Sea cucumber (food)

Sea cucumber (food)
Sea cucumber (food)
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese
Hanyu Pinyin hǎishēn
Cantonese Jyutping hoi2 sam1
Literal meaning sea ginseng
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese hải sâm

Sea cucumbers are marine animals of the class Holothuroidea used in fresh or dried form in various cuisines.

The creature and the food product is commonly known as bêche-de-mer (lit. "sea-spade") in French, trepang (or trīpang) in Indonesian, namako in Japanese and in the Philippines it is called balatan. In Malaysian it is known as the gamat.[1]

Most cultures in East and Southeast Asia regard sea cucumbers as a delicacy.

There are a number of dishes made with sea cucumber as this ingredient is expected to have a strong cultural emphasis on health. In most dishes, the sea cucumber has a slippery texture. Common ingredients that go with sea cucumber dishes include winter melon, dried scallop, kai-lan, Shiitake mushroom, and Chinese cabbage.



Sea cucumbers destined for food are traditionally harvested by hand on small watercraft; a process anglicised into "trepanging" (after the Indonesian noun trepang). They are dried for preservation purposes and have to be rehydrated by boiling and soaking in water for several days. They are mainly used as an ingredient in Chinese cuisine soups or stews.

There are many commercially important species of sea cucumber that are harvested and dried for export for use in Chinese cuisine as Hoi sam. Some of the more commonly found species in markets include:[2]

  • Holothuria scabra
  • Holothuria fuscogilva
  • Actinopyga mauritiana
  • Stichius japonicus
  • Parastichopus californicus
  • Thelenota ananas
  • Acaudina molpadioides

Western Australia has sea cucumber fisheries from Exmouth to the border of the Northern Territory, almost all of the catch is sandfish (Holothuria scabra). The fishing of the various species known as Bêche-de-mer is regulated by state and federal legislation.

Five other species are targeted in the state's Bêche-de-mer harvest, these are Holothuria noblis (white teatfish); Holothuria whitmaei (black teatfish); Thelenota ananas (prickly redfish); Actinopyga echninitis (deep-water redfish); and Holothuria atra (lolly fish).[3]

The largest American species is Holothuria floridana, which abounds just below low-water mark on the Florida reefs. There are plans to harvest this species for the sea cucumber market.


Jar of dried, gutted sea cucumbers at a Traditional Chinese medicine emporium in Yokohama, Japan.

The trade in Trepang, between Macassans seafarers and the aborigines of Arnhem Land, to supply the markets of Southern China is the first recorded example of trade between the inhabitants of the Australian continent and their Asian neighbours

The Asian market for sea cucumber is estimated to be US$60 million. The dried form account for 95% of the sea cucumber traded annually in China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, Korea, and Japan.

It is typically used in Chinese cuisines. The biggest re-exporter in the trade is China, Hong Kong, and Singapore.[4] There are also 650 species of sea cucumbers, of which just 10 species have commercial value.[4]

In Japan, sea cucumber is also eaten raw, as sashimi, or sunomono. And its intestine is also eaten as 'konowata', which is salted and fermented food (one of a variety of shiokara). The dried ovary of sea cucumber is also eaten, which is called 'konoko'(このこ) or 'kuchiko'(くちこ).

The health minister of Malaysia (KKM) has considered sea cucumber as halal, as it is cited in the bottle of Luxor's Gamat Jelly.


There is a fresh form and there is a dried form. Both the fresh and dried form are used for cooking. The taste is described as "tasteless and bland".[5] Individually, the dried form is also used for traditional Chinese medicine. Chinese folk belief attributes male sexual health and aphrodisiac qualities to the sea-cucumber, as it physically resembles a phallus, and the defence mechanism similar to human copulation as it stiffens and squirts a jet of water at the agitator. It is also considered a restorative for tendonitis and arthritis.[1]

See also


  1. ^ a b Alessandro Lovatelli, C. Conand, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Advances in sea cucumber aquaculture and management: Volume 463 of FAO fisheries technical paper United Nations Food & Agriculture Org., 2004. ISBN 9789251051634. 425 pages: 58
  2. ^ RAMOFAFIA C., BYRNE M., BATTAGLENE S. C (2003). "Development of three commercial sea cucumbers, Holothuria scabra, H. fuscogilva and Actinopyga mauritiana: larval structure and growth". Marine and freshwater research 54 (5): 657–667. doi:10.1071/MF02145. ISSN 1323-1650. 
  3. ^ Brown, S.; Hart, A. (May, 2004). "Beche-de-mer fishery status report". State of the fisheries report. Department of fisheries. pp. 3. Retrieved 2009-01-03. 
  4. ^ a b Huang, Yao-Wen. Liu KeShun. Wang, Catharina Yung-Kang. Ang. [1999] (1999). ISBN 1566767369
  5. ^ Rone de Beauvoir, 2005. Decadent Meals and Desserts: How to Conjure Up Love with Aprhodisaics., 2005. ISBN 9781882682010, pp60

External links

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