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.
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.
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.
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.
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.