Food for the 21st century: Jellyfish chips?

Jellyfish chips, anyone? Photo courtesy NOAA.

Yummy? Or not …

Staff Report

There is still some scientific debate about whether global warming is increasing the number of jellyfish on a global scale, but most of the new research seems to weighing in on the “yes” side.

Degraded, oxygen-poor water and other factors are combining to make parts of the sea less habitable for fish, but more suitable for slimy hydrozoans. And while jellyfish have been desirable as a food in Asia for quite a while, the rest of the world is not on board, maybe because of the  gristly texture jellyfish acquires with processing.

Enter food science. A gastrophysicist from University of Southern Denmark has developed a new method for drying jellyfish to a stage when it becomes paper-thin and crunchy — a bit like a potato chip. The work was carried out together with SDU researchers, Jonathan Brewer, Lars Duelund and Per Lyngs Hansen, and the results published in The International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science.

SDU described their findings in a press release:

Not only can the method make jellyfish more attractive to Westerners, it can also make the Asiatic processing procedure significantly faster, thereby increasing the efficiency of the Asian processing plants.

Every year several hundred tons of dried jellyfish are produced. This is no easy procedure. It takes between 30 and 40 days for the jellyfish to be finished and ready for distribution in shops.

For a long time the gastrophysicist, Mie Thorborg Pedersen has been fascinated by jellyfish, and it is her research into them that has now led to the jellyfish crisps, which only take a couple of days to make.

In brief, the method involves steeping the jellyfish in alcohol and letting the alcohol extract the water from them.

“In the course of a couple of days, the alcohol replaces the water in the jellyfish. In the subsequent evaporation process they become bone dry,” says Mie Thorborg Pedersen.

These crunchy jellyfish crisps do not have an overly distinctive taste, but she thinks they actually taste pretty good.

“The mouth feel and the aesthetic appearance in particular have gastronomic potential.”

As a physicist, Mie Thorborg Pedersen does not regard the jellyfish as an animal, but as a gel.

“Gels respond differently when put in different solutions. In alcohol some gels simply collapse, and that is exactly what we see a jellyfish doing. As the jellyfish collapses, the water is extracted from it and its volume is reduced.”

In traditional processing plants they use kitchen salt and alum to extract the water from the jellyfish.

Firstly, they use the same types of salts that are used for tanning leather, and maybe this is not so appropriate in a cooking context. Secondly, the process is extremely time consuming. The jellyfish constantly have to be moved to new tanks, and it takes at least a month before they are finished and the plant can receive a new shipment.

“It might be interesting for them to consider alcohol drying,” says Mie Thorborg Pedersen.

There are plenty of jellyfish in the world, and there is every indication that more and more are on the way. If there are too many jellyfish in the water, they actually start being a nuisance to fishermen. If there are too many jellyfish in a fishing net, the net becomes too heavy to haul on board and the fishermen are compelled to empty it into the sea, thereby losing any fish there might be, and then start from scratch.

Win-win. That is our verdict.

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One thought on “Food for the 21st century: Jellyfish chips?

  1. Two thoughts: dried seaweed is nice and crispy till it is rehydrated and then it sticks to teeth ; wouldn’t freeze drying be a method one could try, perhaps halfway thru the process. Might work, might taste ok, but I think not…

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