About Sea Urchins or Uni as Food

Apr 19 2016

A sea urchin is an ocean animal that is covered with spines. It usually isn’t particularly large and is normally roundish in shape, when viewed from above. While they can be interesting creatures to observe, it is likely that a lot of people have never considered eating one. Sea urchins are indeed edible, though, and they are considered to be delicacies in such places as Japan. 

Closer look at urchins

There are many species of sea urchins, each with slightly different appearances and habitats, which means that the group, as a whole, is widely distributed. Most species tend to live in moderately shallow ocean waters, eating mostly algae, seaweed and plant material, though they may also eat some animal matter. The spines might lead a person to think of a porcupine or hedgehog, however they are more than defensive. The spines also serve as a means of locomotion, since the spines are actually hydraulically operated tube feet. Still, they are a form of protection and some species have spines that can give a rather nasty sting. 

Urchins tend to be somewhat compressed, top to bottom, and this is most noticeable once the spines have been removed. The normally thin shell is marked into five divisions, which is appropriate since they are related to common starfish, which have five obvious limbs or “legs”, though other species may have more. Some urchins can be locally abundant and wide spread. For instance, the purple sea urchin is common on the west pacific coast of North America, but it is also distributed widely and found in many other areas.

Part that is eaten

The part of the sea urchin that is normally eaten is the roe, generally meant to refer to the reproductive organs, and this is considered to be a delicacy. The roe can be eaten raw as sashimi, over the top of sushi, or cooked. However, it is important that the urchins are as fresh as possible. As they age, the roe can take on a strong and unpleasant flavor. When it is very fresh, though, the flavor is mild and sweet.

Getting to the roe

Raw or cooked, the first step is naturally to get to the roe. This is done by carefully cutting the top of the shell in a circle and removing it. The urchin shell cavity will likely be filled with fluid and this can be poured out. Looking into the open shell the five wedges of roe should then be revealed. As already stated, this is most often eaten raw by the Japanese. However, they can also be lightly cooked in lemon-butter or olive oil for an unusually tasty treat. 

Just looking at a sea urchin, many people in the United States might be inclined to think that it was inedible. This would be an incorrect assumption, because this seafood can be quite delicious and for many people, it is a delicacy. In fact, these creatures can fetch a high price in fish markets and restaurants. Many Americans who are fond of sushi or sashimi may have already eaten it without knowing what they were eating. However, for those who have not tried it, it is worth sampling. Arguably, it is no stranger than getting the eggs out of a sturgeon and marketing it as caviar.

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