Turtles are often considered pets or wildlife more than a tasty meal, but turtle meat is an important part of many different cuisines around the world, including in the Southern United States and China.
Have you ever wondered what turtle meat might taste like?
Whether it is added to a soup or gumbo or served on its own, turtle meat has an interesting and distinct flavor that you won’t find anywhere else.
In this article, we’ll look at turtle meat, so you can decide for yourself whether to give this delicacy a try.
What Is Turtle Meat?
Turtle meat is an ingredient in Cajun cooking in the southern United States, and turtle meat is a staple in many other regions of the world as well.
Turtle meat is rich in nutrients and has been called “the ultimate survival diet”, providing much of what humans need to survive.
The common snapping turtle is the most commonly hunted turtle, and the meat of snapping turtles is the standard when cooking.
Sea turtles are the second most common turtle eaten by humans, although they are caught, cooked, and prepared differently.
Turtle meat is considered a delicacy in many countries, and although it is popular in Cajun cooking, it has never been a mainstream meal. Dishes that use turtle meat are often gourmet and enjoyed by a small portion of the population.
What Exact Flavor Does Turtle Meat Have?
The flavor of turtle meat depends on the cut, as snapping turtles contain 7 different types of meat which each have a different flavor, evoking other, similar meats like beef, chicken, and fish.
In general, turtle meat is flavorful with a strong taste that is similar to pork or fish. The exact flavor is indescribable, and you’ll have to try it to find out for yourself.
Turtle meat is something of an acquired taste, and some people don’t enjoy the strong flavor, the “fishiness” or the interesting flavors that are not present in the meats they are used to, like chicken or beef. They describe the flavor as “gamey” or “muddy”.
What Does Turtle Meat Look Like?
Turtle meat is pinkish-red in color, with little marbling or fat, depending on the cut. Freshwater snapping turtles contain both “white” and “dark” meats, and both lighten slightly during cooking.
What Texture Does Turtle Meat Have?
The texture of turtle meat is one of the most interesting things about it, and often makes the difference between a fan of turtle meat and a critic. There is a softness to turtle meat that is distinct from most meat and can be very pleasant.
The texture of turtle meat is closest to frog legs or lobster – chewier and firmer than fish, but with a similar softness.
Types Of Turtle Meat?
The most common types of turtle that are eaten are the common snapping turtle, and the sea turtle, which is now a protected species.
Freshwater snapping turtles are closer to fish in their taste and texture, containing different kinds of meats with a soft texture and a fishy flavor.
Sea turtles have a flesh that is beefier and is more commonly compared with veal. Although sea turtles continue to feature in indigenous diets and are bought and sold on the black market, their dire environmental situation means that eating sea turtles is prohibited in most countries.
Where Does Turtle Meat Come From?
Snapping turtles are often caught in the wild for turtle soup and other delicacies, but you don’t need to capture and kill your own turtles to sample turtle meat.
Freshwater snapping turtles are also farmed in captivity for their meat. If you can find the right grocer, you should be able to buy turtle meat by the pound for your recipes.
Is Turtle Meat Healthy?
There are many direct health benefits to adding turtle meat to your diet. It’s lean and nutritious, with essential compounds that humans need to survive.
This is one of the reasons the “All Hail Kale” podcast featured turtle meat as one of its foremost subsistence diets, and BBC news called it the “ultimate survival diet.”
Turtle meat is rich in protein but low in fat and carbohydrates. It is also full of important nutrients like vitamin B6, potassium, iron, and manganese.
In traditional Chinese medicine, and in traditions around the world, turtle meat is prescribed for ailments affecting organs, and to help illnesses. It is a healthy addition to your diet.
What Are The Dangers Of Eating Turtle Meat?
There are 2 types of danger to consider when it comes to eating turtle meat: the danger to you, and the danger to turtle populations and the environment.
Turtle meat is usually safe to eat, especially occasionally and in small quantities, and especially if the turtles were farmed rather than caught in the wild.
However, regularly catching and eating turtles would probably be a bad idea.
Turtles live for a long time. The average freshwater snapping turtle can live for more than 50 years. During that time, toxins in the environment can build up in the bloodstream and contaminate the meat.
There isn’t much data out there on the pollution levels of wild turtles, and it is possible that the levels of toxins are higher than acceptable for human consumption.
Sea turtle meat is often toxic (in addition to being illegal in most countries). Sea turtles eat cyanobacteria that remain in their blood and flesh, and can potentially cause illness in humans.
There are also outbreaks of Chelonitoxism in sea turtles that don’t affect their health but do make their flesh poisonous to humans.
Chelonitoxism isn’t detectable in sea turtles, can’t be removed by cooking the flesh, and can cause intense illness and even death in humans.
In addition to the dangers of consuming turtle meat, there are dangers to the environment. Turtle meat was once a much more important part of the American diet, especially in the southern US.
However, snapping turtles were hunted almost to extinction and their populations never sprung back. Turtles live for a long time, but they also take a long time to reach sexual maturity and reproduce.
