You probably do not know many places that have sea urchin on the menu.
This is because sea urchin is premium seafood that has become even more expensive in recent years.
Though sea urchin is found on ocean floors around the world, the cost for their roe (eggs) is higher than ever before.
This is strange because the sea urchin population has increased since 2020.
Why is sea urchin so expensive?
Why Is Sea Urchin So Expensive? (Top 10 Reasons)
1. Overfishing Concerns
As documentaries like Seaspiracy have shared, overfishing is causing tremendous harm to the health of the oceans and the planet.
The price for sea urchins boomed in 2014 when the global market for them reached $100 million.
However, the sea urchin population has boomed so much in places like the coast of California, that the entire ocean floor is lined with sea urchins that are leading to the destruction of entire kelp forests.
Even though it would be good for the environment to harvest more sea urchins, there are misconceptions among people about the consequences of overfishing, and there is not enough labor to meet the largely expanding population of sea urchin that needs to be patrolled.
2. Not All Sea Urchins Are Food
Though the sea urchin population is far from endangered, only some of them are edible.
Eighteen species of sea urchin can be harvested for food.
Since there is a limited supply of edible sea urchin, they are often highly concentrated in specific areas, causing a shortage of this luxurious seafood in other places.
Sea urchin is especially popular in Japan, where there is great demand for the delicacy which is also known as uni, and not enough supply.
This means that sea urchin can fetch a high price.
When fishermen go out to find sea urchin, they may catch a wide variety of the creatures but only realize later that some of them are edible.
This is because many types of sea urchin look the same, but not all of them are food.
On top of sea urchin fishing being a labor-intensive process, it can also be fruitless.
Unfortunately, the customers end up paying for the lost time that fishermen use trying to catch sea urchin that doesn’t end up being edible.
3. Not Much Of It Is Edible
The sea urchin population is doing just fine, but that doesn’t mean their meat is plentiful.
When you break the tough exterior of a sea urchin, you will discover mostly coral and roe—not much meat.
In fact, you might only get a few spoonfuls of meat from each creature.
This means that you will need to buy a lot of sea urchins to feed yourself, let alone your family.
This makes the unit price of sea urchin crazy high.
To receive a single serving of sea urchin at a restaurant, multiple sea urchins are needed to harvest their meat.
Even though the supply of sea urchin has been on the rise, this doesn’t mean that there is enough edible sea urchin to go around.
Such a small portion of each creature is edible, that you need to harvest multiple sea urchins to even get one human serving.
Regardless of if a large quantity of sea urchin is harvested, a ton of it is required to meet the growing supply.
4. Preparing Sea Urchin Is Labor Intensive
Preparing and cooking sea urchin is not an easy process, like salmon or shrimp.
Each shellfish needs to be carefully and strongly broken in half and handled to take out all of the innards.
It is time and labor-intensive, which means that chefs charge more money for the food.
Sea urchin is one of the few kinds of seafood that are still hand-harvested by divers today.
When you pay the lofty price for sea urchin, you are also paying for the intense labor that goes into harvesting them.
Even though the supply of sea urchins has increased so much over the years, even along the seabeds of California, that doesn’t mean that enough has been harvested to meet the increasing demand.
Additionally, sea urchin is only able to be caught at certain times of the year.
Once caught, it must be shipped and consumed within roughly five days.
This means that for everyone involved in sea urchin catching and preparing, it is a high-risk investment of time and money that can be completely foiled if there is a snafu and it does not reach the customer’s mouth in a short amount of time.
Restaurants might add to the price of each sea urchin purchased to cover any losses that will inevitably occur.
5. It Is Delicious
Inside the sea urchin’s intimidating shell is a delicious flavor, found within its reproductive organs, called uni.
There are five strips of edible meat called “sea urchin roe” even though it is not really roe.
It is loved by anyone who likes more of an “oceany” flavor.
Chefs around the world say that the taste is worth it.
On the tongue, it has a soft, pillowy texture that feels like it is melting in your mouth.
It feels like the entire ocean is on your tongue.
Everyone agrees that sea urchin has a unique flavor that is not to be missed if you can try it.
You can feel the freshness of the ocean in your mouth, without worrying about that fishy taste that sometimes comes along with seafood.
Be careful, though, since sea urchin only stays good for about five days after it is caught.
