Sea grapes, called umibudo in Japan, are a type of seaweed that have clusters of tiny, edible grape-like balls. They are revered in Japan's southern prefecture of Okinawa and are also enjoyed through Malaysia and the Philippines. You'll find them pop up occasionally in fine dining restaurants around the world.
If you've never tasted this amazing looking food, then you're probably wondering what sea grapes taste like? Keep reading to find out all about this algae’s flavor, texture, and uses in the kitchen.
What does a sea grape taste like?
Sea grapes have a mild saltiness with a “taste of the sea” flavor that's a lot like kombu, wakame, and other types of seaweed. People like to eat them for their texture, which is often compared to caviar. The tiny bubbles burst in your mouth releasing a fresh, briny taste which is similar to the liquid that comes from clams. Some will detect acidity along with a slightly sweet undertone as they chew this seaweed.
Sea grapes are a versatile ingredient used in a wide range of dishes in Okinawa restaurants. The miniature balls are the leaf of a plant that grow on a long stem; both the leaves and the stem can be eaten.
Other common types of seaweed are generally cooked, but sea grapes are best eaten raw to maintain their consistency. This ingredient is excellent for adding freshness and crunch to a dish. It balances out heavy dishes.
Some common ways for eating raw sea grapes include the following:
- As an eye-catching garnish, served on top of rice bowls.
- Served as a snack and dipped into a dish of ponzu, soy sauce, or similar condiments.
- Added to a hot cup of water and served as a refreshing beverage.
- Served with soy sauce and eaten as a salty bar snack alongside beer.
- Used as a sushi ingredient or served with sashimi. Umibudo don is a popular Japanese meal that consists of rice and sashimi with umibudo. A sauce called sanbaisu is poured on top of the meal and is made from equal parts of vinegar, mirin, and soy sauce.
Where are sea grapes grown?
The majority of sea grapes are harvested on farms in the tropical Pacific Ocean, around Okinawa and the Philippines. Other countries with warm, shallow waters like Australia are also trying to grow these algae. It is a challenging plant to farm as it requires very specific temperatures and salinity levels to thrive.
How can I buy sea grapes?
Unless you live in a few select parts of the world, it's unlikely you'll find sea grapes for sale at your local supermarket. However, online retailers sell the dehydrated seaweed in packs. Once you receive the umibudo, they can be soaked in fresh water until the seaweed is rehydrated. The sea grapes will look almost as good as they did when picked fresh.
Sea grapes contain high levels of vitamins and minerals, including calcium, iron, zinc, vitamin A and C. They also contain useful amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.
The seaweed is rich in hyaluronic acid which is beneficial to the skin and is used in many skincare products.
They contain only four calories per 100 grams and are high in dietary fiber.
- Sea grapes are also known as green caviar, umibudo, latok, rong nho, or bulung. Their scientific name is caulerpa lentillifer, a part of the Caulerpaceae family.
- For centuries, Umibudo has been farmed in Okinawa and it is commonly used in Japanese cuisine.
- The Japanese refer to the sound of sea grapes bursting in the mouth as puchi-puchi. This is an onomatopoeia and refers to the sound of the popping air bubbles.
- Sea grapes have a shelf life of three weeks if kept in warm conditions. When the temperature becomes too cold the algae will turn to mush and die.
Sea grapes are a fascinating type of seaweed that aren't so well known in most parts of the world as they’re very difficult to grow. A fairly precise combination of warm shallow seawater that is also the correct level of salinity is essential. Unfortunately, many tropical coastal areas experience heavy rain which reduces the salinity, killing off any sea grapes that might be growing.
Have you been lucky enough to stumble onto this unique algae at a restaurant? Maybe you’re considering placing an order for some online? If you've tasted other seaweed like kombu, then you're probably already familiar with its slightly salty, oceanic taste. What makes the sea grape different is its bursting texture, which is fun to eat, no matter what your age.
Sea grapes aren’t overly pungent and don't carry any powerful flavors so they're likely to appeal to most. If you’re at a restaurant and want to experience something a little different, then we definitely recommend trying out sea grapes.
Are you considering eating see grapes for the first time? Where have you found it for sale? Please let us know in the comments below.