What is uni?
Pronounced oo-nee (aka not you-nee), uni is the Japanese word for sea urchin. Covered in sharp spines, the real gem of course is what’s inside the shell – edible pieces that range in color from a light yellow to a rich orange hue depending on variety, and almost resembling a tongue in shape and outer texture.
But what are you actually eating? A lot of people, including sushi aficionados themselves, commonly mistake it as being the roe – or eggs – of the shellfish. In reality, that’s not far off but they’re actually its gonads (aka sexual reproductive organs, of which each sea urchin has 5 total). Yum, right?
How many varieties of sea urchin are there?
According to Chef Masa (formerly of 15 East) when I asked him several months back before he left, there are hundreds of different varieties found in every ocean around the world, but only 18 (!) are edible. Here in the U.S., the most prevalent varieties that you see available hail from Santa Barbara (California), Hokkaido (Japan), and Maine.