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If you frequent sushi bars in California, you have most likely 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 some savory 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 is the genital glands. The gonads store nutrients and contain the milt and roe during the spawning season in spring. (“Full of nutrients” sounds like something a guy would tout).If only uni could speak because sea urchins are dioecious. Meaning you can not visually distinguish between males and females from the outside, unless they are talking about nutrients.
Where Do They Harvest Red Sea Urchins
Throughout the world and in SoCal, they harvest sea urchins (uni) by hand. These divers operate in the pristine Federally protected Channel Islands, where they risk their lives to fish the oceans for them.
“Sea urchins in California have been fished by coastal Native Americans for centuries.”– California Department of Fish and Wildlife
These urchins are a different species from the much loved Japanese Bafun sea urchin (typically from Hokkaido), and the Santa Barbara red sea urchin gonads (uni) are also larger and more vibrantly colored (yellowish, or between gold and orange).
These wild Red Sea urchins (Strongylocentrotus franciscanus) are hand-harvested by commercial divers in Santa Barbara, California.
Chefs and restaurants seek them out because anybody who has had them knows it’s not just their plump size but the motion of the ocean. Okay, I am joking, and it is because these are some of the sweetest and savoriest gonads that will make you want to be part of the uni lovers club.
The Maruhide Uni Fan Club History
One of the major players of California red sea urchin is Maruhide Marine Products, established in 1975.
Maruhide (ma-ru-he-day) is located in Long Beach, California, and they have been in business since 1975.
If “Maruhide” sounds familiar, you might remember them from their popular 4-stars, 568 Yelp reviewed restaurant “Maruhide Uni Club,” the restaurant 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, and the sea urchin soy sauce (“uni shoyu,” oh damn, that’s fancy, but how does that taste?). All of which ship the 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 Significance of Maruhide Being in Our Own Backyard
Eating seafood in Newport Beach, most assume they are getting seafood locally, but that is typically not the case (yea, I know, there’s that spot on Newport Pier that does sell locally caught seafood) because products come from across the globe.
The Northern Channel Islands off Santa Barbara have large lush bull kelp beds that sea urchin feed off of.Without kelp and kelp forests, the quality and quantity of sea urchin are diminishing.
Luckily for SoCal residents, Maruhide Marine Products is located in Long Beach, California. The company produces premium products sold in markets throughout the world, including the Tsukiji fish market in Japan.
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.
For every 1,000 lbs. of live sea urchin, on average only 5-8/10 trays make premium grade which sounds like some high standards (imagine if these were your dating standards #singleforever).
- “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 a dominant leader if you are looking to buy Santa Barbara Red Sea urchin online.
|Maruhide Marine Products||Santa Barbara Wild Sea Urchin|
|Address:||2145 W. 17th St., Long Beach, CA 90813|
|Website:||www.maruhide.us (in English and Nihongo)|
|Facebook:||maruhide marine products|
|Buy Online at:||MaruhideShop.com|
Other Types of Uni and Where to Order Uni Online
Beyond Santa Barbara Red Sea Urchin, Hokkaido Bafun uni is available via air shipments from Japan, and “East Coast sea urchin” (Atlantic Green Urchins) is your other common choice.Green sea urchins are from Canada/Maine.
|TYPE OF UNI||ONLINE VENDOR|
|Bafun/Hokkaido sea urchin|
$99 (150g) – $629 (400g)
|“East Coast” sea urchin|
$23 (60g) – $40-85 (100-130g)
|Fulton Fish Market|
Hunts Point Bronx, NY
|Maine sea urchin|
|Brown Trading Company|
|Uni East Coast (Shelled Sea Urchin)|
New York to Greenwich
|Maruhide Sea Urchin|
|Maruhide Sea Urchin|
Long Beach, CA
|Maine sea urchin|
$40 (100g) – $120 (300g)
Long Island, NY
|“Wild Caught sea urchin”|
|Riviera Seafood Club|
Los Angeles, CA
|Santa Barbara Uni Premium|
Santa Barbara Uni
Platinum Grade Wooden Tray
(2020, retail portal opens)
$69 (120g) – $660 (400g)
Three Tips for Maintaining Your Uni by Tradewind SeafoodTradewind Seafood has over 40 years of experience in the industry
1. Wrap tray in a saran wrap to make keep moist, and store in the coldest place of the refrigerator (do not let it sit out). 2. Never freeze fresh premium grade uni if at all possible. The texture and taste will change when thawed. 3. Consume within 4 days of receiving.
(their facility is also FDA HACCP compliant).
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).I was afraid the service would be non-existent for English speakers.
How They Prepare and Eat Uni Throughout the World
I think sea urchin is often associated with the Japanese although it is eaten 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.
References About Uni Worth the Read/Watch:
“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:
- Motherboard by Vice, August 21, 2015, California Gold: The Uni Dynasty of Mendocino County by Maria Finn and photography by Alan Lovewell
- Munchies by Vice, June 20, 2014, Diving for Salty Gold in California by Hillary Eaton and photogrpahy by Jason Wise.
- National Fisherman, Sept 18, 2018, Purple urchin invasion leads to a low harvest, high prices for West Coast urchins.
- The business of cultivating and harvesting sea urchin in Norway,. The August 9th, 2017 article is by Science Daily, Sea urchins: From pest to plate.
- The Uni Diaries (the ultimate resource for uni lovers): everything you ever wanted to know about uni.
- One of the best, if not the best uni article on the internet (great photography and a very informative article) by La Petit Noisette
- Data by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, this is an older report covering the 80’s to 2000.