Food Business

Santa Barbara Red Sea Urchin (Uni) Gonads and Where to Buy Uni Online

Updated November November 17th, 2021

If you frequent sushi bars in California, you have most likely had come across the red sea urchin’s tasty gonads from Santa Barbara, California. Except, now you can also buy uni online and stuff your face with all the gonads you want in the comfort of your home.

I am sure you are here because you have a thing for the savory tastiness of a sea urchin gonad (uni). If you are, you most likely have had either bafun (Hemicentrotus pulcherrimus) from Hokkaido or the Red Sea urchins (Strongylocentrotus franciscanus) from Santa Barbara, California. Whichever it is, I have got where you can buy uni online from several regions to satiate your appetite for gonads.

The part of the sea urchin you are eating, are the genital glands. The gonads store nutrients, and contains the milt and roe during the spawning season in spring (full of “nutrients,” sounds like something I guy would tout, so we would know which urchin is male because even though they are dioecious, you can not distinguish between males and females from the outside). 

Photo Description: the five lobes/gonads of a Red Sea urchin (the spikey shell has been split open to reveal it all).

Spikes won’t stop a sea otter or you from having your way with those five slabs/lobes of gonads of the red sea urchin (uni). Image courtesy of Maruhide Marine Products

“Sea urchins in California have been fished by coastal Native Americans for centuries.”

California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Most sea urchins are harvested by hand by divers throughout the world. Even here in SoCal (links below about these divers), we have divers in the pristine Federally protected Channel Islands that risk their lives to fish the oceans for them. These urchins are a different species from the popular Japanese Bafun sea urchin (typically from Hokkaido) that are not as large and sweet as the Santa Barbara red sea urchin gonads (uni). Maybe that is why chefs and restaurants seek them out, and it is not because it is larger. Anybody who has had them knows it’s not just the size, but the motion of the ocean, ok joking. It’s because these are some sweet tasty buttery gonads that’ll make you part of the uni lovers club.

Photo Description: a pile of red urchin from the Channel Islands in Santa Barbara.
I doubt anybody has ever nicknamed these the porcupine of the sea, but I will (most of the world calls it a hedgehog). Pictured: sea urchin harvested from the Channel Islands in Santa Barbara, California.

The Maruhide Uni Fan Club History

One of the major California red sea urchin producers in SoCal is Maruhide Marine Products which was established in 1975. If “Maruhide” sounds familiar, you might remember them from their very popular 4 stars, 568 Yelp reviewed restaurant “Maruhide Uni Club” which was owned by Maruhide. Unfortunately, they closed it in mid-2016 (undisclosed as to officially why), but you can still buy various products offered by Maruhide. Some of their offerings include fresh uni, uni shutou, to the sea urchin soy sauce (“uni shoyu“, oh damn, that’s fancy, but how does that taste?). All of which ships next day within the U.S. and three days to Japan for an omiyage gift to your homies, gf, bf, bff, baby’s mama/daddy, or obachan.

The Northern Channel Islands off Santa Barbara have large lush bull kelp beds that sea urchin feed off of.

For every 1,000 lbs of live sea urchin, on average only 5-8 trays make premium grade which sounds like some high standards (imagine if these were your dating standards #singleforever).

Maruhide Is in Our Own Backyard, Los Angeles

Maruhide (ma-ru-he-day) is located in Long Beach, California, and they have been in business since 1975.

Eating seafood in Newport Beach, most assume they’re getting seafood from local sources, but that’s typically not the case because products come from all over the world. Luckily for SoCal residents, Maruhide Marine Products is located right here in Long Beach, California, and they produce a premium product to markets all around the world including the Tsukiji fish market.

Photo Description: trays and trays of uni by Maruhide, and they are the company if you are looking to buy uni online. The box has a white diamond label with the words "premium sea urchin" on it.
Premium grade California red sea urchin. Image courtesy of Maruhide Marine Products.

The Varying California Sea Urchin Grades

The quality of uni in the U.S. have grades, and the grades came about via the “California Sea Urchin Commission” which represents the several hundred licensed (restricted to 300) sea urchin divers.

