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Today, we’re talking about uni (うに)!
So… er… what is uni?
When you’re eating uni, you’re eating the insides of a sea urchin… more specifically, you’re eating the reproductive organs of a sea urchin (but most people call it roe, since it sounds a little better). You’ll probably never actually know whether you’re eating a male or a female uni, because their reproductive organs look extremely similar.
On the outside, sea urchins look like dark spiky balls. (We want to know who thought it was a good idea to eat something that looks like that. Someone want to make us a miso hungry time machine so we can go back 2000 years and find out?)
The part of the uni that you eat can range from a light yellow to a dark orange color, and they look like little tongues. There are five of these “tongues” (or lobes) per sea urchin, and it takes 20 sea urchins to produce one cup of uni.
They taste creamy, buttery, slightly salty, sweet… just plain delicious.
Unless you get a bad one, in which case it tastes really gross. Uni goes bad pretty quickly – 24 hours makes a huge difference in the quality.
It goes without saying that you should want to get a grade A in uni-veristy! (In other words, Grade A uni is the best quality!)
But not everyone likes uni… Allison used to give all her uni to her boyfriend, until she saw the light a year ago.
And guess what… uni is good for you! It’s low in calories, and high in omega 3s, vitamins, and all sorts of other good things.
Since we’re approaching Valentine’s Day, we thought we’d mention that uni is an aphrodisiac. And it’s not one of those silly ones that are considered aphrodisiacs because of the way they look… uni actually makes your brain happy. It contains something called anandamide, which is a cannabinoid neurotransmitter… in other words, it activates the dopamine system in your brain.
Our friend Sushi Pro actually bought some fresh, whole uni (in the spiky shell) and cut them open himself! That’s something we definitely want to do someday (what do you think… want to hear, and maybe even see, Allison and Rachael struggling to open sea urchins?)
Traditionally, uni divers known as ama (which translates to sea women) dove for uni, using special breathing techniques since they didn’t use any sort of breathing apparatus.
There are lots of different ways you can find uni in Japan:
- Fresh (nama uni)
- Frozen (reito uni)
- Baked and frozen (yaki uni)
- Steamed (mushi uni)
- Salted (shio uni)
- Blended uni paste (neri uni)
- Lumpy uni paste (tsubi uni)
You can eat uni as a mousse, as a hollandaise-like sauce, in pasta as either a topping or a sauce (the pasta Allison made was inspired by this recipe…
You can have it on top of rice w/ shoyu + daikon + wasabi, or as sashimi rolled in shiso leaf w/ shoyu + lemon juice…
As nigiri sushi, sprinkled with paprika and topped with small sliver of green onion…
Or as gunkan maki.
We thought Mr. Fuji’s experience eating an uni that was still moving (muscle reflexes post-mortem, NOT a live uni) was pretty interesting:
In terms of sustainability, uni is good for the environment because of the way it is harvested – divers hand-pick the uni off the floor of the ocean. Canadian uni is the most recommended, because Canada has a very abundant uni population.
Did you notice our new Tako Tidbits that goes up on Thursdays? There’s so much we want to tell you about, but we don’t want to make you listen to a several-hour-long podcast… so instead, we bring you all the other links we want to tell you about in a post on Thursdays.
And don’t forget, you can always come hang out with us!
- We’re on Twitter: @misotalk
- We have a Facebook Page
- You can email us at misohungrypodcast [at] gmail [dot] com
- We love it when you leave comments here
- And we always really appreciate it when you leave us ratings and reviews on iTunes!
We still want to hear your uni stories. Do you love it? Hate it? How do you like to eat it? Do you have any fun uni experiences?