Jellyfish have long been part of Asian diets, often eaten salted and dried.
The jellyfish is admired for its arresting beauty—and feared for its deadly sting. But some species are edible, and in Asia, jellyfish have long been part of people’s diets.
Jellyfish are so widely consumed that seven million pounds of them are harvested from the U.S. state of Georgia and exported to China and Japan every year.
In China, they’re mostly eaten as an appetizer, marinated with oil or vinegar in salad form or stir-fried. The taste and texture is similar to that of cartilage: crunchy, with the jellyfish absorbing whatever flavor is put in the marinade.
The part that most people eat is the bell. The strands in jellyfish salad might look like legs, but they’re actually slices of the bell, which is separated from the legs when jellyfish are harvested.
Zhou Shihui is the owner of Rudong Xinlei Tantou Development, a seafood farm in eastern China. He manages over 1,600 acres of water, raising shellfish and jellyfish. About half that acreage is dedicated to jellyfish.
“Before, we mostly raised shellfish,” Zhou says. “But then we saw other people raising jellyfish and thought it was worthwhile.”
Zhou’s farm processes over 450,000 jellyfish a year. Most are harvested after they’ve grown to over 130 pounds, which takes about 60 days.
When they’re taken out, they’re butchered, washed, and dried for about three to four hours.
Then, the jellyfish bells are preserved in a brine made with salt and alum. The brine prevents them from disintegrating. “Because the jellyfish is mostly water,” Zhou explains.
During this process, the jellyfish’s texture goes from jelly-life to rubber-like. The alum makes the jellyfish firm and acts as a disinfectant. Salt reduces the water content and stops bad bacteria from growing.
The jellyfish bells are salted for a week, dried again, and then packaged in a brine to prevent them from softening.
Although jellyfish is commonly served in restaurants, few people know how to cook them at home, says Zhou.
“Even after we roughly process it for them, some people take it home and don’t know what to do with it,” he says. “Our future strategy is to do fine processing.”
Zhou hopes to develop ready-to-eat jellyfish products that can gain wider acceptance. “Like how we use fish and shrimp to make fish balls and shrimp balls, we want to make it a delicacy,” he says.
That goal could carry more urgency in the future as jellyfish infestations become a regular nuisance due to climate change.
Studies show jellyfish are far more tolerant of ocean water with higher carbon dioxide levels. Learning how to harvest and eat them just might be a solution.