  • “California Gold” (formerly grade A): bright gold, yellow or orange color; firm buttery texture; fresh salty ocean scent; and with a sweet buttery taste. Uni sections are large and complete intact pieces. This is exceptionally high-grade uni for use in top quality sushi.
  • “Premium California” (formerly grade B): gold, yellow or orange color but less brilliant than California Gold; firm buttery texture; salty ocean scent; with a crisp and nutty taste. Uni sections are smaller but still primarily intact pieces. Premium uni is used for sushi, soups, salads, or combination dishes where uni is the featured item.
  • “Select California” (formerly grade C): medium hues of yellow and orange or even tending to brown in color; salty ocean scent; softer creamy texture; with a more neutral nutty taste. Uni may be intact sections but can consist of broken pieces of the other grades. Frequently Select is packaged and shipped frozen. Uses include soups, sauces and dishes where the uni is mixed with other ingredients, including other seafood.

Maruhide is the dominant leader if you are looking to buy Santa Barbara Red Sea urchin online.

Maruhide Marine ProductsSanta Barbara Wild Sea Urchin
CEO: Hideo Kawamura
Address:2145 W. 17th St., Long Beach, CA 90813
Tel: (562) 435-6509
Website: www.maruhide.us (in English and Nihongo)
IG: @maruhide_marine_products
Facebook:maruhide marine products
Buy Online at: MaruhideShop.com
Photo Description: uni nigiri sushi.
Imagine being a sea urchin and having your gonads flaunted a top of some rice. Image courtesy of IG: @lyfewithgrace

Other Types of Uni and Where to Order Uni Online

Unlike Maruhide, True World Foods, and to some degree Riviera, I have never ever dealt directly with the other vendors listed here. So these listings are not an endorsement, and I am merely providing the information for you to deliberate on your own. Although, you will see how Maruhide is the dominant leader for Red Sea urchin, and everybody else does either Japanese or “East Coast” sea urchin.

Hokkaido Bafun uni is available via air shipments from Japan and “East Coast sea urchin” is your third choice.

TYPE OF UNIONLINE VENDOR
Bafun/Hokkaido sea urchin
$99 (150g) – $629 (400g)
Hokkaido Uni, Hokkaido, JP
“East Coast” sea urchin
$23 (60g) – $40-85 (100-130g)
Fulton Fish Market, Hunts Point Bronx, NY
Maine sea urchin
$80 (2oz)
Brown Trading Company, Portland, ME
Uni East Coast (Shelled Sea Urchin)
$42.49 (130g)
Citerella, New York to Greenwich
Maine sea urchin
$40 (100g) – $120 (300g)
Regalis Foods, Long Island, NY
“Wild Caught sea urchin”
N/A (100g/3.5oz)
Riviera Seafood Club, Los Angeles, CA
Japanese uni
$69 (120g) – $660 (400g)
TrueWorldFoods, Elizabeth, NJ

Just an FYI, the service from Hokkaido Uni is amazing, and the company reflects well on that entire regions product (they are a standout, like an MTC in the US).

How They Prepare and Eat Uni Throughout the World

  • The Japanese eat it raw with just soy sauce (shoyu) and wasabi.
  • The Mediterranean does it right with just lemon.
  • In Italy it is called “ricci” and is served with pasta such as spaghetti to bucatini, to tagliolini.
  • How a Spaniard living in London prepares sea urchin as a gratin.
  • The Chilean style is primarily lemon, onions, and olive oil, and if you want the full recipe, check out Eating Chile on Chilean food culture.

Resources About Uni Worth the Read:

“Prices since 2014 have hovered around 76 cents to 84 cents a pound, but data with PacFIN for 2017 puts average prices at $1.53 per pound for urchins delivered in 2017 and $1.46 for urchins delivered this year.”

– National Fisherman, Purple urchin invasion leads to a low harvest, high prices for West Coast urchins.

Now that you know about sea urchin processors, here are some additional articles about the sea urchin divers who harvest them by hand, data on sea urchin output, to how much sea urchin divers make:

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