Pronounced oo-nee (aka not you-nee), uni is the Japanese word for sea urchin.
What is uni?
Pronounced oo-nee (aka not you-nee), uni is the Japanese word for sea urchin. Covered in sharp spines, the real gem of course is what’s inside the shell – edible pieces that range in color from a light yellow to a rich orange hue depending on variety, and almost resembling a tongue in shape and outer texture.
But what are you actually eating? A lot of people, including sushi aficionados themselves, commonly mistake it as being the roe – or eggs – of the shellfish. In reality, that’s not far off but they’re actually its gonads (aka sexual reproductive organs, of which each sea urchin has 5 total). Yum, right?
What does uni taste like?
Second to what uni is, this is the most common question. Those of us who know and love uni know its mind-blowing taste isn’t the easiest to describe because of its one-of-a-kind flavor profile. Umami at its best, think of it as the foie gras – or even ice cream – of the sea. Depending on the variety, diet, and gender, good uni is firm but melts in your mouth with its rich and creamy sweetness, and is just a little bit slimy. It’s almost a bit custard-like – but lighter. And important to note, good uni is never fishy but instead, has delicate traces of the ocean.
By and far, it seems to be a love or hate kind of thing when it comes to uni as people tend to fall on either side of the extreme, but I’m convinced at least half of those who claim to “hate” uni and find it gross first tried it at a subpar restaurant that was serving out-of-date, low-quality uni. Ew.
How can you tell good uni from bad uni?
Great question. Sea urchin is differentiated by grade and as per above, low quality leads to not-so-good experiences. And when it comes to quality, according to the California Sea Urchin Commission, a few different factors come into play: taste, color, freshness, and texture.
“California Gold” is the highest grade – always fresh, bright and vibrant in color (very autumnal if you ask me), and firm in texture but again, still manages to be melt-in-your-mouth sweet and delicious. It’s as good as it gets. “Premium California” is up next – still great, but slightly milder in color and a tad softer in texture. And finally, there’s “Select California” – the last tier before things start to go a bit downhill. These are darker in color, less firm and more liquid-y in consistency, thus veering closer to that fishiness you 100% want to avoid.
Wanna impress your guests with your culinary skills? Check out our UNI RECIPES board on Pinterest.