Your frequently asked questions about Sea Urchin (Uni), answered! Keep reading to find out the different variants of this delicacy, how they are harvested and for newbies, what they taste like!
What Is Uni?
Sea urchins are echinoderms with spiny spherical shells that enclose five segments of bright yellow-orange strips or tongues called gonads which are reproductive organs from either gender. Sea urchin gonads are the edible part of the sea creature and taste custard-like (see image below). They are often called by their Japanese name, Uni, since the country accounts for about 80 percent of global consumption.
What Does Sea Urchin (Uni) Taste Like?
Uni is full of sugar, salt, and amino acids, giving them an umami-salty sweetness. Like oysters, they tend to taste like the ocean they come from and type of seaweed they feed on. (Uni from Hokkaido, Japan, for example, eat kombu, and therefore taste like kombu.) Male uni has a smoother texture than female uni, but all good urchins should have a buttery, melt-in-your-mouth texture and a complex, unique flavor that has been compared to eggs, lobster, foie gras, and fish roe.
Do they Have Nutritional Benefits?
Absolutely! One 3.5-ounce sea urchin contains 1.83 grams omega-3 fatty acids, which support heart and brain health. Uni is also a good source of protein and zinc, a mineral that supports the immune system and helps wounds heal. Like every delicacy, consume Uni in moderation and pick the best possible quality you can find.
Types of Uni found in Japan:
Though there are approximately 160 types of of sea urchins found in the sea surrounding Japan, only a few are suitable to be eaten. These are: Murasaki, Bafun Uni and Aka Uni. Quality, taste, size and price of each sea urchin is largely dependent on where they’re sourced in Japan.
Honshu: being Japan’s largest island, Honshu highest amount of middle-ranged Bafun Uni and Murasaki Uni. Here, sea urchins feed on Wakame (Algae) which contributes to their overall taste profile.
Murasaki Uni, the most common sea urchin found throughout Japan sets the baseline of what you would expect sea urchin to taste like. With it’s main season being in August, a box of good quality is a bright yellow color, plump with a nice light , mildly sweet and salty flavor with very little fishiness in the after notes.
The second most common Uni found in Japan is Bafun Uni. It is in season in October and is typically harvest from deeper waters compared to that of Murarsaki Uni. This gives the sea urchin a more intense and deep flavour. It is also darker orange in colour compared to the bright yellow of Murasaki Uni.
Hokkaido: Japan’s most premium Uni is harvested in Hokkaido. This is because instead of Wakame, sea urchin here feed on the Kombu (Kelp) that grows plentifully in the cold and nutrient rich waters around the island. The two main sea urchins found here are the Ezo Bafun Uni and Kita Murasaki Uni. These are the two main variants of Uni you’ll find on shiki.sg.
Kita Murasaki Uni is known as Japan’s top quality sea urchin, with it being extremely plump and large in size (around the size of your thumb), whilst being extremely creamy and having a complex depth of flavour. It is famous for having the sweetest taste of all sea urchin. These sea urchins can fetch up to 10000¥ per box at the market.
Comparatively, Ezo Bafun Uni (Sea Chestnut) is known for being less sweet, having a jewel-like color, it’s sweet aroma, and an unrivaled creamy taste.
In term of seasonality, both these sea urchins at actually in season at the same time twice a year around the Island. Sea urchins from the east side of Hokkaido facing the Pacific Ocean are in season during the winter while sea urchin on the west side facing the Sea of Japan is in season during the s
Kyushu: famous for Aka Uni, or Red Sea Urchin which grow in smaller sizes as the water here in not as cold a northern Japan. They mainly feed on Wakame, baby shrimp and small fishes.
Aka Uni is much sweeter and denser than both Murasaki and Bafun Uni and is perfect for those looking for a punch of Uni flavour.
Aside from Japan, where is Sea Urchin (Uni) found?
Uni can be found in and around Europe as well as North and South America. Some popular importers of Uni include California, Maine, Chile, Russia and Mexico.
At shiki.sg, you will find sashimi-grade Chilean Bafun Uni that has been transported to Japan and processed there with the highest quality standards. It has a bright beautiful Yellow colour with a much firmer texture compared to other Uni. This uni is very popular and widely used in many restaurants throughout South America and even, Japan.
How to Enjoy Uni at Home?
There are many ways to enjoy your air-flown premium Japanese & International Uni from Shiki at home. Do ensure your box of Uni looks and smells fresh as well as is packaged according to the images you find on shiki.sg.
1. Uni Pasta: Wafu pasta is the Japanese take on Italian spaghetti, made with local ingredients. We recommend Bafun Uni for risottos, spaghetti and angel hair pasta dishes. Shop our Uni Pasta bundle to enjoy delicate Uni Pasta at home.
2. Uni Don: a bowl of hot rice topped with fresh seafood. It’s a specialty breakfast dish from Hokkaido, but is popular anywhere in Japan that fresh seafood can be found. We recommend any one of these for this nutritious and versatile dish: Bafun, Murasaki and Aka Uni
3. Sashimi & Sushi: the most popular way to consume Uni. Enjoy as nigiri sushi with seasoned rice, soy sauce and nori seaweed or by itself as sashimi, served on a plate in a small mound or in its own shell.
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