- A new study by the European Commission, to be completed in 2021, is exploring the potential of jellyfish varieties as food, Food Navigator reported.
- The GoJelly project as the human population continues to increase — the United Nations estimates it will be 9.8 billion in 2050 — while environmental resources are shrinking.
- Certain species of jellyfish contain a range of nutritional benefits, including collagen to boost antioxidants, researchers on the project told Food Navigator.
This isn’t a new concept. The Chinese have been eating jellyfish for a thousand years, and the delicacy has since become popular in Japan and Korea. About a dozen varieties are edible, and the animals are typically soaked in brine and dried or served in strips with soy sauce.
Not only do edible jellyfish offer some protein, but the microalgaes present on the jellyfish are also rich in fatty acids. The taste has been compared to other seafood items.
There are a few hurdles to popularizing the dish in the West, however. Some of the species being currently studied are so small and fragile they are rendered useless to be used as food. In some places, jellyfish were traditionally dried using toxic substances like alum. Jellyfish are typically processed within hours of being caught for optimum freshness, but authors of one review suggest freezing certain species could be an alternative to chemical processing.
Jellyfish cultivation is also not yet possible, researchers told Food Navigator, though Asian countries have managed to increase populations by breeding larvae in aquariums and then releasing them to sea to populate. No such cultivation programs yet exist in Western countries, and it will likely be years before safety testing is complete and regulations are put forth to move forward with the concept. However, EU funding and support for the study seems to be a big step toward Western acceptance of the idea.
According to a review in Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries, jellyfish are easy to catch in surface waters. In fact, one of the traditional concerns about jellyfish is not how to catch them, but how to exclude them from the catch of other seafood.
Jellyfish are a valuable export in some states. In Georgia and Florida, cannonball jellies — popular for food and medicinal purposes in Asia — are in abundance along the southern coast, especially in the winter months when shrimp season dies down. A marine biologist told NPR in the winter and spring months, a boat can fill its trawl net in five minutes and rake in 100,000 pounds of cannonball jellyfish a day. Some fishermen reportedly make up to $10,000 a day by jellyfish trawling.
Though a majority of the jellyfish caught in the U.S. are exported to Asian countries, Westerners could be more willing and ready to embrace jellyfish as food than other nontraditional items like insects. Manufacturers have struggled to normalize insect consumption, and the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization has said the biggest barrier to adoption of insects as viable sources of protein in the West is "consumer disgust." In a 2017 study, most Western consumers were unwilling to eat insects in any form.
Meanwhile, there was a rapid and widespread acceptance of raw fish in the form of sushi. According to Mental Floss, the Japanese raw fish and rice treat became common on American plates after 1980 television miniseries "Shogun" sparked an interest in the Asian nation's culture — and more Japanese immigrants started calling the United States home.
If raw fish could become an American delicacy, eating jellyfish may not be such a far-fetched idea. And, with consumers increasingly interested in being part of the effort to save the planet, they may find trying alternatives to a shrinking pool of fish is worth their while.