Japanese cuisine is known for its unique and diverse flavors. From sushi to sashimi to tempura, it has paved its way into other cultures, with Japanese food having a huge fan base in the United States and around the world.
One such unique item served in many Japanese restaurants around the world is Umibudo, or sea grapes. A specialty in Okinawa, Japan, sea grapes are also quite popular in Malaysia and the Philippines.
It is a type of seaweed that gets its name from its appearance, which resembles tiny clusters of green grapes.
The tiny edible grapes are transparent and green and form the leafy part of the underwater plant that grows on long stems that are also edible.
Usually served raw with sauces, soups, salads, and rice, sea grapes are a delicious food item that not only have a unique flavor but also an interesting texture.
If you’ve never tried this amazing food, you’re probably wondering what it tastes like!
So, what do sea grapes taste like? According to many people, sea grapes “taste like the sea” with mild saltiness, some acidity, and a slightly sweet undertone. The tiny bubbles burst in your mouth as you bite into them and release a flavor similar to the fresh, briny liquid that comes from clams.
Read on to find out more about sea grapes’ flavor, texture, and the best ways to eat them!
What Are Sea Grapes?
Sea grapes, also known as green caviar, are a type of algae that is very popular in Japanese cuisine. The Japanese call it Umibudo, which literally translates to Umi (sea) and Budo (grapes).
Found primarily in Japan and Southeast Asia, sea grapes are also known as latô, arosep, or guto in the Philippines, and latok in Malaysia.
They are primarily harvested from the ocean floor of the tropical Pacific near Okinawa and the Philippines and need a very specific temperature and salinity level to thrive.
They grow best in shallow, sandy, and floored ocean beds, with a mild temperature of 77°F.
Due to their increased demand all over the world, many farmers in Okinawa have created local sea grape farms to minimize overharvesting.
Nutritional Benefits Of Sea Grapes
Their great taste and texture are not the only reasons that they are revered in the culinary world.
Sea grapes are packed with high levels of vitamins and minerals and are considered a good source of calcium, iron, zinc, and vitamins A and C.
They also contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids and are rich in hyaluronic acid.
In Okinawa, Japan, sea grapes are called the “longevity seaweed” because of the great health benefits that they provide.
Do Sea Grapes Taste Good?
Yes, sea grapes have a unique taste that is slightly sweet, salty, and crunchy with a succulent texture. Some people also experience a mildly acidic flavor that is heightened when you chew on the tiny green bubbles.
Its mild saltiness and ocean-like flavor can be compared to other types of seaweed such as kombu and wakame. However, more so than their flavor, sea grapes are enjoyed due to their texture that is very similar to that of caviar.
When the slimy and crunchy liquid-filled bubbles pop in your mouth, they release a salty liquid and make a sound known as “puchi-puchi”, which is an onomatopoeia that refers to the sound of the sea grapes popping.
Sea grapes are best eaten raw to enjoy their crunchy texture, which is often lost when cooking on high heat.
However, when you eat them, make sure to rinse them properly a couple of times with cool water to get rid of the slightly fishy smell that is present in most seaweeds.
How To Use Sea Grapes In Recipes
Sea grapes are a delicious and nutritious ingredient that you can use in a wide range of dishes. Both the tiny bubbles, which are the leaves of the plant, and the stem that the plant grows on, can be eaten.
While you cook most other types of seaweed, sea grapes are best eaten raw to maintain their fresh flavor and unique consistency.
You need to put them in a cold water bath for a few minutes so that they can bloom and expand in size, after which, you need to do a quick rinse to get rid of the excess seawater taste and slight fishy smell.
Sea grapes are an excellent ingredient for many recipes that not only adds freshness and a crunchy texture but also balances out the heaviness in most dishes.
Some of the best ways to eat sea grapes include:
- As is with soy sauce, vinegar, or roasted sesame sauce.
- As a wonderful garnish on top of freshly made rice, known as Umibudo Don in Okinawa. To add more flavor to it, you can pour a sauce called Sanbaisu on top of the meal, which is made from equal parts of vinegar, mirin, and soy sauce.
- On top of fresh seafood salad or Chirashi.
- As part of a Filipino seaweed salad (Ensaladang Lato) where it is mixed with tomatoes, onions, mango, and calamansi.
- As an ingredient in sushi or served with sashimi.
- In a rice bowl or noodle dish.
- As a refreshing beverage made by adding it to a hot cup of water.
- As an ice cream flavor (if you’re an adventurous eater)!
Now that we have covered everything from the unique texture of sea grapes to what they taste like, here are a few additional questions we thought you might have regarding the Japanese delicacy!
Are sea grapes actually fish eggs?
Sea grapes are also called green caviar because of the way they look like fish roe and how they pop upon eating. Although they may look like caviar, sea grapes are not fish eggs but a type of seaweed.
Where can you buy sea grapes?
To get the freshest sea grapes, you will have to go to Southeast Asia where they are majorly farmed and harvested. You can find them both in restaurants and markets.
If that isn’t an option, you can order them online. They are usually shipped dehydrated or packed in brine, and you have to soak them in some water to return them to their original glory.
Are Japanese sea grapes and Caribbean seagrapes the same?
No, they are not. Most people often mix up Japanese sea grapes “Umibudo” with seagrapes from the Caribbean, but both are two different things.
Japanese sea grapes are a type of seaweed, while the other is a fruit found in the Caribbean.
Contrary to popular belief, seagrapes found in the Caribbean are perfectly okay to eat and taste very little like regular grapes. With a mix of sweet and acidic flavors, this fruit does not have much fruit content and is majorly one large seed.
How do you prepare sea grapes?
To prepare sea grapes, you must take out only the amount that you intend to eat and drain any of its original salt water.
Lightly run them under clean water and transfer them into a bowl filled with fresh water for 1 minute, or 3 if you really want to get rid of the excess salt.
They will return to their original poppable form once they are soaked in water and will be ready to eat as is or used in your favorite recipes.
What is the best way to store sea grapes?
Sea grapes grow in very specific conditions, and the cold isn’t one of them. Do not store them in the refrigerator because they will shrink, become frail, and die.
For this reason, it is recommended to take out only a specific amount that you wish to consume and reseal them in the package that they came in, which is usually full of salt water.
Store the sea grapes at room temperature, with the optimal storage temperature between 59°F-82°F.
Another very important thing to remember is that if you use dressings or other liquids on the sea grapes, make sure to eat them as soon as possible since they will lose their texture if left soaking for a while.
Try to pour any such dressings or liquids right before you eat them.
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