February 24, 2024

PlacesAndFoods

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The Curious Case of the Japanese Sea Cucumber

The Japanese sea cucumber, also known as the namako, might not be the most aesthetically pleasing creature. Resembling a spiky, leathery sausage, it scoots along the seabed, filtering detritus and playing a vital role in marine ecosystems. Trust me, the first time I look at the Japanese sea cucumber, it looks like a mini sea monster from Ultraman or Godzilla movies. But don’t underestimate this unassuming echinoderm! In Japan and other parts of Asia especially the Chinese community, the namako is considered a culinary treasure, boasting a unique flavor and potential health benefits.

Shizukari fishing port japanese sea cucumber
Fresh from the sea, namako

A Prickly Resident of the Deep

The Japanese sea cucumber (Apostichopus japonicus) comes in three main colors: red, green, and black. I have seen the red and black in Aomori and Hokkaido. It inhabits shallow coastal waters around the Pacific Rim, from Alaska to the Philippines. Though slow-moving and seemingly defenseless, it has a few tricks up its sleeve. When threatened, it can expel sticky threads called cuvierian tubules to deter predators. It can even regenerate lost limbs!

hokkaido sea cucumber
The raw, dried and sashimi namako

From Sea to Plate: A Delicacy with a Twist

Despite its unusual appearance, the namako is a prized ingredient in Asian cuisine. Its flesh is surprisingly firm and has a subtle, briny flavor. It’s often served cooked, simmered in broths or stir-fries, or enjoyed raw as sashimi. But perhaps the most intriguing way to experience namako is in sunoko, a traditional Japanese dish where the sea cucumber is fermented in vinegar and sake. The fermentation process tenderizes the flesh and imparts a complex, sour flavor that’s both refreshing and slightly funky.

goukaden aomori sea cucumber
Japanese / Chinese style of namako

I tasted it raw and the texture is tough while the taste and flavour comes with hints of saltiness. Most Chinese will soak the sea cucumber and cook it with stew so it will be soft in texture and cooked it with vegetables like broccoli with sauce. You can also find sea cucumber in Chinese broth depending on the style of cooking.

goukaden restaurant aomori sea cucumber
Namako cooked

Beyond the Plate: Potential Health Benefits

The namako’s popularity extends beyond its culinary appeal. Traditional Chinese medicine has revered it for centuries as a tonic, believing it to possess various health benefits. Modern research suggests it might have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and even anti-cancer properties, although more studies are needed.

Shizukari fishing port dried sea cucumber
Dried sea cucumber

The Next Time You See a Sea Cucumber

So, the next time you encounter a sea cucumber on the beach, remember that it’s more than just a spiky oddity. The Japanese sea cucumber is a fascinating creature with a rich cultural and culinary significance. And who knows, maybe you’ll even be tempted to try it yourself one day! This is
The Curious Case of the Japanese Sea Cucumber!

japanese scallop
Holding namako

This trip is sponsored by Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Thank you everyone who makes this trip possible and also nice meeting all the influencers and media representatives from South East Asia, you all makes this trip amazing!

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