This first appeared on MUNCHIES in July 2015.
At first glance, the sea urchin looks like some creature you would find in the Jurassic Period. Its shell is made of calcium carbonate. Its spherical body is defended by hundreds of spines that can pierce through human skin. Its mouth alone is home to five sharp teeth that can chew through stone.
But what's really interesting about these ancient sea creatures is that if you eat enough (a lot!) of them, you may find yourself totally stoned. Anandamide, the chemical found in the roe of sea urchins, is very similar to THC, the primary psychoactive chemical found in cannabis.
Classified as Echinoderms, sea urchins are part of over 700 species that range in different colours, sizes, and shapes. They are related to other such sea life as starfish, sea cucumbers, sea lilies, and sand dollars. Having a fondness for algae, urchins feast on both plant and animal life and can be male or female. Distinguishing between the sexes, however, can only be achieved in two ways: by interrupting them during procreation, or paying attention to where they are located on the ocean floor. The males like to hang out in higher elevations to make sure their semen is transported by the currents.
Females, on the other hand, favour the lower depths to protect themselves and their offspring.
With hundreds of different sea urchin varieties around the world, there's a billion possibilities that can influence the sweetness and salinity. But what really makes one more delicious than another?
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Lately, European and Scandinavian chefs are calling Norwegian Greens the "very best." Also known as "Crow's Balls" by locals in Northern Norway, these urchins are hand picked in the deep, frigid waters off the coast of a small town called Bodø. Located some 300 km into the Arctic Circle, the sub-polar oceanic climate is perfectly suited to foster these world-class creatures.
There's only one supplier, though, who really knows what he's doing up there: Roderick Sloan. He's also the only urchin diver in the area. Sloan is a Scottish chef-turned-fisherman who settled in a very remote area known as Steigen. It's a 60 habitant strong Norwegian village in the Arctic. He risks his life during urchin season by diving deep into the freezing cold waters. I thought I knew the flavour of urchins until I tried the ones Roderick supplies me. It was like tasting an entirely new ingredient for the first time. The urchins taste of their surroundings. The scenery looks like it's been pulled out of a postcard with steep mountains overlooking the arctic area of Lofoten.
To say that these urchins taste of the sea is selling them short. They are sweet, deep, and complex, and have an unmistakably pure flavour.
Now, you may be wondering: Which specific part of the urchin am I eating? Often, with land or sea animals, we consume the muscles. With sea urchins, it's the gonads of both males and females that we're after. Best served raw and as fresh as possible, the most highly revered part of the sea urchin is its reproductive organs, of which there are five.
A rich and creamy aphrodisiac seasoned by the salinity of the ocean, it is said that savouring this delicacy can induce euphoria.
This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in November 2014.