Sea Cucumber- A Source of Food and Medicine

Sea Cucumber with Shrimp Eggs

Sea cucumber or Hai Shen

in Chinese means Ginseng of the Sea. It has been a source of food to the Chinese for several centuries. It is considered as one of the Eight Delicacies from the sea, together with scallop, sharkfin, abalone, fish bladder, fish lips, caviar and bird nest. It has a high nutritional value due to presence of up to 50 types of essential nutritional elements, trace elements or micro nutrients and organic compounds. These include a high content of protein with low fat, iodine, calcium, potassium, zinc, iron, selenium, manganese, chondroitin sulfate, saponins, vitamins like vitamin A, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin etc.

Premium grade sea cucumbers enclosed in air-tight glass jars.
Premium grade sea cucumbers enclosed in air-tight glass jars. | Source
Medicinal Hall selling Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
Medicinal Hall selling Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) | Source
Chinese provision shop.
Chinese provision shop. | Source
Sundry goods stall.
Sundry goods stall. | Source
Cooked food sold by a Dai Pai Dong in Hong Kong.
Cooked food sold by a Dai Pai Dong in Hong Kong.

Medicinal Value

The sea cucumber has been used, as a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to treat various medical conditions. These include improvement in the functioning of kidneys, stomach, nourishing the blood, treatment for arthritis, deterrence to the development of some cancers, constipation, impotence, nourishment of skin complexion and general debility due to old age.

A Food Center in Singapore, where ready-cooked food is sold.
A Food Center in Singapore, where ready-cooked food is sold.
Cooked food sold by an Economic Rice Foodstall in Singapore. photo courtesy by: julia khoo
Cooked food sold by an Economic Rice Foodstall in Singapore. photo courtesy by: julia khoo

Uses of Sea Cucumber

Additive to toothpaste for prevention of gum diseases, due to presence of anti-inflamatory compound, which retards bacterial action and promotes wound healing. Collagen, which has anti-wrinkling effect on the skin; is used as an ingredient in beauty and skin care products. Extracts are used in the manufacture of various ointments, as a dietary supplement and as pet food.

An assortment of sea cucumbers.
An assortment of sea cucumbers.
Bald Sea Cucumbers
Bald Sea Cucumbers
Thorny Sea Cucumbers
Thorny Sea Cucumbers
Thorny Sea Cucumbers
Thorny Sea Cucumbers

Availability and Description

Of the close to 1000 species of sea cucumber worldwide, only about 40 are edible. Edible sea cucumbers are described by the region where they are collected from and their appearance. Sea cucumbers are usually sold in dried form. Premium grades are available from Chinese pharmacy, known as "medicinal hall". These are proudly displayed in large, air-tight glass jars. Lesser grades are available from sundry-goods stall or Chinese-owned provision shop. Hydrated sea cucumber may occasionally be seen in a wet market or a supermarket. Not all sea cucumbers are expensively priced. Ready-cooked sea cucumbers may occasionally be offered by a road-side food stall; known as Dai Pai Dong in Hong Kong. In Singapore, it may be offered by an Economic Rice food stall within a Food Center, previously known as Hawker Center. A Food Center is a spacious sheltered structure, with ample natural-air ventilation, where there are many food stalls selling cooked food. It is almost certainly sited beside or near to a wet market. An Economic Rice food stall may also operate within a Food Court, which is air-conditioned and usually found in a shopping mall or other commercial buildings.

There are 4 main types of edible sea cucumbers. These are:

Ci Shen (刺参)- Thorny Sea Cucumber. Many types are found in the seas off Northern China and Japan. Premium grade, offered in banquet by restaurants in China. Small, delicate with a unique shape. Crispy and refined in texture.

Tu Shen(秃参)- Bald Sea Cucumber. Found in the seas around Australia and Africa. Fragrant, tender, slippery in texture. Bald and shiny in appearance after boiling and removing outer layer of skin.

Zhu Po Shen (猪婆参) or simply Po Shen(婆参)- Sow Sea Cucumber. Named after the two rows of nodular-shaped feet at its base, resembling the twin rows of nipples of an adult female pig. Bald, shiny and coarse in appearance after boiling and removing outer layer of skin. Large, fragrant, soft and slippery in texture. Tendency to disintegrate into small, irregular shaped pieces after cooking. This type is mostly used by road-side food stalls selling ready-cooked food. There are two types of Zhu Po Shen, one is white and the other is black in colour. Found in the seas around Indonesia.

Hei Shi Shen(黑石参) or Wu Shen(乌参)- Black Stone Sea Cucumber. Named after the colour of its appearance. Found in in seas around Indonesia. Able to retain its shape after boiling and soaking. Crispy in texture.

Soak sea cucumbers in a bowl of clean water.
Soak sea cucumbers in a bowl of clean water. | Source
Sea cucumber expends after soaking and boiling.
Sea cucumber expends after soaking and boiling.
Cut open the  bottom of the sea cucumber.
Cut open the bottom of the sea cucumber.
Remove all the intestines and outer layer of skin.
Remove all the intestines and outer layer of skin.
Add ice cubes to water on a warm day.
Add ice cubes to water on a warm day.
Intestines removed from sea cucumber.
Intestines removed from sea cucumber.
Sea cucumber intestines boiled into soup.
Sea cucumber intestines boiled into soup.

