Beating the Summer Heat With Turtle Shell Jelly
Publication time：2020-08-21 15:35:20
By Chen Zhiying
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the turtle shell is treasured for its ability to “nourish yin”. And Chinese people are very good at matching seemingly unrelated things together, thus creating turtle shell jelly by using turtle shells and a variety of herbs. Dark in appearance and smooth and slightly bitter, the unsightly snack originated in the south of China is a popular summer delicacy among many people. They believe that this black and slightly bitter jelly can reduce internal heat and make skin smoother.
Legends behind the bitter black jelly
Legends abound around the turtle shell jelly. One is that the earliest turtle shell jelly originated in Raoping, located at the junction of Guangdong and Fujian Provinces. Because of the humid and hot climate, local residents had symptoms of damp heat, such as skin sores and acne. Therefore, local people had been trying to find a recipe to cure the disease. That’s why turtle shell pastes came into being. In the late Ming and early Qing Dynasty, a doctor from Raoping County moved to Wuzhou, Guangxi. The climate and environment of Wuzhou were very similar to Raoping. Local residents were also suffering from heat and humidity. The doctor had an idea and thought of treating the disease with turtle shell pastes from his hometown. When looking for materials, he found that there was a lack of auxiliary herbs. He searched the whole city but could not find them. In desperation, the doctor replaced them with local herbs with similar efficacy. However, after the soup was cooled, it turned into jelly! Although it didn’t look like the turtle shell paste in his hometown, the curative effect was similar. The doctor sold it in his shop and didn’t expect that business was so good. Since the treatment effect was great, and the taste was cool and smooth, the jelly immediately captured the heart of people. Everyone scrambled to buy it. The doctor named it “Wuzhou turtle shell jelly” to distinguish it from the turtle shell paste in Raoping.
Another story about the turtle shell jelly concerns the Qing Dynasty Emperor Tongzhi (1856-1874), who ascended to the throne at the age of five upon his father’s death. His mother, Empress Dowager Cixi, overshadowed his rule and apparently all other aspects of his life as well. When Emperor Tongzhi nearly cured his smallpox by taking the turtle shell jelly, Empress Dowager Cixi believed his disease could be cured by worshiping a smallpox idol and convinced him to quit. She succeeded in convincing the emperor. However, the emperor died soon after. Although it’s a tragedy, since then, the turtle shell jelly has been known as a regimen which is good for the skin, allowing for a healthier complexion upon repeated consumption and has become an important desert in the imperial courts of China, especially during the late Qing Dynasty.
Old formulation gains vitality in modern times
In its original form, the turtle shell jelly was a herbal paste that consisted of the powdered bottom shell of golden coin turtles and a variety of flowers, herbs, spices, roots, and tree barks, among which Tufuling is the main ingredient. It is an important herb in Chinese medicine. According to the old Chinese pharmacy record, it helps people to excrete toxins and improve the circulation of blood. The golden coin turtle is one kind of endangered turtles, even if it has been commercially farmed in China. Therefore, the traditional-made turtle shell jelly is extremely expensive and rare. Since the high price and rarity of golden coin turtles, the turtle-derived ingredients are sometimes replaced by other, more commonly available, turtle species. Besides the two major components, pearl may be added, which enhances its skin-beautifying properties. After the herbs are cooked, rice and corn flours are stirred in to thicken the product, so that jellylike residues can form.
Although the gelatinous turtle shell jelly was initially used as a health remedy, modern variations are mainly enjoyed as a well-chilled, refreshing jelly dessert which does not contain any turtle shell powders but has the same herb additives. Since the jelly is a little bit bitter, sweeteners such as honey, sweet red beans, milk tea and condensed milk are usually added to balance the bitterness. You can choose whatever you like. Nowadays, the turtle shell jelly usually appears as a canned version, or as a powder mix that can be easily made into jelly. In 2007, Wuzhou turtle shell jelly was selected into the first batch of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region intangible cultural heritage list.
Therefore, if you want to taste authentic turtle shell jelly today, Wuzhou is the best place to go. There is no doubt that the turtle shell jelly is considered a “blood cooling” dessert. Once you have tried the turtle shell jelly, you will discover its great medicinal properties: your sweat will stink less and you will suffer less from thirst, heat and other typical symptoms of heat strokes in summer. Come to Wuzhou and try a bowl of authentic turtle shell jelly in the hot summer.
- Putting the turtle shell jelly into fridge will make it taste better.
· Source: China-ASEAN Panorama