Would you eat a jellyfish? Don’t be so quick to say no, researchers say. You might be surprised.

Fancy a chip? Credits: Mie Pedersen.

We rarely give it much thought, but texture plays an important role when it comes to food. As any good chef who’s worth his salt knows, changing the texture can make a dramatic difference in how we perceive taste. So if I’d tell you to imagine tasting a jellyfish, you’d probably imagine a slimy, gummy sensation. But when Mathias P. Clausen, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense, Denmark, had a taste of a jellyfish snack, he was surprised by its crunch.

“Tasting jellyfish myself, I wanted to understand the transformation from a soft gel to this crunchy thing you eat,” Clausen said.

Eating jellyfish might seem disgusting, but they’ve long been a staple in some parts of Asia. Traditionally, jellyfish were marinated in salt and potassium alum for several weeks, resulting in a rather crunchy, pickle-like texture. But this process is time-consuming and infuses the snack with a very specific, some say even unpleasant, taste.

Clausen and his colleagues applied their knowledge of biophysics and biochemistry to develop crispy jellyfish chips in a matter of days, potentially opening the world up to a new type of food.

“Using ethanol, we have created jellyfish chips that have a crispy texture and could be of potential gastronomic interest,” Clausen said.

The process is problematic because the molecular make-up of the jellyfish has rarely been properly studied. The team found that long fibrous filaments in the gelatinous jellyfish bell transform during the cooking process, creating the crunchy feel.

“Little is known about the molecular anatomy of the jellyfish,” Clausen said. “We are still not completely sure which structures we are visualizing.”

The reason why eating jellyfish is so interesting is because populations — often, invasive populations — are booming. As humanity greatly overfishes the oceans, jellyfish have risen to fill in that void. They also have numerous health benefits, being rich in vitamin B12, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, and selenium.

According to Clausen, jellyfish may be a very viable and healthy food source — one that’s almost completely unexploited at this moment. His work could lead to an efficient way of obtaining and preparing said food, but researchers first need to understand exactly what’s happening at a chemical level when you cook a jellyfish.

“As this is pioneering work, I think using tools available to us to tackle the science of good eating can open peoples’ eyes for a completely new scientific field,” Clausen said.

The study hasn’t been peer-reviewed yet but will be presented at 62nd Biophysical Society Annual Meeting, held Feb. 17-21, in San Francisco, California.

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