The sea grape, called umibudo in Japan, is a type of seaweed with clusters of small edible grape balls. They are worshipped in Okinawa Prefecture in southern Japan, as well as in Malaysia and the Philippines. You will see them appear from time to time in restaurants around the world.
If you’ve never tasted this incredible dish, you’re probably wondering what sea grapes taste like? Read on to learn all about the taste, texture and uses of this seaweed in the kitchen.
How do sea grapes taste?
The sea grape has a slightly salty taste and a sea flavor very similar to that of kombu, wakame and other types of seaweed. People like to eat them because of their texture, often compared to caviar. The tiny bubbles burst in the mouth, imparting a fresh, salty flavor similar to that of shellfish liquid. Some people perceive a bitterness and a slight sweetness when chewing this seaweed.
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Sea grape is a versatile ingredient used in a variety of dishes in Okinawa restaurants. Mini balls are the leaves of a plant that grows on a long stem; you can eat both the leaves and the stem.
Other common types of seaweed are usually cooked, but sea grapes are best eaten raw to retain their texture. This ingredient is ideal for adding freshness and crunch to a dish. It compensates for heavy meals.
Here are some common ways to eat raw sea grapes:
- It is an attractive side dish, served on rice bowls.
- Served as an appetizer and dipped in a bowl of ponzu, soy sauce or similar condiments.
- Added to a cup of hot water and served as a refreshing drink.
- Served with soy sauce and eaten as a savory snack at the bar with beer.
- Used as an ingredient in sushi or served with sashimi. The umibudo don is a popular Japanese dish that consists of rice and sashimi umibudo. A sauce called sanbaisu is poured over the dish, which consists of equal parts vinegar, mirin and soy sauce.
Sea grapes are a versatile ingredient in the kitchen.
Where do sea grapes grow?
Most sea grapes are harvested on farms in the tropical Pacific around Okinawa and in the Philippines. Other countries with warm, shallow water, such as Australia, are also trying to cultivate these algae. Agricultural production is a challenge because this plant requires very specific temperatures and salinities to grow.
How to buy sea grapes?
If you live in a few parts of the world, it’s unlikely you’ll find sea grapes for sale in your local supermarket. However, there are online stores that sell dried algae in bags. Once you have the umibudo, you can soak them in fresh water until the algae is moistened. The sea grapes will look almost as good as freshly picked.
Sea grapes are rich in vitamins and minerals, especially calcium, iron, zinc, vitamins A and C. They also contain healthy amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.
Seaweed is rich in hyaluronic acid, which is good for the skin and used in many skin care products.
They contain only four calories per 100 grams and are high in fiber.
Some common uses of umibudo.
- Sea grape is also known as green caviar, umibudo, latok, rong no or bulung. The scientific name is Caulerpa lentillifer and it belongs to the family Caulerpaceae.
- Umibudo has been grown for centuries in Okinawa and is widely used in Japanese cuisine.
- The Japanese call the sound of sea grapes bursting open in the mouth puchi puchi. It is an onomatopoeia referring to the sound of bubbles bursting.
- Sea grapes will keep for three weeks if kept in a warm place. If the temperature gets too low, the algae become mush and die.
Seaweed is a fascinating species of algae that is not very well known in most parts of the world because it is very difficult to cultivate. It is important to have a fairly precise combination of warm, shallow seawater that also has the right salinity. Unfortunately, many tropical coastal areas are experiencing heavy rains that lower salinity, killing sea grapes that could be grown.
Have you had the chance to meet this unique alg in a restaurant? Perhaps you are considering ordering online? If you’ve tried other seaweeds like kombu, you probably already know the slightly salty, oceanic taste. The special thing about sea grapes is their crispy texture, which is pleasant to eat at any age.
Sea grapes are not too spicy and do not have strong flavors, so they will probably be enjoyed by most people. If you are in a restaurant and want a different experience, we highly recommend trying sea grapes.
Are you going to eat grapes for the first time? Where did you find it for sale? Let us know in the comments below.
frequently asked questions
How do sea grapes taste?
Sea pearls/seafood are eaten fresh, as a salad or simply as an aperitif between meals. They taste a bit like seaweed and have a consistency similar to real caviar. When you eat natural sea grapes, you are guaranteed to feel fresh and crunchy.
What does Umibudo look like?
Can we eat sea grapes?
Like real grapes, sea grapes are edible and are harvested in the summer for jams and jellies. (I tried a handful on a walk, but it was too early in the year. They had a starchy, bitter taste). Depending on the space they have, sea grapes can grow as trees or bushes.
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