Sea Pineapple, Halocynthia roretzi

The Sea Pineapple (Halocynthia roretzi) is an edible species of tunicate. It is known as the Meongge in Korea and the Hoya or Maboya in Japan. This creature lives in shallow water, usually attached to rocks and artificial substrate. It is adapted to cold water temperatures between 36 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, but prefer temperatures close to 54 degrees F.

This creature is known for both its peculiar appearance, described by journalist Nick Tosches as “something that could exist only in a purely hallucinatory eco-system” and its equally peculiar taste, described with an iodine-like flavor, or like “rubber dipped in ammonia.” Despite its taste, it is well suited to be served with sake, according to food aficionados.

In Korea, this specimen is mostly eaten raw with vinegary gochujang, but is also often pickled in jeotgal, or used to add flavor to kimchi. In Japan, it is most commonly eaten raw as sashimi, served with vinegary soy sauce. It is also often salted, smoked, grilled, deep-fried or dried.

Aquaculture of Sea Pineapple was first introduced in 1982, when 39 metric tons were produced in Korea. Production reached a peak of 42,800 tons in 1994. Today, the production is estimated at closer to 21,500 tons, worth close to $18 million (US).

A similar species (Pyura chilensis) is also used as food in Chile.

Image Caption: Sea pineapples (Halocynthia roretzi) at Tsukiji Market, Tokyo, Japan. Credit: bifyu/Wikipedia(CC BY-SA 2.0)