Can You Eat Black Sea Urchins?

Have you found yourself wondering if you can eat black sea urchins? Maybe these spikey creatures are next on your bucket list of adventurous foods, or perhaps you want to argue a point with a friend? Whatever your reason, the answer you are looking for is closer than you think.

Black sea urchins are not edible. Confusion arises when commercially harvested sea urchins are mistaken for black sea urchins due to their dark coloration. These sea urchins include Mesocentrotus nudus and the Paracentrotus lividus, also known as the purple sea urchin.

Since you can’t consume black sea urchins, it is much more likely you will encounter another dilemma – a sea urchin sting. Keep reading to learn what to do if you are stung by a sea urchin (black, purple, or any other color). 

Are Black Sea Urchins Edible?

Imagine this; you are diving in the ocean, exploring the wonders of the sea, when you come across a herd of sea urchins (yes, a herd) – what is your immediate reaction? For most people, it is avoidance. Because sea urchins can’t swim, their only means of defense from pesky predators such as sea otters and wolf eels is their long pointy spikes.

Unfortunately, their spikes don’t differentiate from predators and the human foot. Those who have accidentally stepped on a sea urchin know how painful their stings can be. If you were unfortunate to have been stung by one, chances are you are experiencing traumatic flashbacks ’round about now.

A sting from a sea urchin can lead to a painful wound site, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, heart rate changes, and chest pains. In some cases -although less common, a sea urchin sting can be lethal. However, symptoms will vary depending on the species. As a result, it is only natural for people to be afraid of these creatures. But here is a fun fact that might sound maddening to some – sea urchins are edible!

Depending on where you live and your culture, eating sea urchins might be considered a no-no. However, in other cultures, sea urchins are greatly loved and are even considered a delicacy. But wait. Before you close this article and suppose you have the answer you were looking for, there is some important information you need to know.

Despite what it might seem, most sea urchins aren’t edible. Let’s put it into perspective – there are over 950 known species of sea urchins; Of those that are edible? Only 18. So if you are planning to ‘hunt’ for your next meal, it is best to pick up sea urchins only if you know which ones are safe. As to whether black sea urchins fall into the edible category? The answer is no.

Black sea urchins are not edible. This applies to species such as the Diadema antillarum, also known as the black sea urchin, long-spined sea urchin, or the lime urchin, and the Arbacia lixula, also known as the black sea urchin, which has shorter spikes than the former. The confusion lies therein where seemingly black sea urchins are harvested for commercial use.

Due to their dark coloration and near-black appearance, these sea urchins may be mistaken for black sea urchins. But in actuality, they are not entirely black. For instance, the Mesocentrotus nudus (previously known as Strongylocentrotus nudus) is a commercially harvested sea urchin popular in Japan. It sports an almost black or dark purple color of the covers and has strong spines about 3cm long.

Due to the nature of its spines, harvesting, storage and shipping pose more of a challenge. Another popular commercially harvested sea urchin is the Paracentrotus lividus. You can find this highly regarded culinary cuisine in the blues of the Mediterranean sea and the deep waters of the Atlantic.

Additionally, the Paracentrotus livudus, also known as the purple sea urchin, is often confused for the black sea urchin due to its dark coloration. You can identify this sea urchin by its many disheveled spines of varying lengths, spines around the mouth, and no anal valve. It does not live exposed on the cliffs and has a tendency to cover itself with debris.

Black Sea Urchin Stings: What To Do

One of the defense mechanisms of a sea urchin (whether black or not) is its spikes that release venom. If these spikes were to puncture your skin, you would feel immediate pain. The spikes of sea urchins can easily break inside your body since they can pierce the skin fairly deeply. That is why removing any part of the sea urchin embedded within your body is essential.

Any spines left within the body can cause further serious complications as the spines can migrate further into the body. When the spine migrates, it may cause infections or injury to tissues, nerves, or bones. This may lead to joint stiffness or necrosis (death of tissue).

Symptoms include changes of skin color to blue, grey, purple, red, bronze, or red; swelling; severe pain extending past the wound; skin blisters; a crackling sensation under the skin; sweating; rapid heartbeat and foul-smell from the wound. Seek immediate medical attention if you notice any symptoms of necrosis or tissue death. 

You should seek medical attention immediately for deep wounds or if you experience signs of infection such as swelling, warmth, redness, increased pain, and fever. 

Other symptoms that require immediate emergency attention are;

  • muscle weakness
  • loss of feeling
  • paralysis
  • muscle aches
  • extreme fatigue
  • loss of strength
  • signs of shock
  • trouble breathing

Multiple stings from a sea urchin can lead to more severe symptoms ranging from severe bleeding, vomiting, extreme shock, loss of consciousness, and paralysis. If you have been stung multiple times, it is best to seek immediate medical treatment. 

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Conclusion

There are more than 950 species of sea urchins, of which only 18 species are edible. The black sea urchin, whether long-spiked or short-spiked, does not fall into the edible category. However, the confusion lies therein where commercially harvested sea urchins are confused for black sea urchins due to their dark coloration.

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