This is an article I originally wrote for Xpress Magazine all about sea urchin, more commonly known as Uni, it’s history as an aphrodisiac, and my experiences with it.
I hope you enjoy!
Forget chocolate covered strawberries, champagne, and oysters the next time love, or lust, is in the air – there’s a new aphrodisiac in town. Well, maybe not so new, more so under represented as such.
Sea Urchin, or Uni, has been used to inspire desire for centuries. Considering the part that’s eaten is in fact the sex glands of the urchin, it’s not surprising the effects carry over.
It is certainly not hard to believe that the art of seduction has been on the brain since, well, pretty much the beginning of time. The term aphrodisiac is derived from the Greek goddess of love and sexuality, Aphrodite. Over the years various outlandish items have been proclaimed to be the best in putting love seekers in the mood. In ancient days, starfish, dried human marrow, and menstrual blood were the hottest on the market. Later it was a drink that contained gold – perhaps that’s where Goldschläger got the idea. The list goes on with Uni being introduced only a few hundred years ago.
Despite the fact that it is a popular ingredient in many Japanese and Mediterranean dishes, this spiny fellow is extremely hard to track down in the city. A cashier at one of the Asian fish markets in the Sunset scoffs when she says, “That’s a Japanese thing.” Duly noted; they are a bit more accessible in Japantown, though at a steep price – expect to pay five dollars for one urchin, which may not seem too bad until considering that one urchin only yields five “steaks” the size of a chubby pinky finger.
“Sea Urchins have been established as an Asian dish with status because it’s a little pricey,” says Kai Chen, a waiter at All Season Sushi in the Castro.
If sex is still on the brain after shelling out about twenty dollars to get enough meat for two lovers to indulge in, then cracking them open is the next step. With a sharp pair of scissors and determination, cutting the bottom off the urchin is not a big deal, unless they are still alive. As soon as the scissors pierce their shell their spines go wild, moving faster than expected and elevating the threat of getting poked. Even after severing them into two separate pieces they still move with a vengeance. Running them under hot water should do the trick in finally sending them to a watery grave.
Now take a look at the half of the urchin with the meat, this is supposed to subconsciously put one in the mood because it should be reminiscent of the female sex organ. Consciously though, it looks like a massacred shell with orange colored meat lining. It may only look like female lady parts in an extremely abstract, not literal sense – that’s for sure. And that smell; once the shell has been punctured get ready for a pungent salt-tinged liquid to come streaming out into, hopefully, the sink.
The taste is at best, acquired. Though the texture is smooth and creamy, the flavor could be compared to what the bottom of the San Francisco Bay would taste like if licked. There is an inexplicable briny flavor to it, a deep bottom of the ocean flavor that to some may be enjoyable, but to others extremely off-putting.
Here the roe has been strained out to incorporate into a cream sauce
After a memorable experience a few years ago, sushi lover Lindsay Mayott has made a point to never let Uni touch her lips again. She’s not buying the hype that has surrounded sea urchin.
“It may be a delicacy, but there is nothing delicate about the taste,” says Mayott, 26, as she wrinkles her nose. “The texture reminds me of that goo toy from the ‘90’s ‘Nickelodeon Gak,’ basically it’s like eating someone else’s boogers.”
So after all this, what makes it an ingredient associated with increased sexual ability?
“Sea urchin is a dish that someone will order again and again because it’s an aphrodisiac,” Chen, 33, elaborates. “Not only that but its exotic and nutritious.”
The fundamental problem with aphrodisiacs is that there is little proof to back it up. However, broken down, at the very least these little guys pack quite the nutritional punch with their high levels of vitamins A, B1, B2, D, E, zinc, and antioxidants and it is these vitamins that help encourage sexual activity, especially when used in conjunction. Each vitamin serves a part to create an extra memorable sexual experience, vitamin E promotes increased blood flow throughout your body and is needed for optimum endurance and stamina; vitamin B helps turn carbohydrates into the energy essential for prosperous sexual activity; vitamin A, and E for that matter, are antioxidants which fight off the free radicals that cause sexual dysfunction in men and some women; lastly increased levels of zinc in the body boosts concentration and sex drive. All of these vitamins in just a little sea urchin steak. Plus, as mentioned before, the visual look of it should keep the brain fixated on what’s to come after the dishes have been cleared.
Chen laughs as he looks around the restaurant as he says, “I’ll have to pay attention to new lovers who try Uni and then come back for more.”