American Oceans

Can You Eat Sea Urchin? 

One of the most prevalent marine species, sea urchins are echinoderms, encompassing 950 species that live in every ocean, at every depth.

Purple sea urchin

You might confuse a sea urchin for an underwater cactus or another marine plant. Large spikes, or spines, cover their round, gourd-shaped shells. Can you eat sea urchins?

These spines help them move across all levels of depth. Like their sea star relatives, sea urchins have tubed feet that allow them to stick to any surface. They subsist on a diet of algae and microscopic animals.

Sea urchins offer major food sources to numerous marine species. The question is whether people can eat sea urchins. You’ll find the answer below!

Edibility of Sea Urchin

Sea urchin prepared for eating

People most certainly eat sea urchins, and their utilities as culinary subjects are vast. For example, sea urchin gonads are prized delicacies called uni in Japan.

In Mediterranean countries and Chilean cuisine, sea urchins are flavor agents and ingredients in raw carpaccio dishes. 

While not all sea urchins are edible, there are at least six varieties enjoyed in cuisines around the globe, including:

  • Red sea urchin
  • Stony sea urchin
  • Chilean red sea urchin
  • Green sea urchin

Sea urchins are safe to eat once removed from their spiny hard shells. Only the gonads of both male and female sea urchins are edible. 

fresh cold sea urchin uni nigiri topped on rice

Taste

A true taste of umami vibrance, sea urchins have a savory, salty, and briny flavor. Many describe the taste as similar to an oyster, which essentially tastes like the ocean itself. 

Their melt-in-your-mouth buttery texture is the main basis of their appeal. Male and female sea urchins differ slightly in texture, with males having a smoother texture than females.

Eating Sea Urchins Raw

Most culinary traditions surrounding sea urchins involve eating them raw. For example, Japanese cooks often eat uni as either sashimi, sushi, or nigiri.

Sea urchin uni sashimi
Sea urchin uni sashimi

In Italy, raw sea urchin is the central ingredient in a dish called Ricci, which is essentially fish carpaccio drizzled with lemon juice.

You can also liquefy raw sea urchin and add it to any sauce, garnish, or soup.

Cooked Sea Urchin

sea urchin appetizer

Cooking a sea urchin is less about cooking and more about shelling and extracting. It is labor-intensive to open the shells, remove thin layers of other body parts, and delicately extract the gonads with tweezers.

Once you’ve managed to get the small morsels of meat, you need only to dress them with lemon juice to eat over crackers. You could throw them over a creamy pasty or blend them into a decadent aioli. 

The meat isn’t plentiful enough to cook. In addition, you will lose the desirable, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth texture by cooking it. However, if you insist on cooking it, you could emulsify it into a marinade for barbecued meat.

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