Thursday, November 21, 2013

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Sea Urchins

     Okay, that was clearly over dramatic, a response to a challenge that no one’s making, but still, it’s true.
     Sea urchins are fairly bizarre creatures.  For one, they look like the result of a torrid romance between a racquetball and a porcupine.  (I’m making a jokey comparison here, but bear in mind Rule 34 of the Internet, and google the end of the last sentence at your own risk.)  The spines of some species are soft and rather ineffectual, but those of others are akin to a porcupine’s—capable of inflicting nasty puncture wounds.  Additionally, some sea urchins’ spines are venomous, in extreme examples potentially fatally so.  Furthermore, the tiny growths between the spines, the pedicellariae, are sometimes venomous even when the spines aren’t.  So, it’s probably a good idea to avoid contact with sea urchins if possible.
     Also, sea urchins, like starfish, have pentamerium symmetry, rather than the common animal bilateral symmetry.  Meaning instead of being divided in two equal sides, with two arms, two legs, two eyes and ears, etc., sea urchins have five equal body segments which radiate out from their center.  This occurs in some of their body organs, too—they have five sets of gills, five sets of gonads, etc.  Therefore, I’m assuming organ donations aren’t as big a deal with sea urchins, which may be why less of them check the box on the backs of their driver’s licenses.
     Sea urchins aren’t that common a food item, though.  They’re eaten in the West Indies, New Zealand, Alaska (mostly by Native American groups), and Japan.  Also, in Mediterranean countries and Chile they’re consumed raw, with lemon, which kind of reminds me of ceviche (see August 4th, 2013 blog post for more information).
     I’ve had sea urchins exclusively as sushi at Japanese restaurants.  There’s no getting around the fact that their meat looks revolting—it resembles phlegm, actually, with its yellowish, clotty flesh pieces.  The texture may be off-putting for some, too, as it’s soft, and slippery, again uncomfortably reminiscent of phlegm once more.  But, and I can’t stress this enough, the taste is phenomenally delicious.  I’m a major sushi fan, and this is definitely among the best kinds (along with mackerel, squid, and freshwater eel, in my opinion).  As so often happens, writing and thinking about it has given me an intense craving.  Alas, sea urchins are somewhat tough to get.  Some sushi places don’t offer it, and even the ones that do are out of it maybe two-thirds of the time.  This may be seasonal in nature, but I haven’t kept records and checked on this.  In my research, I discovered that the reason for this is probably because sea urchins have been overfished.  So I feel a little guilty, since I just hyped this meal up so much, but to be (more) responsible, as an occasional treat, I couldn’t recommend it more.  Also, if you choose to partake, be forewarned, it’s pricey—usually around $5+ per order (even a single piece, sometimes) which I guess is a factor of its relative scarcity.
     One final fun fact about sea urchins (or sea hedgehogs, as they’re also known):  some species can reportedly chew through stone.  Which, I must admit, I’d like to see proven.  Off to YouTube, I guess.

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