History, meaning and kinds of uni (sea urchin)

uni sushi (sea urchin sushi) bafun uni and murasaki uni donburi bafun uni box

Various kinds of uni and dishes in Japan!?

Uni called sea urchin in English is one of the popular seafood in Japan. Many Japanese like it since it is so rich and addictive. Japanese began to eat it from the Jomon period (14,000BC) according to the shell midden. There is the first article about Uni in Yoro-Code which was one iteration of several codes or government rules in 757.

Uni means sea bowels in Japanese and raw sea urchin at first. Though it was for upper class family then, it became popular for common people through salted sea urchin from Edo period (1603-1867). Many Japanese experienced it as sushi.

There are over 100 different types of sea urchin in Japan. Only 6 kinds of it are gone on the market, Bafun Uni, Ezo-Bafun Uni, Murasaki Uni, Murasaki Uni, Kita-Murasaki Uni and Aka Uni.

Bafun Uni called Hemicentrotus in English is most popular sea urchin in Japan. Bafun Uni is derived from horse dung, Bafun means horse dung. Its shell is spiny, but interior of it is deep yellow soft meat. It tastes rich and good flavor despite of its name and looks. The best season of it is March or April.

Bafun Uni (Hemicentrotus) in a box

Ezo-Bafun Uni called Strongylocentrotus in English is a size larger than Bafun Uni. It lives in the sea around Hokkaido prefecture, Ezo is an old name of Hokkaido prefecture. It is deep orange color and tastes thick and creamy. It is said that Ezo-Bafun Uni is the highest sea urchin in Japan because the catch of it is not much. The price of it is about 5000 yen per 100 grams (about 50 dollars per 4 ounces) in its best season. The best season of it is July or August.

Murasaki Uni called crassispina in English has longer spina than other sea urchin. Murasaki Uni is derived from deep purple, Murasaki means purple color. It lives in the sea around west of Japan and Kyushu area. It is light yellow color and tastes refreshing and sea flavor. Some Japanese say it is the most delicious sea urchin because of its elegant taste. The best season of it is from June to August.

bafun uni and murasaki uni (hemicentrotus and crassispina)

Kita-Murasaki Uni called northern crassispina is looks like Murasaki Uni. Its color and taste are also similar to Murasaki Uni. However, it is different from Murasaki Uni in that it is larger and lives in the sea around Hokkaido prefecture. It is more used as sushi than Murasaki Uni because of its size and hardly meat. The catch of Ezo-Bafun Uni and Kita-Murasaki Uni account for close to the whole catch of sea urchin in Japan. The best season of Kita-Murasaki Uni is from September to November.

Aka Uni called P. depressus or red sea urchin in English is a rare sea urchin because the catch of it is decreasing year by year. It lives in the wide area of Japanese sea, but lives in the deeper sea than other sea urchin. It is very difficult to catch it because it dies soon by little shock and lives deep sea. Its shell is reddish brown and meat is reddish yellow. It tastes more richer and stronger than other sea urchin. The price of it is about 10,000 yen per 50 grams (about 100 dollars per 2 ounces) in summer season. It is also called the mysterious sea urchin or the champion of sea urchin because of its rareness and taste.

aka uni (P. depressus or red sea urchin)

The fishing port in Hokkaido prefecture is the largest fishing port for sea urchin. Fishermen in Hokkaido catch it all year around except closed season for spawning and breeding. They can catch 4 kinds of sea urchin, Bafun Uni, Ezo-Bafun Uni, Murasaki Uni and Kita-Murasaki Uni.

They do Bafun Uni in the sea around Rausu town from January to June, Ezo-Bafun Uni in the sea around Erimo and Hidaka town from March to June, Murasaki Uni in the sea around Rishiri Island and Shakotan town from June to August, Kita-Murasaki Uni in the sea around Matsumae town from September to December.

sea urchin fishing in hokkaido prefecture

The most popular sea urchin dish is sushi. Most sushi restaurants serve sea urchin sushi as battleship sushi (Gunkan maki) which is a sushi made by wrapping a stripping seaweed around rice ball with a topping because sea urchin is soft. This type of sushi is said to be invented by Kyubey in Ginza which is one of the famous sushi restaurants in Japan. On the other hand, some sushi restaurants began to serve sea urchin sushi as hand-shaped sushi called Nigiri Sushi without seaweed because flavor of seaweed prevent flavor of sea urchin.

There is other sea urchin dishes, kaisendon, omelet, egg roll, pasta and more. Kaisen don which is rice topped with sea urchin, salmon, crab, shrimp, tuna and salmon roe is very popular among traveler visiting Hokkaido. The soup with sea urchin and abalone called Ichigoni is also popular in Tohoku area including Aomori and Iwate prefecture.

uni soup (ichigoni)

You can enjoy various sea urchin dishes including sushi when you travel Japan. If you like sushi and conveyor belt sushi restaurant, you can invest it. Food and life companies (TYO:3563) and Kura Sushi Inc (TYO:2695) are listed in Tokyo Stock Exchange. If you like Japanese sea urchin, you can invest Kyokuyo Co. (TYO:3563) which is the largest fishery company in Japan. These companies are also included some ETFs for investing Japanese companies.