Even though it will be edible for a full five days after, that doesn’t mean it will necessarily taste good.
Freezing sea urchin does not preserve the flavor well, and it really needs to be consumed as fresh as possible to enjoy the best flavor.
6. It Is An Aphrodisiac
Sea urchin has a reputation for being an aphrodisiac, a food that encourages romantic proclivities in humans.
Some other aphrodisiacs include oysters, chocolate, and strawberries—foods that may make you feel more sensual after you eat them.
This means that sea urchin is a perfect date-night food, and a great way to feel the romance in the air.
In addition, the fact that sea urchin is so expensive makes it a good way to impress a date at a restaurant when you want to treat your partner to something special.
In addition to sea urchin being a great food to put you in the mood, it can also be great for your reproductive capabilities.
It stabilizes the endocrine system’s function and activates the body’s reproductive and circulatory systems.
7. It Is Very Healthy
Sea urchin offers a variety of health benefits.
Like other seafood, sea urchin is full of omega-3 fatty acids, which are great for brain health and overall wellness.
It is a light fish, that does not contain much fat.
Of course, it depends on how you cook it, but overall, sea urchin is very light and low in calories, which makes it a highly sought-after seafood.
Some other health benefits of sea urchin include increased virility, a rich source of protein and dietary fiber, vitamin C, vitamin A, and zinc.
These nutrients help the body to repair muscle tissue, lower cholesterol, burn fat, prevent constipation, prevent scurvy, stimulate collagen production, benefit skin and eyes, and help wounds heal faster.
Sea urchin has seemingly limitless health benefits, which makes it a popular food for people who are health conscious and want to improve their body’s functionality.
So many people want to consume sea urchin not only for the taste, but also for the benefits they provide to the human body.
Half an hour after consuming sea urchin, many people report feeling a surge of energy, attention, and strength, because of the nutrients flowing through their bodies.
It also has anti-aging properties, which makes sea urchin a popular food option among people trying to stave off time.
8. They Are Difficult To Get
Like most things, it ultimately comes down to supply and demand.
Though many people want to indulge in sea urchin, it is notoriously hard to get.
There is a lot of demand, and not enough supply to match it, leading to an increase in cost.
This is partially due to the lack of divers and laborers willing to put their lives on the line to find and harvest sea urchin.
People must spend days, even weeks, out on the open ocean to meet their fishing quota in bad weather conditions and without great compensation.
Since there are so few people willing to do the job, there is a lower supply of sea urchin, and therefore, a higher price for these goods.
All sea urchin is caught in the wild.
There are no viable sea urchin farms right now, which means that people must set out on expeditions to catch them.
You will notice that farm-raised seafood is a lot cheaper than wild-caught fish because of the extra labor, processing, and testing that must go into catching and preparing fish in the wild.
9. There Are Many Kinds Of Sea Urchin
There are 18 edible types of sea urchin that can be found around the world.
This means that some kinds of sea urchin are more rare, valuable, and expensive than others.
The good news is that if you try sea urchin and decide you don’t like it, there are still 17 other types you can try and maybe like the flavor a bit more.
Some types of sea urchin are completely inedible.
And if you try bad sea urchin, it can be really, bad.
It requires a delicate environment and a small amount of time in which it can be consumed.
Since there is so much time put into preparing it, with only a small window of time that it is edible, sea urchin can be very expensive.
Chefs know that bad sea urchin is bad, but good sea urchin is really good.
They know that customers are willing to pay a high price for sea urchin that impresses their tastebuds.
10. Treatment And Processing
Since sea urchin is such a delicacy, many chefs and processing plants take great pride in how they treat sea urchin before it is served on someone’s plate.
As a result, those who put more time and care into treating sea urchin can justify higher prices for selling it to restaurants, suppliers, or customers.
All sea urchin is prepared by hand.
At present, there is no viable way to use machines to prepare sea urchin.
Therefore, each one must be handled quickly and thoroughly.
At the same time, sea urchin requires a great deal of meat to construct a single serving.
Once caught, the quality begins to deteriorate immediately.
Even after an hour or so, the flavor of the uni changes greatly.
To get the freshest sea urchin possible, it must be transported immediately to restaurants to be prepared for consumption.
This is one of the main reasons sea urchin is so expensive—you must pay for the quick transportation costs to help it reach you before the quality begins to decline.
