Read this before eating sea urchin

At first glance, sea urchin isn't the world's most appetizing-looking creature. Spiny, sharp and nefarious-looking, it isn't an especially welcoming sight for someone leisurely strolling barefoot in the surf. Unbeknownst to some, though, the sea urchin perfectly exemplifies the age-old adage "don't judge a book by its cover." The inside of the mysteriously spiky orb actually yields one of the most prized and indulgent ingredients imaginable: uni, which is actually the urchin's reproductive organs.

Pale orange and almost custard-like, this delicate ingredient is cherished in the culinary community and eaten both raw and cooked. Its flavor is buttery, saline and slightly sea-like — but not fishy. The essence of uni is captured beautifully by JJ Proville from StarChefs, where he writes, "Once actually on the tongue, [uni] turns into a soft, pillowy sensation that gradually disappears, leaving behind what is to many chefs the ultimate expression of the ocean in a solid ingredient." The prized ingredient might offer more than a delicious flavor, though. According to Food & Wine, some believe another exciting benefit of uni is that it can act as an aphrodisiac.

What you need to know about uni

The Guardian states that 80% of the world's uni is shipped to Japan, and of course, harvesting uni is quite labor-intense, so the indulgent product tends to be rather expensive. Common flavor profiles alongside uni are nori, wasabi, soy and other classic flavors in Japanese cuisine. One simple preparation is fresh uni wrapped in nori: the crackling, verdant seaweed gives way to creamy, peach-toned uni – a masterclass in differing textures, colors and flavors. A mainstay in Japanese cuisine for years, uni has begun to pop up more and more on high-end restaurant menus. Many fine dining establishments have taken to using the ingredient in very unique preparations, such as in pasta dishes. 

Buying sea urchin and working with the alluring uni at home is certainly not the easiest culinary project, but if you're looking to try the beguiling delicacy, do not fret. You can always take advantage of your next trip to the sushi bar. Stray from the usual California and shrimp tempura rolls, and test out some uni — it's a culinary experience you will certainly cherish.