Hydrating, Cleaning and Storage

1. Wash, then soak the sea cucumber with clean water in a clean bowl that is free from oil. The presence of oil can cause the sea cucumber to liquidfy.

2. After soaking for 8 hours, change water. Add slices of ginger into the water for removal of smell. Bring the contents slowly to a boil and hold for 10 - 30 minutes, depending on the size and thickness of the sea cucumber. By then it should become soft enough to be pierced through by a chopstick.

3. Allow it to cool gradually for 8 hours. Cut open the underside of the sea cucumber using a pair of scissors. Remove the intestines, wash clean and change water. Do this for 3 times a day. If it gets to long, cut into shorter length.

4. Bring the contents to a boil, hold for 5 minutes and then allow it to cool gradually.The purpose is to remove completely the unpleasant smell of the sea cucumber.

When the weather is warm, iced water may be used and change water 3 times a day. When the process is complete by the fourth day, the sea cucumber almost double in length and become soft and springy. The removed intestines are edible and they contain even higher nutrition than the sea cucumber itself. These can be cooked together with the sea cucumber, or cooked separately as a broth if there's enough of it.

Occasional there is presence of sand grains inside the intestines. In such a case, these may be washed free of sand and used as pet food.

Hydrateted sea cucumber can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 2 months when properly sealed, although this practice is not encouraged.

Fun Facts

1. Ability to change its color and to alter its shape according to the environment; use of mimicry, camouflage and deception to confuse its predator.

2. When water temperature rises to 20 degrees C, the sea cucumber will hide under the seabed or in the crevice and cease all forms of physical activity. Its body begins to shrink and turns hard, rendering it inedible to its predator. An entire summer is spent in this state. Only after autumn when the water temperature cools sufficiently that it wakes up and resume activities. Also, when water temperature goes below 8 degrees C, it goes into hibernation mode.

3. Sea cucumbers begin hiding in crevices before the arrival of storms. Fishermen rely on this observation to make accurate prediction of the weather.

4. Auto-evisceration. When faced with a life threatening situation, the sea cucumber is able to expel its innards. The resulting recoil creates an opportunity to escape from its predator. A new set of innards is grown within 50 days.

5. A sea cucumber that is cut into two sections is able to grow back into two complete sea cucumbers within 3-8 months in the sea. Some sea cucumbers even posess the ability to cut itself into two and then grow back into two separate and complete sea cucumbers.

6. When a sea cumcumber's body is pierced with a steel wire and tied with a dead knot, it is able to expell the foreign object; magic-like, within two weeks. After this happens, no sign of scarring can be seen on its body.

7. When a sea cucumber is removed from the water, it liquifies within a short time. At the end of its lifespan of 8 years, it liquifies itself in the sea, without leaving a trace. When a sea
cucumber comes into contact with oil, it turns into liquid.

Sea Cucumber with Spring Onion.
Sea Cucumber with Spring Onion.
Sea Cucumber with Mutton.
Sea Cucumber with Mutton.
Sea Cucumber with Three Delicacies.
Sea Cucumber with Three Delicacies.
Sour & Spicy Sea Cucumber Soup.
Sour & Spicy Sea Cucumber Soup.
Sea Cucumber with Abalone.
Sea Cucumber with Abalone.

Dishes with sea cucumber as the main ingredient:

1. cong shao hai shen(葱烧刺参)- Sea Cucumber with Spring Onion

2. bao yu hai shen(鲍鱼海参)- Sea Cucumber with Abalone

3. xia zi hai shen(虾子海参)- Sea Cucumber with Shrimp Eggs

4. hu die hai shen(蝴蝶海参)- Butterfly Sea Cucumber (with butterfly-shaped dumplings made from cut-open prawn with fish and pork filling).

5. san xian hai shen(三鲜海参)- Sea Cucumber a Cucumber Soup

6. suan la hai shen tang(酸辣海参汤)- Sour and Spicy Sea Cucumber Soup


7. shen pa zhou zi(海参扒肘子)- Sea Cucumber with Pork Shoulder

8. hai shen shao yang rou(海参烧羊肉)- Sea Cucumber with Mutton

Comments 6 comments

snakebaby profile image

snakebaby 6 years ago from Boston, MA, USA

Lots of fun facts that I didn't know, great info, nicely written, hope to see more hubs from you.


sgphilgoh profile image

sgphilgoh 6 years ago from Singapore Author

Thank you for the support.


jojokaya profile image

jojokaya 5 years ago from USA

Sea cucumber looks very versatile. Nice hubs


4 years ago

goooooooooooooooooooooood infooooooooooooo


Johne28 2 years ago

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Mila 15 months ago

its very usefull to my assg aquatic biology invertebrate! thanks,,

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