ASMR enthusiasts are fans of its popping sound, and we must admit, it is strangely mesmerising to watch. So what are these small green popping beads that look like fake decorating plants?
Sea grapes, or caulerpa lentillifera, are often referred to as green caviar for their appearance like fish roe, but are actually a seaweed - a green algae from the coastal regions of the Indo-Pacific. These glistening nodules are actually the leaf of the caulerpa lentillifera plant. Traditionally they were harvested wild of the seafloor, but due to demand, farming has become the main method of production. Sea grapes are found in the cuisines of Vietnam, Korea, Indonesia, and Japan, where they are eaten raw, in soups, on rice and in salads.
In particular, in Okinawa, Japan, green caviar is a well-known regional specialty and can be found on everything from sushi to ice cream!
What does green caviar taste like?
Sea grapes taste fresh like the ocean with a soft texture that pops with a loud popping sound in the mouth. It is eaten raw, and any cooking with high heat can destroy the famous texture.
To eat fresh sea grapes, make sure to rinse them in clean, cool water a couple of times. This removes the slight fishy smell present in the seaweed. Try it with a dipping sauce of soy and vinegar or miso, like they do in Okinawa for a healthy side or snack.
Nutritional properties of sea grapes
Sea grapes are known as umibudo in Japan, but they also have another nickname in Okinawa: 'longevity seaweed'. And in a region famed as having one of the highest proportions of centenarians in the world, this reputation isn’t to be taken lightly. Perhaps the secret to its powers is fucoidan, an anti-oxidant and anti-cancer compound found in spades in umibudo. This sea produce is also packed with vitamins and minerals: vitamins A and C, as well as calcium, zinc, iron, vitamin K and iodine, to be exact. Sea grapes are very low-calorie, but the energy it does provide mainly comes from health vegetable protein and omega-3 fatty acids.
Where to buy sea grapes
Your best bet for finding fresh sea grapes is to go to East or Southeast Asia, where they are farmed and you can find them fresh. But if gallivanting off to Okinawa isn’t on the cards for you anytime soon, you’ll probably need to special order this product online. Sea grapes are usually shipped packed in brine. A quick soak in fresh water returns the green caviar to their full popping glory.