryzhov/Shutterstock

It's no secret that luxury exotic ingredients often come with environmental and ethical baggage. As of 2016, a bowl of one of the most expensive and controversial soups in the world is being served at the Norwood Chinese Restaurant in Australia. Clocking in at a whopping $450 per bowl, this fishy soup is made with nearly one kilo of shark fins, 10 abalone, Chinese black mushrooms, and imported scallops.

Historically, shark fin soup isn't an Australian thing. It's a traditional Chinese delicacy, made by boiling shark fins into a flavorful broth, and enjoyed by the emperors of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) as a symbol of wealth and festivity. Some historians place the soup as early as the Song Dynasty (960-1279). But, as times have changed over the centuries, sharks are no longer as abundant as they once were -- and nowadays, it's common practice for the fins to be cut off of the shark while it is still alive, with the rest of its body being tossed back into the ocean to die slowly. This hunting practice even has a name, "shark finning," and wildlife conservation groups have long been lobbying to get sharks banned as an ingredient on menus around the globe. Luckily, the expensive soup's other star ingredient -- abalone -- has been enjoying a comeback, but the progress is slow-moving.

Read more: 20 Popular Canned Soups, Ranked Worst To Best

Shark Fins And Abalone Raises Concerns About Animal Welfare & Environmental Protection

Bowl of shark fin soup
Bowl of shark fin soup - Michaelnero/Shutterstock

Abalone is a type of shellfish with a uniquely sweet, rich flavor, tasting like a cross between scallops and foie gras (which is also wicked controversial). It's a large mollusk ranging from 4 to 10 inches, indigenous to New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Japan, and the west coast of North America, all regions with cold salt water. Like sharks, abalone have been subjected to a long history of endangerment due to overfishing. Nowadays, slowly but surely, abalone is regenerating, as the species was protected with fishing bans, and sustainable farmed abalone is becoming more popular. As such, the rare shellfish exists only in extremely limited supply, and comes with a price tag to match.

Shark finning and overfishing have led to a steep decline in global shark populations; some shark species have dwindled by as much as 90%. Still, shark fin soup retains an enduring fanbase in East Asian countries, especially China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore. Humane Society International estimates that 72 million sharks die every single year for shark fin soup, and nearly 60% of sharks are threatened by overfishing. As a sustainable and more affordable replacement that can still be served at important events in East Asian cultures, many folks have switched to imitation shark fin soup (碗仔翅 Woon Zai Chi), which replaces the shark meat with mung bean vermicelli, imitation shark fin made from gelatin, or konnyaku, a Japanese yam flour cake.

Read the original article on Tasting Table