While it may seem strange to eat the spiny and seemingly-dangerous sea urchin, it’s actually considered a delicacy in many parts of the world. People in Japan, Chile, the Mediterranean, and even the West Coast of the United States, regularly enjoy this unique and savoury seafood.

Cut open sea urchin on a wooden table.
Sea urchins are sold at auction at Tsukiji Market in Japan.

Sea urchins are enjoyed in a variety of ways—both raw and in prepared dishes. Due to it’s delicate taste, they are best served with foods that have a neutral flavour, such as pasta or toast. But how exactly does it taste? Those who have tried one often have a difficult time describing the taste. It has a sweet, yet subtle, fresh-from-the-ocean flavour and is often compared to oysters.

How to Dive for Sea Urchin

If you’d like to try fresh sea urchin without paying restaurant prices, you can dive for your own!

They’re most commonly found in rocky coastal areas and have small tube feet that allow them to cling to rocks. In addition to basic diving gear, bring along a knife or a pair of gloves to help your pry one from the rock. [clickToTweet tweet=”Eating sea urchin? Avoid ones that are pitch black in colour. Instead, always search for those that have hints of green, purple, and red. #howtoeat” quote=”Eating sea urchin? Avoid ones that are pitch black in colour. Instead, always search for those that have hints of green, purple, and red.”]

You’ll want to avoid sea urchins that are pitch black in colour. Instead, always search for ones that have hints of green, purple, and/or red. Black sea urchin often appear in photos, but this is more for decorative purposes or as a result of bad lighting.

How to Prepare Sea Urchin

The key to enjoying fresh, delicious sea urchin, or uni as it’s called in Japan, is to separate the orange meat from the internal walls of the spiny shell. These five orange pieces are actually the reproductive organs of the sea urchin.

Keep in mind that not all sea urchins are created equal. You’ll likely notice that it looks and tastes differently depending on which part of the world you’re in. In total, there are 18 edible varieties and their meat differs in texture, taste, and colour.

In order to protect yourself from the spikes, it’s recommended that you wear gloves. If you don’t have gloves on hand, at least be cautious. When you are ready, gently pick it up.

Next, create a puncture in the underside (i.e. the flatter side) of the sea urchin using scissors, a bread knife, or a spoon. Allow the liquid to drain out and slowly cut a circle in the bottom part of the shell. Remove the base and carefully take out the black, internal pieces—this part is not consumed.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GsVDVM-3Sa0

You can also gently rinse out the inside with running water. Once you’ve cleaned out the inedible parts, focus on the five orange pieces attached to the top of the shell—these are what hold the sea urchin’s delectable flavour.

Lastly, using your fingers or a utensil, gently scrape out this part and voila! It’s ready for eating or preparation.

How to Enjoy Sea Urchin

The most common way to enjoy sea urchin is by eating it raw, similarly to how one would enjoy oysters or sushi. Adding butter or lemon juice is a great way to enhance the natural flavour.

Chefs around the world also use sea urchins as a way to add a unique twist to traditional dishes. In the Mediterranean, chefs serve them as an addition to pasta. In some places, they’re served with butter and toast. The possibilities are endless—sea urchin can be a flavourful and savoury substitute for lobster, shrimp, and other popular seafood!

Eating bad sea urchin can seriously affect your experience. Sea urchin should taste like the ocean, but it should never taste fishy. If it does, it’s likely gone bad.

Fisherman cutting open a sea urchin with a knife.
The only edible part of a sea urchin is its gonads. Their exact colour varies according to the species, amongst other elements.

Tips for Eating Sea Urchin

  • Green sea urchins are the most popular for eating.
  • A sea urchin sting is painful, but it’s not dangerous. If you’re stung, make sure to keep the wound clean to prevent an infection.
  • White wines and Japanese sake make an excellent complement to raw sea urchin and sea urchin dishes.
  • Like oysters, sea urchins are considered to be a strong aphrodisiac.
  • Sea urchin sushi generally doesn’t use the freshest sea urchin available. For maximum flavour, enjoy sea urchin as soon as it leaves the water.
  • Sea urchins are occasionally eaten alive for maximum freshness.

Have you ever eaten sea urchin? Learn how to eat even more of the best food from around the world right here.

This article was originally contributed to by Emily McCullough.

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About Brittany Mailhot

Brittany is a long-term solo traveler who bought a one-way ticket to Colombia and never left. She loves meeting dogs from all over the world and considers herself to be an “expert” wine taster.

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13 Responses to "How to Eat: Sea Urchin"

  1. Urin  22/08/2016

    Sea urchins are tasty sea food. The green sea urchins are the most popular among all the edible urchins. It is becoming popular in the USA too.

    Reply
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  4. Andy  13/05/2017

    Scissors??? Hahahaha….. Nope…. Just a bread knife or a spoon will do it… And what’s with the teetowel to protect your hands from the spikes?? Ask any Maori from NZ how you eat kind and they’ll show you how to do it properly LOL.

    Reply
    • Heather Tucker  18/05/2017

      We’d LOVE all your tips Andy!

      Reply
  5. Alfredo S.  28/01/2019

    You need gloves or a towel to hold the urchin, then crack the top around it to expose the 5 tongues. Remove with your hand from
    center as one unit maintaining the star shape without damaging the individual tongues. In Chile sea urchins are a fresh delicacy,
    mainly from Puerto Montt in the South. Toast and white wine are the best pairing. Further South, in Chiloé they prepare the sea
    urchins “al cajón”, spread inside a loaf of bread keeping just the outside crust and then to the oven…delicious!

    Reply
  6. Ray  18/02/2019

    How should you store your live sea urchin after you r captured it and how long can it live outside the ocean water ?thx

    Reply
  7. I’ve already watched several documentaries about sea urchins. However, I didn’t know that it can be eaten. Many people says that be careful not to stung by sea urchins since their spikes are poisonous. But I wonder how it tastes? hmmm gonna try one someday maybe haha! 🙂 Thank you for the tips on how to eat sea urchins. 🙂

    Reply
  8. Popp Starr  07/11/2019

    I grew up eating huge spiky black sea urchins in tropical South America. Most of the dirt-poor kids in my seaside shantytown community harvested them during low tides that exposed them in shallow natural puddles and small pools. We lit up an open fire using dry organic beach matters, briefly roasted them alive, and ate them on the spot sitting on the sand under a palm tree. Note to Chefs everywhere: Best gourmet taste ever if same conditions can be replicated…. Alas, for us then half-starved kids, sea urchins were just a much-needed supplement to the meager diet our families could afford. Grateful for them!

    Reply
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  10. Drew a  10/02/2021

    When I was a young
    boy grown up in the Caribbean my friends and I used to dive for the black and white ones and collect a bunch when finished diving we’d divide them and eat them on the beach right there.

    Reply
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  12. Mary E McNaught Zeman  29/03/2022

    To open urchins easily, and have a pretty “bowl” to serve them in, I use a holesaw in my cordless drill. It also result in a craftable shell.

    Reply

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