Can consumers overcome the 'ick' in jellyfish chips?
Danish researchers recently developed jellyfish chips by using ethanol to transform the soft, rubbery texture to a hard and crunchy product.
- Jellyfish has long been a culinary staple in Asian cuisine, but has never translated in the U.S. With the U.S. Asian population’s growth between 2000 and 2015 above 70 percent (11.9 million to 20.4 million), Asian culinary influence will become more of a factor.
As our oceans continue to warm, jellyfish are increasingly abundant. The sooner we learn to co-opt jellyfish into acceptable food sources, the better: According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, we could see “a global regime shift from a fish to a jellyfish ocean” within our lifetimes.
In the U.S. the primary issue is the "ick factor." Jellyfish is often described as "slimy and tasteless."
Yet a confluence of trends — including an increased demand for healthier snacks, an increasingly globalized and sophisticated food market, and environmentally conscious consumers — work in favor of jellyfish as a snack.
Jellyfish contains vitamin B12, magnesium, and iron, and is low calorie, making jellyfish chips an ideal alternative to potato chips. The individual snacking category reached $33 billion in 2017, with products touting health claims driving the strongest uptick in sales.
Also, according to Pew Research, the U.S. Asian population grew 72% between 2000 and 2015 (from 11.9 million to 20.4 million), the fastest growth rate of any major racial or ethnic group. This growing influence bodes well for Asian food introductions to the domestic market.
It would also benefit the environment if jellyfish were nudged into the mainstream, mostly because of oversupply. Jellyfish blooms endanger fish stocks, which isn't good news for seafood companies.
But these "good on paper" characteristics of jellyfish could be entirely trumped by the ick factor, which is likely the reason crickets (another Asian staple) aren't ubiquitous on restaurant menus or grocery shelves. Americans, after all, are rather picky.
Still, there are a handful of startups trying to market insect food to the masses, touting similar benefits (snack-friendly, environmentally friendly, nutrient-full). The United Nations suggested in 2013 that serious consideration should be given to expanding insects as an alternative food source.
"Insects provide food at low environmental cost,'' stated the UN's report. Just like jellyfish.
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