If you are in a landlocked location, sea urchin will be even more expensive because of the challenges in transporting it from the ocean to your plate in a short amount of time.
When it is ready to be served, uni (the edible part of sea urchin) has a very short shelf life of only five days.
After that, the texture starts to become loose and runny.
It will still taste okay, but you will be able to taste the difference in freshness.
It might be okay for you but will not be servable at a restaurant.
Restaurants that serve uni have a high turnover rate for sea urchin that is not consumed and must set their prices to offset the loss of product that they have to throw away because it is not consumed when it is fresh.
This helps prevent profit losses.
How To Eat Sea Urchin
Now that you know why sea urchin is such a delicacy, here are some tips for eating it.
1. Let It Be The Strongest Flavor
Since sea urchin has such a unique, strong flavor, don’t try to overpower it with something else.
Don’t create a strong-tasting sauce or include vegetables with strong flavors.
Sea urchin is a delicacy and can even stand on its own on the plate.
For this reason, try to serve sea urchin with things that have more neutral flavors.
It goes great with lemon and butter if you’re looking for a simple dressing to complement the sea urchin.
Otherwise, you can always add some pasta as a nice side dish, especially for sea urchin from the Mediterranean area.
2. Try It Raw
Many chefs say that the best way to eat sea urchin is to consume it raw.
This way, you can really get the full flavor of sea urchin without being distracted by other flavors that it may have been cooked with, like classic onion and garlic.
When you eat sea urchin raw, you will be able to feel the entire ocean in your mouth as it melts on your tongue.
It is a unique flavor that cannot be replicated by any other seafood because it has the flavor of the ocean without being fishy and has a special taste profile that is strong yet subtle.
3. Eat It Fresh
If you’re paying the big bucks to eat sea urchin, you should make sure it is as fresh as possible.
Make sure the five orange uni bits are separated from the inside of the sea urchin shell and be sure to avoid the black pieces and liquid, since those are not edible.
If you put it in your mouth and the flavor tastes “fishy” rather than “oceany,” it might not be very fresh.
Avoid sea urchin sushi, because when served this way, the sea urchin probably isn’t fresh.
4. Try Preparing It The Japanese Way
Sea urchin is a popular delicacy, especially in Japan, where they use a ponzu sauce to bring out the flavor of the creatures.
They also use rice wine, soy sauce, and citrus fruits (but not lime because it is too acidic).
Lemons, tangerines, oranges, and yuzu juice typically go very well with sea urchin.
You can also make sea urchin tartare with fresh cucumber.
Some people choose to add sea urchin roe to a glass of sake and drink it immediately.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some answers to other questions you may have about sea urchin.
1. How Much Does Sea Urchin Cost?
Believe it or not, just one 200-gram box of premium sea urchin gonads costs upwards of $100.
In Japan, it is so highly valued that it could cost more than five times that.
Three hundred grams of some Japanese sea urchin can sell for $800.
2. What Is The Best Part Of Sea Urchin To Eat?
The best part of sea urchin is found in the gonads and is called uni.
3. What Is The Nutritional Value Of Sea Urchin?
Per every 100 grams of sea urchin, you will commonly find 13.8 grams of protein, 4.3 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of carbohydrates, and 86 calories.
Sea urchin roe is a bit higher in calories, with 104 calories per 100 grams.
Still, even that is very low in calories for a food so rich in nutrients and health benefits.
The glycemic index for sea urchin is 15 units, which makes it an acceptable food for people with diabetes.
Sea urchin is a commodity all over the world, especially in Japan.
As the world continues to globalize and international cuisines become more popular in the west, sea urchin is becoming a more popular seafood option.
Since it has not been popular for many years, it is not very common in the United States.
It is also very labor-intensive to harvest.
Only some types of sea urchin are edible, and within those categories, only some parts of the sea urchin are edible for human consumption.
On top of that, sea urchin doesn’t stay good for very long.
Bad sea urchin tastes terrible, but good sea urchin is incredible.
The good news is that the sea urchin population is increasing exponentially, and as the food becomes a more popular taste, hopefully, more fishermen will notice the available market and meet demand by fishing for sea urchin.
This will help drive the price down and aid the ailing kelp forests throughout the world’s oceans, which are quickly falling prey to the overpopulation of sea urchin.