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What is Uni (Sea Urchin Roe) and Why Should I Eat It?

Updated on February 2, 2015

Uni can be an acquired tatse

What is Uni?

When people think of sea urchins, they often conjure up images of the spiny sea creatures, and know that they must take care not to step on them when exploring the beaches where the creatures make their habitat. However, others also know that these same creatures also provide a delectable treat commonly found in sushi restaurants and other establishments.

Obviously, it is not the sharp spines that are edible, but the roe that lies within the shell of the sea urchin that figures prevalently in sushi and dishes of other cultures, such as Korean cuisine and dishes from Chile. Referred to in restaurants and by chefs as "Uni", it is important to note that what you may be consuming isn't actually the roe of the sear urchin. In actuality, it is the organs responsible for producing the roe— the gonads, of which there are five in each sea urchin.

Why is Uni expensive?

Uni can be rather expensive, depeneding upon the region it was harvested from and the quality of the uni. In each sea urchin there will be five strips of uni, ranging in color from bright orange to golden yellow. It's texture is somewhat like a firm custard, and it is most commonly served atop a small amount of rice.

It is always sold fresh, but might not be easy to find outside of a sushi restaurant, although some Asian supermarkets might carry it. The labor involved in harvesting Uni attributes tot he high cost. The sea urchins must first be collected, and then the shells need to be cracked open. The uni inside is extracted, and then also undergoes cleaning. Additional treatments, packaging and shipping all add to the cost of the uni.

Fresh uni in the shell

Some places will sell you fresh uni right in the shell
Some places will sell you fresh uni right in the shell

Where can I find Uni?

Uni can spoil quickly, and most of the uni available for sale by merchants is bought by chefs and owners of sushi restaurants. But if you do happen to find uni in a supermarket, you should know what to look for in order to choose the best, freshest quality uni.

Brighter coloring is usually indicative of fresh uni, and the texture should be firm. If you see any that appear to be leaking fluids, you might want to take a pass. There is not much difference between the yellow or orange uni, though many say that the yellow has a superior, creamier and more buttery flavor.

What does Uni taste like?

The soft, buttery texture and enticing flowery aroma makes it a truly delectable treat for those who are not shy about trying it.. Different regions will yield uni that tastes slightly different. Much of the sea urchin roe that is sold in the USA is produced in California.

Uni with pasta

Other culinary uses for Uni

Aside from the standard treat of uni as sushi, uni can also be found in tempura dishes, pasta dishes, custards, and various small plates. It can also be used to add a unique flavor to various sauces, but should not be cooked for too long or the flavor will suffer.

Why should I eat Uni?

Health benefits of Uni
The Japanese consider sea urchin roe to be an aphrodisiac, but it is usually eaten primarily for its taste as well as its health benefits. The health benefits of uni include fiber, protein, and Vitamin C, A & E, as well as iodine and calcium. About 2-3 pieces (a typical sushi serving of 100 grams) contains only 125 calories.

Choosing the best Uni

If you find that you like uni, try sampling a few different varieties so that you can decide which uni from a particular region you enjoy the most. You can ask the sushi chef where the uni he used came from, and then you will know what to look for when shopping for uni for yourself. You might also try uni in a few good recipes from the Internet, some of which were provided here.

Health benefits of Uni and other strange beliefs

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