Explained: Why does China consume snake soup in winter and why is it disappearing?

It was just a few days ago that the limited edition snake soup pizza launched by Pizza Hut and Ser Wong Fun – one of Hong Kong’s oldest snake restaurants – made a lot of noise and many wondered if it was safe to consume and what the flavor?

Few knew that this snake soup pizza was inspired by the snake soup bowl, which is a Cantonese delicacy and a very popular dish in China, especially in winter. Snake soup, when prepared well, doesn’t actually look, smell or taste strange.

History of Snake Soup

According to experts, snake soup has been part of southern Chinese cuisine for thousands of years and the recipe was most extensively documented by Jiang Kongyin (1864-1952), one of the last imperial scholars of the late Qing dynasty, native from Guangzhou. which won the title of best gourmet in Guangdong province.

Among Jiang’s famous recipes, the most famous is five snake soup, which is said to have traditional Chinese medicine benefits, increasing blood circulation and decreasing “dampness” in the body.

The main ingredients of Five Snake Soup include the five species of snakes, both poisonous and non-poisonous, however, Jiang’s recipe also included chicken, abalone, fish maw, bamboo shoots, shiitake mushrooms, and wood ear fungus (ear black).

The complex and labor-intensive recipe for snake soup has made it a unique specialty.

Why is snake soup considered healthy?

“The snake has been said to be healthy since the Han Dynasty, which is why it is present in many important Chinese medicine formulas,” said Gigi Ng, fourth-generation owner of Ser Wong Fun, speaking to the South China Morning Post. The outlet has more than a century of history.

Ng’s great-grandparents were Chinese doctors, who decided to incorporate snake essence into traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) in the form of rice wines and tonics since 1895.

Speaking about the health benefits of snake soup, Ng said it is not meant to cure, but “to rejuvenate and balance the body”.

“There are five principles for making a good bowl of snake soup: boil the soup base for more than 12 hours; chop the ingredients finely and evenly; prepare the ginger carefully to avoid the pungent taste; manual harvesting of high quality fish; and lastly, fresh snake meat,” he added.

In Hong Kong, people previously consumed snake soup while sitting next to cages full of slithering snakes; However, after food safety regulations were introduced, such a curious sight is no longer seen.

What types of snakes are used in snake soup?

Speaking about the types of snakes used in snake soup, Ng said: “Nowadays everything is frozen, so what matters is how we handle the meat and how we try to make it as fresh as possible.”

Postdoctoral researcher at the University of British Columbia in Canada, Felix Landry Yuan, said: “A variety of snakes are used in the soup, some native to Hong Kong and some not.”

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“The two most common we found were the non-venomous eastern rat snake, which lives in South and Southeast Asia, including Hong Kong, and the venomous Javan spitting snake, native only to Indonesia,” Yuan added.

“Both venomous and non-venomous snakes are eaten, but venomous snakes are preferred in some stores as their gallbladders or bile can be sold,” he said.

What are the health benefits of snake soups?

According to experts, snake bile is considered to strengthen bones and improve virility. Highlighting the health benefits of the soup, Ng said it is an alkaline food that helps with indigestion, detoxification and reducing the risk of cancer.

The soup is “high in protein and low in fat,” has “lots of vitamins and collagen” and promotes better sleep, Ng added.

Nutritionist Anthony Cheung Cheuk-hin said snake meat has been scientifically “found to be a good source of lean protein,” the South China Morning Post reported.

“It’s packed with essential amino acids and a wide range of micronutrients, such as calcium, iron, zinc, and vitamins A and B, which help maintain a robust immune system and other bodily functions,” said Cheung.

However, the fat content of the soup generally increases when the snake meat is fried and sauces are added, according to experts.

Cheung said that as a result, “a small bowl of snake soup contains about 150 calories, seven to 10 grams of protein, five to 10 grams of fat and a relatively high level of sodium.”

He added that those with cardiovascular disease, hypertension or kidney disease should not eat snake soup more than once a week.

(With contributions from agencies)

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