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Jellyfish crisps could be the perfect snack for the anthropocene

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Futuristic, pretty much fat-free, and made with plenty of alcohol

A finished jellyfish crisp, created by soaking the creature in strong alcohol.
Photo by Mie Thorborg Pedersen

Eating jellyfish has been part of Asian cuisine for more than a millennium, but a new method that turns the creatures into crisps could help make it a popular habit elsewhere.

Traditionally, preserving jellyfish to eat is a month-long process. Jellies fished out of the ocean spoil quickly at room temperature, and so they’re cured in salt for a number of weeks. But the new process developed by Mie Thorborg Pedersen of the University of Southern Denmark, turns jellyfish into an edible crisp in just a few days — simply by soaking them in alcohol.

Pedersen stumbled across the method during research into the behavior of gels. She was testing theories of how these gels react to solvents — substances that dissolve other materials. “We were thinking of the jellyfish as a simple gel, and by putting it in alcohol we could see how the alcohol acts as a poor solvent,” Pedersen tells The Verge. “So, it was really a physics theory.”

Annual Animal Stocktake At London Zoo
Some studies suggest jellyfish populations are growing, thanks to overfishing of predators and warming oceans caused by climate change.
Photo by Carl Court / Getty Images

By soaking the jellyfish in 96 percent ethanol for at least a day, the water content of its body is replaced by alcohol. Let it steep a little longer, and the alcohol then evaporates, leaving behind a dry, thin crisp of what once was jellyfish. According to Pedersen, the crisps don’t taste like very much, but they have a particularly idiosyncratic mouth-feel and texture. “They’re very different from other food,” she says. “It’s a bit hard to describe, but they are very crispy and feel a little like paper in your mouth.”

Pedersen’s investigation into this method of jelly preparation has become her masters thesis, but, as she and her colleagues write in a study published in International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science, the work also has a lot of “gastronomic potential.”

“The final crispy product could be of gastronomic interest,” they write. “Jellyfish may be a new resource for future food in Western cuisine.” This could be especially pertinent for a future in which some scientists predict a global uptick in jelly populations, which might be caused by warming oceans and the over-fishing of predators.

At least one chef in Denmark, Klavs Styrbæk, has been experimenting with dried jelly appetizers. And Pedersen has a suggestion for any adventurous home cooks: try soaking the jellies in different types of alcohol. This way, she says, it might be possible to impart on the jellies different flavors. And, if we’re preparing a snack for a future where the oceans have been turned into jellyfish nurseries by climate change, it’ll probably help if there’s a bit of drinking involved.