In many studies and dietary approaches, jellyfish provide an important basis for fighting age-related diseases. They also offer important insights into climate change and modern research.
Most Europeans are not familiar with these maritime creatures, so it’s worth taking a closer look at these gelatinous life forms. Jellyfish have no brain, so instead of swimming directionally they literally go with the flow. Philosophically speaking, that in itself means they are one with nature. In China, jellyfish are considered to have various medicinal properties that can help restore our body’s natural balance. On a more pragmatic level, jellyfish are miracles of nutrition. They are fat free, yet contain high levels of proteins that bind calcium. This is important for our memory, which is why jellyfish are said to improve our powers of recollection. The high levels of collagen help combat arthritis and reduce wrinkles.
Where does this power from the ocean fit into European cuisine, and what hurdles need be overcome?
In the past, Europe had nothing similar in terms of food. Jellyfish are arriving here very slowly, and only appear on the menu in experimental restaurants in major cities – or, more frequently, in Asian restaurants. In Germany, jellyfish are a niche trend for haute cuisine restaurants that are always looking for new ingredients, flavours and haptic experiences. Mediterranean fishermen are particularly happy about this trend because jellyfish have the potential to become a real alternative to fish.
Our ocean’s fish stocks are depleted and dwindling, which means smaller catches for fishermen. Jellyfish give them a chance to branch out. Global warming makes it harder for fish to reproduce, whereas the warmer water helps jellyfish by extending their life expectancy. Already, stocks of edible fried egg jellyfish are exploding in the Mediterranean region. Also, fish goes off much more easily than jellyfish and can no longer be sold as edible; processed jellyfish keeps for up to one year.
So far, European food authorities have not approved local jellyfish for consumption. That means all the jellyfish we eat in Europe come from Asia, making their carbon footprint more than dubious.
Over to Hong Kong. How do they prepare this unusual powerfood there?
If you think Asian fish markets are teeming with aquariums full of brightly coloured jellyfish, think again. You won’t see fresh, live jellyfish on the markets of Hong Kong, but you will see them in dried form on every street corner. The mounds of indefinable, dry, white, flattened material look more like cabbage than jellyfish.
There are two categories to choose from offer: sale and consumption
Preparation before selling: the poisonous tentacles and innards are cut off immediately on the fishing boats. On land, the jellyfish are then immersed in a series of new mixtures of various salts for weeks until all that’s left of the centimetre-thick, watery mass are the millimetre-thin, extremely salty skins. This process is what makes them keep for up to a year.
Preparation before eating: the desiccated jellyfish are soaked in water for at least eight hours (mostly a whole day) and washed repeatedly until the salt has been removed (desalted) and they swell up. After that, the jellyfish are prepared as desired. For jellyfish salad (see the recipe below) the pieces are sliced into fine, short strips that look like cabbage salad.
Jellyfish have a mild intrinsic flavour. Hong Kong residents particularly love them for their crunchy, yet succulent watery consistency.
Our powerfood expert’s conclusion:
Jellyfish may look unappetizing, but they are healthy and they even offer solutions to global challenges. They are very popular throughout in Asia, but particularly so in cities that are on or near the coast. That explains why power jellyfish are definitely on the menu in Hong Kong. Quality and prices vary a lot, and prices are rising. What began as a healthy, practical, affordable food for simple people is now turning into a delicacy that normal people can no longer afford. Increasingly, jellyfish are disappearing from simple street kitchens and turning up in the finer restaurants instead.
Although the jellyfish population is high, you can’t simply catch more because only experienced fishermen know how to remove the poisonous tentacles.
If western authorities and health organizations approved jellyfish for human consumption, that could change. Larger industries would develop that process, which in turn would reduce the jellyfish plagues and create new jobs.
Jellyfish a la carte – a recipe suggestion from our Hong Kong powerfood expert Traditional jellyfish salad
1 pack dried jellyfish (from your Asian supermarket)
1 tbsp vinegar
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 pinch of salt
1 pinch of sugar
1 chilli (depending on strength)
1 tbsp peanut butter
1–2 cloves of garlic
3–4 stalks coriander
Soak the jellyfish in water for 24 hours
ImDuring that time, wash the jellyfish 2 – 3 times and leave in fresh water
Just before you start preparing, steam the jellyfish for around 2 minutes or boil for 30 seconds
Plunge into cold water, then drain
Use your blender to make a smooth paste out of the vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, salt, sugar, chilli and peanut butter
Chop the garlic into very fine pieces
Chop the fresh coriander
Mix the jellyfish and the sauce together, then serve
Jellyfish is traditionally served with no side dishes (like bean sprout salad or ginger salads in Asian restaurants). But as a main course, this salad is often served with rice noodles or rice. Simply prepare the jellyfish as described above, and double the amounts of everything in the sauce. Then:
Put 150 g jasmine rice in the steamer for about 20 minutes
Peel 1⁄2 a cucumber and chop into sticks
Gently mix the jellyfish, rice and cucumber. Garnish with coriander or parsley before serving
This version makes a main course but can als be served as a side dish with steamed salmon.
Tip: As a side order with salmon, steam the salmon with lime leaves, coriander, chilli, limes and ginger – not laurel and parsley. Drizzle with honey if liked.
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