It is safe to enjoy turtle meat as a rare delicacy, but ensure that the meat you get comes from a reputable farmed source, and do not break the law or hunt turtles in areas where they are threatened or endangered.
How Can I Store Turtle Meat?
Turtle meat spoils quickly, and is best frozen if you don’t intend to cook it immediately.
Once turtle meat has been cooked, you can keep it in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
Can You Freeze Turtle Meat?
Yes, you can freeze turtle meat, and this is one of the best ways to preserve it.
Ensure that your turtle meat is cleaned and cut, and store it in a sealed container in the freezer for up to 6 months.
What Is The Best Way To Cook Turtle Meat?
You can tenderize and remove turtle meat from the bone by parboiling it first. This softens it and makes it easier to work with.
Searing the chunks of turtle meat by pan-frying them, before adding them to a soup or gumbo is one of the most popular ways to cook and eat turtles.
Is Turtle Meat Poisonous To Eat?
If you get your turtle meat from a turtle farmer, it will not be poisonous and you’ll be perfectly safe eating it.
If you catch a turtle in the wild, however, it is more difficult to say.
Turtles live for a long time and toxins can build up in their bodies. While rabbits, deer, chickens, and cows all live for a handful of years, it is normal for even small freshwater turtles to live as long as humans do.
Throughout those years, they are exposed to environmental toxins which can be transferred to humans who eat the meat.
If you catch a snapping turtle, you can’t be sure how toxic the meat is, and it’s not easy to test.
When it comes to sea turtles, there is a high likelihood that the meat is toxic, either due to cyanobacteria or Chelonitoxism, a disease that affects sea turtles and can be fatal to humans.
It’s incredibly important that you source your turtle mat from a responsible seller who obtained it from a farm, rather than from the forest or (likely illegally) from the sea.
Turtle Meat Nutritional Information
|per 85g raw turtle meat, according to nutritionvalue.org|
Quick Table: 3 Turtle Meat Taste Recipes
|The Best Deep Fried Turtle Nuggets||143||50 Minutes|
|Snapping Turtle Gumbo||120||2 Hour|
|Best Turtle Soup Recipe||150||1 Hour|
These delicious turtle nuggets really show how well the soft and delicate texture of turtle meat can work in a recipe.
Like a mix between tender chicken nuggets and fried fish, these nuggets will be a smash hit at your dinner table.
This recipe is also a great way to introduce turtle meat to friends or members of your family who might be a little bit squeamish about it at first.
Once they taste deep-fried turtle meat, they’ll be open to other recipes like turtle soup.
Calories Per Serving: 143
Preparation Time: 50 Minutes
One of the traditional uses for turtle meat in Cajun cuisine is in a gumbo, alongside many other great ingredients that create a rich flavor.
This recipe calls for sausage, shrimp, and okra as well as garlic, chilis, and pepper to create a wholesome one-pot dinner that will bring a smile to anyone’s face.
The differences between the meaty, fatty sausage, the shrimp, and the turtle meat are really interesting to notice, and each contributes a special flavor to the overall dish.
If you want to sample one of the most beloved traditional recipes for turtle meat, don’t miss out on this excellent gumbo recipe.
Calories Per Serving: 120
Preparation Time: 2 Hour
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It seems that around the world, turtle soup is the most popular way to serve turtle meat.
In many countries in Asia turtle soup is served with a clear, flavored broth. The Louisiana version is darker and thicker, almost like a stew, with a tomato base and rich ingredients.
This recipe brings together the classic flavors of Cajun turtle soup for a turtle-meat experience you’ll want to recreate again and again.
Calories Per Serving: 150
Preparation Time: 1 Hour
Frequently Asked Questions
Is It Legal To Eat Turtle In The US?
In the United States, it is illegal to eat several species of turtle, including the diamondback terapin and any variety of sea turtle.
It is legal to eat other species, but due to the bioaccumulation of contaminants, it is recommended that you discard the skin, organs, and eggs in favor of harvesting only the muscle meat.
How Much Is Turtle Meat Per Pound?
For many reasons, turtle meat is expensive compared to more readily available meats like chicken and beef. You are most likely to find turtle meat at specific grocery stores for Cajun food, or Asian food.
According to gourmetfoodstore.com, 1lb of frozen turtle meat costs $46.17.
What Ethnicity Eats Turtle?
There are many cultures around the world that eat turtles, which are present on every continent and make an excellent subsistence food source.
However, turtles are particularly important to Chinese cuisine, where turtle soup is an important dish.
Turtles are also eaten by people in the United States, South America, Europe, India, Africa, and Southeast Asia.
Is Turtle Meat Delicious?
Turtle meat is an acquired taste that some find very delicious, and others don’t care for. It has a stronger flavor than chicken or beef and a unique texture.
For those who enjoy it, turtle meat is a gourmet delicacy and a treat that is something to look forward to. However, there will always be people who don’t like the specific flavor of turtle meat and choose not to eat it.