What Sea Urchins Can You Eat?


Are all types of sea urchins edible? There are more than 900 species of sea urchins, but only about 30 species are edible. Only two types of sea urchins are of commercial importance — the European edible sea urchin (Echinus esculentus) and Green Sea Urchin (Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis).

What sea urchins can you eat? Only two types of sea urchins are commonly eaten — The European edible sea urchin (Echinus esculentus) and Green Sea Urchin (Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis). However, you can also eat red sea urchin (Strongylocentrotus franciscanus), purple sea urchin (Paracentrotus lividus), dark purple sea urchin (Sphaerechinus granularis). 

The first edible sea urchin (Echinus esculentus) is found along the coast of Europe, from the Barents Sea to Spain and Portugal. It is distinguished by a red tint of the shell, covered with reddish needles with purple tips, and is rather big (up to 30 cm). It has a large, up to 16 cm in diameter, spherical, slightly flattened at the bottom reddish shell, covered with short, thin reddish needles with purple tips.

The roe inside their shell is the dream of gourmets of popular culinary exoticism. Its roe is very nutritious and healthy. Sea urchin roe contains up to 35 percent fat and up to 20 percent protein. It is eaten raw, salted, fried, boiled and pickled.

What is the most common sea urchin? The most common sea urchin is Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis, widespread throughout the North Atlantic, along North Sea shores and in the Pacific Ocean. It is slightly inferior in size and has a more varied color: from grayish-green to gray, purple and coal-black.

It is found at depths of up to 1200 m. The body of the sea urchin is spherical, slightly flattened from back to the abdomen. The size of the shell is smaller and rarely exceeds 9 cm in diameter. The color can be very different — from whitish-green to dark purple, almost black. The length of the needles may vary greatly from the specimen.

All edible sea urchins are extremely useful: medications are made from sea urchin roe to reduce stress and anti-aging creams and pills. But catching sea urchins is not easy as these are bottom animals. They do not go to the nets, so specially trained diving teams to take them from the bottom manually.

Are any sea urchins poisonous to eat? What sea urchins are poisonous? Flower sea urchin (Toxopneustes pileolus) and Asthenosoma varium sea urchins are extremely poisonous. Their venom can cause muscle paralysis due to the effect on the nervous system. They also cause difficulty breathing and slow down the activity of the heart muscle.

What Sea Urchins Can You Eat?

Here are a few more urchins that you can eat:

  • The red sea urchin (Strongylocentrotus franciscanus) is found along the Pacific coast all the way to Alaska. These sea urchins are also harvested for the sake of tasty and healthy roe.
  • Purple sea urchin (Paracentrotus lividus) lives in the east Atlantic, including the Mediterranean Sea. The diameter of the shell is up to 7 cm. The needles are long and sharp. Its gonads are considered a delicacy in France.
  • The dark purple sea urchin (Sphaerechinus granularis) lives in the east of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. They live in shallow waters (usually no deeper than 30 meters). Its roe is hidden in a shell up to 15 cm in diameter.

This is far from the entire list of edible sea urchins. Still, in huge quantities, as mentioned above, only the two species are harvested, with Japan being the leader of the “sea urchin” fishery. The Japanese highly value the sea urchin roe as it is believed that its useful properties are not inferior to the famous ginseng root.

In the Far East, sea urchins are caught mainly from April to August, when the eggs become sexually mature. Sea urchins are hunted by the hands of divers, who collect them in places of concentration. The work is quite laborious and dangerous, but it pays off a hundredfold since a pound of sea urchins costs more than $10. If you convert kilograms into tons (a small group of divers collects up to 5 tons of sea urchins per day) and then into money, you get a pretty good profit.

Sea urchins are widespread throughout the World Ocean — from cold waters off Antarctica’s coast to the warm seas of the equatorial belt. Some sea urchins species prefer to settle near the coast, while others can be found even at a depth of 7000 m. Edible sea urchins live in the Atlantic Ocean off the European continent from Spain to Svalbard at depths from 5 to 100 m, although sometimes it can be found at a depth of 1200 m.

People around the world appreciate the culinary dishes of sea urchins. In Mediterranean cuisine, in South America, in Japan, they are eaten raw with lemon. The roe of the sea urchin is very highly valued. The price of sea urchin roe can go up to $450 per 1 kg. It is used to prepare soups, sauces for fish and meat dishes, and sushi.

Particularly spectacular sea urchins, beautiful with long black spines, can often be found in domestic saltwater aquariums. Moreover, they are kept for their attractive appearance, but sea urchins also cope well with the uncontrolled growth of plants in the aquarium, acting as a natural cleaner. In this sense, they are similar to invertebrates like shrimp, crabs, etc.

Since ancient times, on various continents, the inhabitants of coastal settlements have used sea urchins for food, but this tradition has survived to this day only in a few countries. The main consumers of sea urchins are now the Japanese islands’ inhabitants, more precisely, the wealthy Japanese. Sea urchins are supplied to this country from 17 countries. In addition to their own producers, the main suppliers are the United States, Chile, Peru, China, Canada, South Korea, North Korea, and Russia. The world catch of 18 species of commercial sea urchins is about 117 thousand tons per year.

The very “organization” of sea urchins’ body does not imply that they have a significant amount of muscle mass or body fat. For food, only segments of the developed sex glands of males and females are used, which, by the way, visually, without breaking the shell, are almost impossible to distinguish. 

There are five of these “reproductive” lobules in the sea urchin, very similar in shape to the lobules of a mandarin. By the beginning of spawning, the volume of the gonads reaches 6-20% of the total weight of the sea urchin. Roe color is highly variable and depends on sex, maturity, feeding conditions, species, catch season, storage methods and other factors. Depending on the color of the product, experts divide the sea urchin roe into many varieties. Bright yellow and orange color indicates a fresh and high-quality product. The raw product goes directly to the preparation of dishes such as sushi, and some roe is stored in alcohol for further processing.

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