Jellyfish, the transparent monsters of the sea instil horror for many holidaymakers in Spain. These creatures belong to the most ancient animals on the planet. It is believed that they inhabited the seas at least 500 million years ago, and they still drift along in the water and pick up plankton en route to eat. Jellyfish are also sought by more than 150 different hungry animal species, especially by leatherback sea turtles and ocean sunfish.
The human being is another that hunts these gelatinous creatures. It appears that jellyfish were once eaten in Europe, however, jellyfish gastronomy is nowadays mostly developed in Southeast Asian countries. In Japan and China jellyfish is a common and popular seafood that has been fished off the coast of China for at least 1,700 years. Nowadays, some 425,000 tons of jellyfish are caught each year by fisheries in at least 15 countries.
Spain doesn't yet belong to the nations that consume jellyfish. However, the country tried to be a jellyfish exporter when in 2003, the Mediterranean 'fried egg jellyfish' (medusa huevo frito) were caught and dehydrated in the neighbouring (to Andalucía) region, Murcia.
The Spanish coast has been increasingly invaded with jellies, including the above mentioned and indeed quite edible looking local 'fried eggs'. Acknowledging that the Mediterranean sea temperatures are rising and jellyfish thrive in warmer waters, the scientists predict jellyfish increased rates of reproduction. This means that probably it is already time to look at jellyfish not as an enemy but as a human resource.
In Spain, haute cuisine chefs have already included jellyfish in their menus, especially in summer when they are abundant in coastal waters. The mother of Spanish jellyfish cuisine might be considered Carme Ruscalleda, a celebrated chef at the Michelin-starred restaurant El Poblet that is located in Sant Pol del Mar, not far from Barcelona. Carme discovered delicious dishes made from jellyfish during her visit to Japan in 2003. When the Catalan coast was overwhelmed by 25cm blue and brown specimen of jellies in 2005, Carme decided to catch some, and after keeping them in salt water for a couple of days she prepared her first jellyfish dish. Madrid is also renowned for jellyfish delicacies thanks to the restaurant La Sopa Boba, in Alpedrete. Its chef, Fernando Limón, has created several options with jellyfish - salad, tempura, and even liqueur.
They say choosing to eat jellyfish is all about cultural attitudes. So Spanish chefs try to blend cultures by integrating 'unusual' jellyfish into 'usual' dishes. For example, Fernando had in his menu 'rabo de toro' (oxtail) with jellyfish. A sort of gazpacho was created by the Andalusian chef, Ángel León, one of Spain's influential chefs for his passion for the ocean and tireless struggle for sustainable fishing. Being noted for his experimental seafood dishes, in 2015 Ángel also prepared cold soup with iced tomatoes, adobo-fish and jellyfish. For three weeks, the soup was on the menu in his three Micheline star restaurant Aponiente, located in El Puerto de Santa María, Cádiz.
Incidentally, some Asian restaurants in Spain also may offer dishes from jellyfish. The Andalusian TV channel Canalsur once presented a recipe of preparing jellyfish from an Asian chef of a local restaurant. (The video is available on YouTube as 'Saboreamos medusa, en Andalucía Directo).
The taste of jellyfish is no so unusual. For Spaniards the texture reminds them of their favourite gelatinous 'manitas de cerdo' (pig's trotters), and the taste is similar to thick algae, fresh squid or peculiar Galician 'percebes' (goose necked barnacles). But jellyfish is appreciated not only as something delicious but also for its health-giving properties. Incidentally, in China jellyfish is considered a panacea for many diseases – from improving the cardio-vascular system and cholesterol levels to balancing blood pressure. Additionally, jellyfish is low in calories with only a little trace of carbohydrate.
Some sources say that jellies contain a lot of calcium binding proteins which improve memory and other brain activities. It is believed that eating jellyfish would help to fight age-related cognitive decline. In any case, the collagen that jellyfish produces is apparently good for human skin thus keeping it firm and young for a much longer time, or theoretically for ever... because one of the jellyfish species, Turritopsis nutricula, is immortal - once reaching adulthood, it can transfer its cells back to childhood.
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