Samui Wining & Dining
Catch of the Day

This month’s catch of the day highlights a sea creature you may not have considered eating – the jellyfish.

 

Page-02-03Strictly speaking, it’s not a fish. And for this reason, the name was recently changed to ‘sea jellies’, just as starfish are now called ‘sea stars’. Well, old habits die hard, so we’ll stick to jellyfish for now, to avoid confusion (and keep a certain editor happy).

      So what are they? Well, jellyfish are characterised as free-swimming marine animals consisting of a gelatinous umbrella-shaped bell and trailing tentacles. The bell can pulsate for locomotion, while stinging tentacles can be used to capture prey. Jellyfish are found in every ocean, from the surface to the deep sea, and a few jellyfish inhabit freshwater. Large, often colourful, jellyfish are common in coastal zones worldwide. These creatures have roamed the seas for at least 500 million years and possibly even 700 million years or more, making them the oldest multi-organ animal still alive today.

      Now while there’s much media talk of declining fish stocks in our oceans, the opposite is true of jellyfish. Since the beginning of the 2000s, these gelatinous creatures have invaded many of the world's seas, and many scientific studies have been conducted worldwide to figure out the cause. Several theories about these ‘blooms’ have arisen, including global warming,

overfishing of fin-fish that eat jellyfish, and changes in marine currents. Reason aside, the most obvious consequences to the increase in their numbers include human injury or even death, as well as reduced coastal tourism. Jellyfish also destroy fishing nets, poison or crush captured fish, and consume fish eggs and young fish. They can clog cooling equipment, disabling power plants, and in fact caused a cascading blackout in the Philippines in 1999, as well as damaging the Diablo Canyon Power Plant in California in 2008. Clogging can also stop desalination plants, as well as ship engines.

      Perhaps the most extraordinary blooms have been those occurring in waters off Japan. There, refrigerator-sized gelatinous monsters called Nomura’s, weighing 200kg and measuring 2m in diameter, have swarmed the Japan Sea annually since 2002, clogging fishing nets, overturning trawlers, and devastating coastal livelihoods. These assaults have cost the Japanese fishing industry billions of yen in losses.

     So what’s the answer? Well, some say that if we can't beat them, we can, at least, eat them! And in some countries, such as Japan, jellyfish are known as a delicacy. Dried jellyfish has become increasingly popular throughout the world. Once dried, they can be stored for weeks at a time. Only scyphozoan jellyfish belonging to the order rhizostomeae are harvested for food, and most of the harvest takes place right here in Southeast Asia. In China, processed jellyfish are desalted by soaking in water overnight and then cooked or eaten raw. The dish is often served shredded with a dressing of oil, soy sauce, vinegar, and sugar, or as a salad with vegetables. In Japan, cured jellyfish are rinsed, cut into strips, and served with vinegar as an appetiser. Jellyfish is relished as a delicacy in other Asian countries like Malaysia, Korea, and Thailand, and while jellyfish do not have any particular flavour of their own, the dishes are made tasty by adding various spices and sauces.

      Shredded jellyfish is a common delicacy at Chinese weddings, and is rarely absent in any celebratory Chinese banquet event vvv. Jellyfish salad, often part of the first course, is made from the bell. The thin round sheet is cut into strips resembling noodles and combined with cucumbers or other crunchy vegetables before being dressed in a fragrant garlic, black vinegar and sesame oil sauce. Another part of the jellyfish used to make cold dishes is the oral arms, known in Chinese as ‘jellyfish head’. These coral shaped arms sit below the bell between the mouth and the tentacles and are often sliced thinly and served icy cold with a side of black vinegar for dipping. You’ll find fresh (salad form) and salted and dried jellyfish in Chinese and Thai supermarkets, so keep your eyes open.

       A desalted Cannonball jellyfish is about 95 per cent water and four to five per cent protein. It’s very low in calories and consists of mostly collagen. For over 1,700 years, Asians have been eating jellyfish for medicinal reasons to treat high blood pressure, arthritis, bronchitis and reportedly to prevent cancer. Cannonball collagen has suppressed induced arthritis in laboratory rats, and in fact Auburn University holds a patent on an arthritis treatment involving jellyfish collagen. So perhaps you’re happy to give up flavour for health benefits.

      Tempted yet? Me neither…

         

Rosanne Turner


 


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