American Oceans

Can You Eat Sea Cucumbers and How Do They Taste? 

If you were snorkeling or scuba diving in a colorful coral reef, you might mistake a sea cucumber for a plant-covered rock. However, sea cucumbers are very much living marine animals.  Although it sounds like your typical garden variety veg of the ocean, can you eat sea cucumber?

Scuba diver holding up a sea cucumber

Named for their oblong, cucumber shape, sea cucumbers are a member of the Holothuroidea class, under which fall species like sea urchins and starfish.

Hundreds of sea cucumber species exist in every ocean and sea across the globe. 

Sea cucumbers have long been touted as a delicacy and medicine in Asian cultures. While their appearance may be unsightly, sea cucumbers possess many healthy nutrients and compounds and serve as versatile ingredients for savory dishes.

Do People Eat Sea Cucumbers and Is It Safe?

While there are hundreds of sea cucumber species in the world’s oceans, only a handful of species are edible. They comprise the following species:

· Prickly sea cucumber

· White teat sea cucumber

· Bald sea cucumber

The bald sea cucumber is native to Africa, Australia, and the Middle East, with a fleshier body and smooth exterior.

Stir-fried sea cucumber with mild seasoning

The prickly sea cucumber is native to China and Japan and has a spiny exterior with a crunchy texture ceding to a delicate interior.

The white teat sea cucumber has a bumpy exterior with white spots and is native to Southeast Asia, Africa, and Australia. 

All three varieties are safe to eat and sold fresh and dried in open markets. You can also find them frozen. 

What Does It Taste Like?

All three varieties of sea cucumbers have a neutral, almost undetectable flavor. Their gelatinous, springy texture makes them so popular in Asian cuisines.

Braised Goose Webs with Sea Cucumber in Casserole

They tend to absorb any flavor you put them with, like tofu.

Their slimy exterior and gelatinous meat are off-putting to North American palates but quickly gaining traction as haute cuisine for more adventurous eaters.

Can You Eat Sea Cucumbers Raw?

You can eat sea cucumbers raw.

Chinese Sea cucumbers on a food stall at the market in Chinatown

In fact, raw sea cucumbers are more flavorful than the dried or frozen varieties, retaining some of the brininess from their ocean habitats.

Dried sea cucumbers are the most widely available product.

They also keep longer than fresh sea cucumbers. Raw cucumbers have a slimier texture and don’t absorb other flavors as easily as dried sea cucumbers.

How To Cook Sea Cucumbers

You can cook sea cucumbers using various methods, including pickling, frying, braising, and boiling. As dried sea cucumbers are the most common products, you must first boil them to rehydrate them before using a subsequent cooking method.

Braised Sea Cucumber in Brown Soup.

Rehydrating sea cucumbers is a lengthy process, taking up to a week. Frozen sea cucumbers take less time to thaw. 

With both varieties, whole or chopped sea cucumbers are popular stir-fry ingredients, used interchangeably with tofu to absorb flavorful sauces in conjunction with other vegetables.

Another popular cooking method for sea cucumbers is braising. Using a marinade or flavorful cooking liquid is key to best enjoying cooked sea cucumbers. 

Sea Cucumber Recipes

As sea cucumbers are primarily an Asian delicacy, the majority of recipes come from Chinese and Japanese cuisines.

rice and sea cucumber

If you’re a fan of slimy and gelatinous textures, you can add sea cucumber to a mushroom and oyster sauce stir fry. 

This recipe for braising proteins like tofu applies perfectly to instilling flavor in sea cucumbers.

Is It Safe to Eat Sea Cucumbers?

Sea cucumbers are not only safe to eat, but they are also beneficial to your health. As with any sea animal, it is important to use hygienic preparation methods to safeguard against harmful bacteria. 

Sea cucumber has a long shelf life because it gets sold either dried or frozen, making it a rare seafood product you don’t have to eat soon after buying.

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