‘Below Deck Med’: What’s the Deal with Sea Urchin?

Chef Anastasia Surmava from Below Deck Mediterranean was tasked with preparing sea urchin (known as uni) for wealthy charter guests. As she forces her way through the hardened shell of each sea urchin she apologizes to the creature.

While the delicacy is popular, it isn’t often filmed being prepared on the show until now. Surmava expertly cuts into each spiky creature with a surgeon’s precision as she extracts the fleshy insides for consumption.

Anastasia Surmava
Anastasia Surmava | Greg Endries/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Uni is actually the sea urchin’s gonads, which is the part people eat, according to The Huffington Post. Uni is often consumed by the wealthy due to its high price. While it may be costly, it is any good? Or do people just eat it because its what rich people eat (as opposed to chicken)?

How much does uni cost?

While pricey to being with, the cost of sea urchin is increasing due to climate change and a reduction in overseas production, according to Nikkei Asian Review. In 2017, five varieties of domestic uni cost 6,458 yen at a fish shop outside of Tokoyo. That shakes out to about $60 per meal.

Sea Urchins
Sea urchins |LiPo Ching/Digital First Media/The Mercury News via Getty Images

Domestic and imported uni prices have dramatically increased since 2003. There used to be a price point difference between domestic and imports of about 4,000 yen. But by 2017, the prices increased and narrowed. However, imports continue to be costlier than domestic.

Current prices include $115 for an eight to nine-ounce tray from Giovanni’s Fish Market and Galley. Or you can purchase a single, locally caught sea urchin (you do the work) for close to $13 per urchin at the Santa Barbara Fish Market.

Is sea urchin good?

Surmava is filmed pulling a fleshy piece from each sea urchin. The process looked tedious and time-consuming. The guests seemed delighted with the fare, but is it actually good? Uni is often described as having that ocean flavor without the fishiness. The Santa Barbara Fish Market offers a vivid description. “Our Local Sea Urchin have a bright gold,yellow, or orange color; firm buttery texture; fresh salty ocean scent; and with a sweet buttery taste.” 

Tofu and sea urchin
Tofu and sea urchin |Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Food editors from The Huffington Post ran a section on food: good or gross. They tried uni and offered their honest opinion. The food is admittedly unappetizing in appearance. “At first sight, uni is pretty gross. It kind of looks like cow tongue,” Alison Spiegel wrote. “Maybe you’re into cow tongue. We can’t say we are. Either way, uni isn’t winning any beauty pageants, and it can be unsightly enough to turn people off forever.” 

When consuming uni, you typically want to go for a firmer texture. Slimy or mushy is no good. But when it comes down to whether or not it is good, personal opinion reigns supreme. “At the end of the day, liking or hating uni is a personal choice,” Spiegel wrote. “Before you knock it, however, make sure to try fresh uni. If you still hate it then, well, join the underground society of food lovers who secretly hate the stuff.”