The Real Reason Sea Urchin Is So Expensive

Unless you love eating uni at your local sushi shop, you most likely don't encounter sea urchin very often during your culinary outings. This premium seafood has only gotten harder to come by, especially if you live in a landlocked portion of the country. While urchins live in oceans across the world, the market price for their roe remains at an all-time high (via Tree of Life). According to The Guardian, the value of these spiny delicacies hasn't diminished. You might believe this price relates to a scarcity of these sea creatures, but, their populations have been booming as of early 2020. With a population so high, anyone could wonder why the price of urchin remains so high. 

According to Malaysia Tatler, the price of this seafood began spiking in 2014 when the global market for sea urchins reached $100 million. The first reason for the price hike stems from overfishing concerns. While the population of these spiny creatures is currently quite high, only 18 species of urchins can get harvested for food (via Pangea Shellfish Company). The limited amount of edible species leads to concentrated fishing practices in sea urchin-dense regions and causes an overall shortage of these roe-packed delicacies. Additionally, the Japanese varieties of urchin remain in high demand, and just like fish, these species fetch an extra high price. The luxury doesn't simply end at the exclusivity of the species — size matters too.

How much of a sea urchin is edible?

If you find sea urchin at your local fish market, trying to figure out how to get any meat out of it can make anyone pull out their hair in frustration. Once you break through the sharp exterior, the majority of the edible portion of the animal consists of either roe or corals. At best, you might only scoop out a few spoons of roe from each urchin and trying to find larger urchins ensures more juicy insides to get at. According to Malaysia Times, the minuscule amount of actual food you can extract from an urchin leads to the astronomical price some of us might see next time we go out for sushi.

If you think breaking into an urchin shell doesn't take much skill, we have some bad news for you. To receive a single serving of urchin at a restaurant, multiple urchins have to get harvested for their innards. Each shellfish then needs to get carefully split in half and painstakingly handled to get all of the insides out. With all of these tasks at hand, it's no wonder the price of this seafood has skyrocketed. Next time you order urchin at your favorite restaurant, appreciate all the effort it took for that little serving of roe to make it to your plate.