Updated: February 05, 2020
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All About Sea Grapes (Umibudo)

Are these even edible? Absolutely! Here's what they taste like, where they come from, their nutritional properties, and how they're consumed in Japan.

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Sea Grapes Are Known As "Umibudo" In Japan

Have you heard of "Umibudo"? The Japanese name literally translates to sea (umi) grapes (budo). It's a kind of algae species (caulerpa lentillifer) that is very popular in Japan's southern prefecture of Okinawa and in some parts of south-east Asia.
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The name comes from the appearance of the seaweed that looks like tiny clusters of green grapes.

The bubbles are actually the leaf part of the underwater plant. They grow on a long stem that is also edible.

Sea grapes in Okinawa have been farmed for hundreds of years and are known as a staple of the food culture of the prefecture. Because they are native to many parts of the Indo-Pacific coast, other cultures have also incorporated this edible seaweed into their cuisine to various degrees. Other than Japan, sea grapes are also quite popular in the Philippines and Malaysia, most notably.

What Do Sea Grapes Taste Like?

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The taste is slightly salty with an oceanic freshness to it. Most umibudo lovers would probably argue that the best thing about this food is its texture. The little bubbles burst in your mouth when you eat them. The Japanese call this a "puchi puchi" texture, which is an onomatopoeia used to refer to little things bursting.

How They Are Consumed In Japan

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In Okinawa, they are often eaten raw, with soy sauce, or a mix of soy sauce, vinegar, and mirin. This is a kind of side dish that you can find in many restaurants. Sea grapes go particularly well with beer!
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The umibudo is also added to sashimi dishes to make what is called an "umibudo don", which is a bowl of rice with sashimi and umibudo on top. A sauce called "sanbaisu" 三杯酢 is poured on it. Sanbaisu is made of soy sauce, vinegar, and mirin in about equal proportions. If you have the chance to go to Okinawa, this is definitely a dish worth trying.

Nutritional Properties

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The nice taste and texture is not the only reason you should try umibudo. Indeed, the seaweed is packed with vitamins and minerals. They are considered a good source of vitamins A and C, calcium, zinc and iron. They also contain a high level of vegetable protein per calorie and a good amount of omega3 fatty acids too. The consumption of sea grapes might be one of the reasons why Okinawans live so long.

Lastly...

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If you visit Japan, you don't necessarily have to go to Okinawa to try the sea grapes. Umibudo dishes can be ordered at many Okinawan restaurants found all over the country. If you have the chance to try them, make sure you do!
tabikamome
Japanese food culture enthusiast. Love to explore new areas and discover local specialties.

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