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.”
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.