Those of us who were not initiated by our parents to the pleasures of eating slow-braised slices of gelatinous sea cucumbers covered with a rich sauce are missing something. Sea cucumber is considered a delicacy in Chinese cuisine and a priced Chinese New Year or wedding banquet dish. My father lovingly brought home scores of them around Chinese New Year period during those days when he worked in Djakarta. The cook at home would soak and boil them over a week to 10 days (depending on their size) and they grew to at least a foot long and 5 inches in girth!
Sea cucumbers are an important component of the marine ecosystem. They are distributed in all oceans the world over, generally living near corals, rocks or sea weeds in warm shallow waters. They have high commercial value. There is an increasing global production and trade in sea cucumbers. Informally named as bêche-de-mer, or gamat, they have long been used for food and folk medicine in the communities of Asia and Middle East.
Then, I didn’t give much thought to their nutritional or medicinal values. How pleasantly surprised I am with what I found out about sea cucumbers since they are so costly (the larger ones from Australia can cost about Sgd 350 per kilo!) and do require some effort to re-hydrate.
1) http://www.livestrong.com/ has this to say:-
“Sea cucumber is used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a number of health problems, including fatigue, impotence and joint pain. Sea cucumber contains high levels of chondroitin sulfate, a major component of cartilage. The loss of chondroitin sulfate is associated with arthritis and taking sea cucumber extract may help to reduce the joint pain associated with this condition, according to an article by H. Benedikt, D.C., in “Dynamic Chiropractic.” Sea cucumber also contains natural anti-inflammatory compounds.”
2) if you click this link http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3210605/ you will a detailed report of a study which concluded that sea cucumbers are marine invertebrates that have gained popularity among researchers in recent decades, not only due to their nutritive value, but also due to their potential health benefits and therapeutic uses. Extensive literature survey revealed that sea cucumber has a long history as a traditional food and folk medicine. Most of the sea cucumber uses have been validated through scientific and ethno-pharmacological research.
Nutritionally, sea cucumbers have an impressive profile of valuable nutrients such as Vitamin A, Vitamin B1 (thiamine), Vitamin B2 (riboflavin), Vitamin B3 (niacin), and minerals, especially calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc. Therapeutic properties and medicinal benefits of sea cucumbers can be linked to the presence of a wide array of bioactives especially triterpene glycosides (saponins), chondroitin sulfates, glycosaminoglycan (GAGs), sulfated polysaccharides, sterols (glycosides and sulfates), phenolics, cerberosides, lectins, peptides, glycoprotein, glycosphingolipids and essential fatty acids.
How to re-hydrate dried sea cucumbers
It seems that there are about 1,250 types of sea cucumbers in the world. I had bought some dried sea cucumbers in San Francisco’s Chinatown (there were so many varieties on sale that I can’t recall now where these came from except that they are not Indonesian) and had to seek my sister’s help for a re-fresher course on how to re-hydrate them.
Besides these sea creatures, you will need clean hands, a very clean pot and some water. Give them a wash and put them into the pot. Fill pot with water. Water level should be about 4 to 5 cm above the sea cucumbers. Cover pot and bring contents to boiling point. Then, boil contents for 15 mins. Leave sea cucumbers to soak overnight.
STEP 2. There will be a faint smell of the sea in the water. A change of water (keeping hands and pot clean), repeat the same steps.
STEP 3. Another change of water (again, keeping hands and pot clean), repeat the same steps. You will notice continual growth in the size of the sea cucumber.
STEP 4. The last change of water (again, keeping hands and pot clean), repeat the same steps.
Photo shows 7 cm dried sea cucumber has become 14 cm long. Drain the pot, lift each re-hydrated sea cucumber out and make a slit with a paring knife. Pry open the sea cucumber and scape out the innards and its mouth piece with a metal spoon. Wash it clean and it is now ready for your recipe!
There are numerous ways to add these exotic but health-giving sea creatures in your diet.
1. The simplest way is adding sliced chunks of sea cucumber into the steam boat. Image below taken from slowchomp.com
2. Feel like doing a spot of cooking? My recent post is “Quick Braised Sea cucumber, Chicken and Mushroom” suggests few short cuts to make a delicious dish (Click here).