Turtles eat them. So do fish, including bluefin and other tuna. In China, South Korea and Japan, people eat them, too.
Still, slimy, stinging jellyfish are not widely viewed as a tasty food source for people.
So the question arises: Should I eat jellyfish?
Yes, says Andrew Rossiter, director of the Waikiki Aquarium. “Most jellyfish are edible as long as you don’t eat the venom.”
Jellyfish are 98 percent water, he said, but after they are dried and preserved, they are high in protein and low in fat — “a very healthy food source.”
Local Chinese cookbook author Lynette Lo Tom grew up eating jellyfish at home or as an appetizer at Chinese restaurants, served sliced with a soy-vinegar- sesame oil sauce.
“I love the crunch and chewy texture of jellyfish,” she said. “It’s very refreshing.”
Four or five species of jellyfish are commercially harvested, said William J. Cooke, a retired marine ecologist in Hawaii, who is not a fan.
“It’s solidified mucus, for all intents and purposes,” he said.
The box jellyfish that wash up on Hawaii beaches are not the same as jellyfish commonly used as food. Those come from Asia or, more recently, fisheries in the United States and elsewhere.
These species can be as small as a dinner plate or as big as a small coffee table, Cooke said.
Recent jellyfish blooms have led some marine biologists to theorize that jellyfish are becoming more plentiful because other, more desirable ocean carnivores that eat them, such as bluefin tuna, are being overfished.
For my taste of jellyfish, Tom prepared a salad with daikon, cucumber, Chinese parsley and chilies.
She held up a huge light-brown blob of the salted, preserved jellyfish she bought in Chinatown, where it sells for $3.99 a pound.
The jellyfish is soaked overnight to remove the salt and preservatives, then blanched and sliced. At that point it resembles jiggly bits of al dente linguine.
Mixed with the vegetables and sauce, it looks like a noodle dish. Someone would have to tell you it’s jellyfish or you’d never know.
I take a bite.
The jellyfish is crunchy. You can hear it crunch as you eat. It doesn’t have much taste in itself, but absorbs the sauce, so it comes across as mild, teriyaki-marinated crunchy Jell-O noodles. The cucumber adds coolness, the daikon more crunch, then comes the heat of the chili.
While the soy-vinegar- sesame blend is the traditional sauce, jellyfish can be served in other combinations.
Perhaps with tropical fruit in a peanut beurre blanc?
Guava jellyfish with peanut butter … hmmm.
Lynette Lo Tom
- 1/2 pound preserved jellyfish
- 1/2 cup cucumber, seeded and cut in matchsticks
- 1/2 cup daikon, cut in matchsticks
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 Thai chili pepper, sliced, optional
- Cilantro, for garnish
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
Soak jellyfish in water overnight, refrigerated. Change water often. Cut jellyfish into 1/4-inch slivers, keeping the strips as long as possible. Bring a pot of water to a boil and blanch jellyfish. Drain.
Combine sauce ingredients; mix with jellyfish and refrigerate at least 3 hours.
In a separate bowl, mix cucumber and daikon with salt. Let sit at least 1 hour. Drain cucumber and daikon mixture and add to jellyfish. Add chili pepper if desired. Serve cold or at room temperature, garnished with cilantro. Serves 4.
Approximate nutritional information, per serving: 45 calories, 2 g fat, no saturated fat, 5 mg cholesterol, greater than 4,000 mg sodium, 2 g carbohydrate, no fiber, 1 g sugar, 4 g protein
Web producer Craig Gima tries out new foods in a video and print series every other Wednesday. Dare him to try a really scary food: firstname.lastname@example.org