Jellyfish and prawn cocktail

Article by Neil Clark

Jelly-delish: paper-thin and crunchy jellyfish prepared by Danish chef Klaus Styrbæk

A GASTRONOMIC delight in Asia could be making its way to the western world, thanks to a new processing technique to turn jellyfish paper-thin and crunchy.

Jellyfish have been processed as a desirable foodstuff in Asia for hundreds of years. Various species are edible, and once dehydrated they are a low-calorie, low fat source of protein and minerals. This is good news, since they are becoming increasingly abundant in our warming seas, and can disrupt power plants and fishing activities.

However, the challenge has been in persuading Western consumers that they want to eat them – which isn’t helped by the gristly texture that traditional processing results in.

Now, researchers at the University of Southern Denmark have developed a new technique that could improve the food’s ‘mouthfeel’. Their research not only gives dried jellyfish the appealing texture of potato crisps, but could increase the efficiency of Asian processing plants.

By visualising jellyfish as ionic polymer gels, the team were able to interpret the effects of experiments using different salts and pH on jellyfish preparation, alongside solvent change. The resulting optimal method took days rather than months, and involved steeping the jellyfish in alcohol to dehydrate them. 

A dehydrated jellyfish in a petri dish

Lead researcher Mie Thorborg Pedersen said: “In the course of a couple of days, the alcohol replaces the water in the jellyfish. In the subsequent evaporation process they become bone dry.

“Gels respond differently when put in different solutions. In alcohol some gels simply collapse, and that is exactly what we see a jellyfish doing. As the jellyfish collapses, the water is extracted from it and its volume is reduced.”

The traditional method of preserving jellyfish uses a process similar to tanning leather. This is not only labour intensive, as jellyfish must be constantly moved to new tanks, but preservation is achieved using sodium chloride and alum. High levels of aluminium can be left in material which is consumed, causing a potential health risk. Pedersen believes that such issues could be avoided by using their alcohol drying method.

Regarding taste, the authors say that while crunchy jellyfish crisps do not have an overly distinctive taste, they do actually taste pretty good. Pedersen said: “The mouth feel and the aesthetic appearance in particular have gastronomic potential.”

The International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science:

Article by Neil Clark

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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