Okay you invertebrate zoologists out there!! How many phyla can YOU recognize on the plate above??? By the end of this blog you WILL know! (and maybe, you will hate me for telling you)
Everyone seems to have a "Weirdest foods" list out there-but here at Echinoblog we offer you only the STRANGEST sampling of bizarre marine invertebrates cuisine! forget insects, snails or shrimp!
Some of the edible (?) metazoans below are usually only noticed by marine biologists, zoologists and the well-studied biologist!
What better application of knowing the strangest of marine invertebrate phyla can there be than to recognize it on your plate? Its scientific name disguised by colorful cultural argot or perhaps in a different language?
1. SEA SQUIRTS! (probably genus Pyura?). The Korean name for sea squirts as food is: meongge (although there are several more)
Sea squirts are a kind of tunicate, which are in turn members of the phylum Chordata (the group humans and other vertebrates belong to) and when alive they look like this:
As it turns out, sea squirts are eaten all over the world, including Japan (called hoya and maboya) and Korea (meongge, and in a stew called agujim). They also eat sea squirts in France, Italy, Greece, and Chile .
Images of sea squirts eaten in Korea. Image by scbrianchan
A video showing preparation. Sea squirts are filter feeders and processing water through their body is a primary function. Thus, drainage seems to be an important feature...
when cooked and prepared it looks like this
or this.. Image by toughkidcst
sometimes served with oysters... Image by Food Fetishist
Flavor ranges from "rubbery" to something this..
2. ECHIURAN WORMS! aka "fat inkeeper worm" aka "penis fish" aka gaebul (genus Urechis)
Most people have never heard of this phylum of worms. Commonly known as "spoon worms"
One of the best studied examples is Urechis caupo, occurring on the North pacific coast -living in muddy burrows which serve as homes for many other commensals, including tiny shrimps and fishes.
But in Korea, a related species, Urechis unicintus is collected and eaten!
Apparently it is cut up into segments and served while twitching....
In other cuisines, it is cooked and stir fired..
the picture above? gaebul and mongae aka Echiuran and Sea squirt!!
and uh yeah, there's a belief that eating these imbues men with more virility. That seems unlikely....
3. INARTICULATE BRACHIOPOD (Lingula sp.)
Brachiopods are one of the oldest animals observed in the geological record, going as far back as 500 million years. In some cases-they appear relatively unchanged appearing very much as they do as fossils.
and now we eat them.
This gives you an idea of what they look like alive..living in a muddy habitat Image by Changhua Coast Conservation Action.
In one group, known as the "inarticulate" brachiopods, there is a big fleshy structure called the "peduncle" which emerges from the shell
Biologist Richard Fortey noted that they tasted like "straw' (quote is here).
Here is an image of brachiopods as sold in a food market in Makassar. Image by Arthur Anker.
Here is another from a Thai market. Image by Peter Roopnarine
In Malaysia this dish is called Probolinggo TEBALAN. The blog linked here suggests that Lingula tastes "sweet and spicy" whereas others I've seen suggest that it is served with a tasty curry.
Huh. Brachiopod curry. NOT something I was expecting to write today!
4. STALKED BARNACLES! Barnacles. Those well-known shelled crustaceans that live on docks and use their "legs" to filter feed out of the water like this:
These of course are what's known as "goose" or "goose-necked" barnacles because of the long, prominent stalk attached to the body sitting on top.
5. SEA STARS! (family Asteriidae- species: Asterias amurensis)
So, first let me distinguish between the "starfish for show" pictures that one sees around like this versus apparently real accounts of people who eat the gonads of starfish as seen in the video below..
Image by Robin G. Ewing.
Honestly, eating sea stars baffles me. And I recommend against it (as here) and here but obviously, people really eat these. On the plus side, Asterias amurensis (the species shown below) is a problematic invasive in Australia (as I wrote here)
so maybe there is a silver lining to this?