An aphrodisiac in Japan for thousands of years, sea urchin, or uni, as the Japanese call it, rose to popularity in North America in the late twentieth century.
Contrary to popular belief, the portion of the sea urchin sold and served as one of the ocean’s most opulent treasures is not the roe.
Why is sea urchin an aphrodisiac?
Roe refers to eggs, and that’s not what you’re eating when you enjoy this gift of the sea. It is the gonads of this sea creature that are scooped out of the urchin’s spiny shell in five custard-like, golden sections.
Some say it is the distinctive perfume of the sea urchin, slightly briny and almost sweaty, that give it an aphrodisiac association. But most people believe that it’s the simple fact that the edible portion of these creatures, relatives of sea cucumbers, is a sexual organ that makes it a food of virility.
However uni has much to offer from a nutritional standpoint. And I believe that it’s the supply of nutrients that makes this seafood an outstanding aphrodisiac.
More nutritional benefits of uni
Sea urchin is one of the most prominent culinary sources of anandamide, a cannabinoid neurotransmitter. Does this mean that eating sea urchin will produce a similar effect to ingesting marijuana? Probably not, but it is possible that uni activates the dopamine system in the brain, humans’ built in “reward circuit.”
Sea urchin is also a source of protein, which is necessary for sustaining a long night of seduction. Considered a relatively low calorie food, uni is also a source of omega-3 fatty acids. These essential fats are known not only to support cardiovascular health (and thereby support sexual health) but also to promote dopamine production. Without question, uni is a “happy” food!
How to serve this seafood
Uni is most often served raw. You will find it served as sushi or sashimi in many Japanese restaurants. In French bistros and Mediterranean seafood restaurants, you my find it served in the shell with a side of warm, crusty bread. (Dropping a section of its golden custard onto a lightly buttered slice of warm bread is my personal favorite way to enjoy sea urchin.)
You may find sea urchin served tossed in fresh pasta. And some chefs will treat it similarly to egg, using it in custard or whipped into a foam. But whatever way you choose to enjoy your uni, you can ensure it is fresh by checking both for a golden-orange color and a soft smooth texture. If your serving appears grainy or tastes bitter, it should not be eaten.
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