You can buy chips in just about any flavor these days, from cheesy garlic bread to borscht, but would you be tempted to try something completely different, like, say, a jellyfish chip? With the help of science, the sea creatures we avoid on the beach are being transformed into delicious snacks. Mathias P. Clausen, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Southern Denmark, has been using his expertise in biophysics and biochemistry to better understand how cooking can transform the squishy organisms into something we might actually want to eat, Science Daily reports.
With bodies composed of 95% water, jellyfish quickly spoil once removed from their marine habitat, so edible ones are dried and then rehydrated for cooking. They’re typically preserved in a salt cure that can take weeks, but Clausen’s team was able to reduce the dehydration process down to just a few days. An alcohol soak, they found, quickly draws moisture out of the jellyfish by replacing the body’s water with alcohol. “Little is known about the molecular anatomy of the jellyfish,” Clausen told Science Daily, “We are still not completely sure which structures we are visualizing.” Once the alcohol evaporates, the jellyfish is fully dehydrated and ready to eat. They don’t have much taste on their own, but they’re a vehicle for any number of flavors.
Beyond the advancements in the science of dehydration, there’s a good reason to start stocking snack shelves with these boneless and bloodless creatures. Jellyfish dwell at the bottom of the food chain, but we’ve seen a population boom as predators like tuna and swordfish are overfished, both abroad and domestically. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization endorses jellyfish consumption; they recognize jellyfish as a resilient food source, extremely adaptable to change in water temperature, salinity, and acidity, all important environmental factors that fluctuate with climate change. The state of Georgia has been exporting their abundant coastal “jellyballs,” or “cabbage-head jellyfish” to Asian markets for years.
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But there has been some pushback from people questioning if jellyfish fisheries are sustainable, as it’s unclear how this may upset the local ecosystem, according to an Atlantic report illuminating tensions in the booming industry.
Meanwhile, more global chefs are excited to start cooking with jellyfish. Danish chef Klavs Styrbæk has experimented with jellyfish, telling NPR he is trying out jellies served with a little gin and cucumber. And at Expo 2015, a food convention centered on sustainability in Milan, industry experts highlighted jellyfish as part of the future of seafood consumption—which means it might not be long before we start seeing those jellyfish chips on convenience store shelves.