Uni, the Japanese word for sea urchin, is one of the most prized foods in all of Japanese cuisine. It’s usually eaten raw atop sushi, and in Mediterranean cuisine it’s occasionally used in pasta sauces. Usually yellow- or coral-colored, it has a custard-like texture and a unique, subtly oceany flavor that’s hard to describe. Some love it, some hate it, but not many people actually realize what part of the sea urchin it is: the reproductive organs.
Each sea urchin contains four or five individual lobes of uni, which fan out along the inside of the spiny shell. These are the gonads, or glands that produce the sea urchin’s sex cells and hormones. These sex cells are squeezed out into surrounding water, where they combine to create new sea urchins.
Yes, it all may sound a little gross, but plenty of delicacies aren’t exactly the most pleasant to think about: Caviar is fish eggs, foie gras is a fatty goose liver, sweetbreads are usually a calf’s thymus gland, and so on. A big part of expanding your culinary horizons is just getting over any squeamishness and trying it. And as fans of uni ourselves, we do suggest that you try it, perhaps at one of America’s best sushi bars.