Sea cucumber is a marine creature that belongs to a group of animals called echinoderms, which also includes starfish and sea urchins. It is so named because its body shape resembles a cucumber.
There are more than 1250 species of sea cucumbers found in oceans throughout the world. They have soft, tubular bodies that are covered in leathery skin. Depending on the species, sea cucumber can be red, green, blue, orange, brown, or black in color, and range in size from just 2 cm to 3 meters in length.
Most sea cucumbers live on the sea floor but a few species live near the surface of the water. They are harvested either by divers or commercially farmed in large, manmade ponds.
Sea cucumber can be eaten raw, or cooked, but it’s most often added to dishes dried where it will then rehydrate and take on its unique, springy texture.
Similar to tofu, the sea cucumber is tasteless but it has the ability to absorb the ingredients and spices added to it. This is why it is often used in soups, stir-fries, and certain braised dishes.
These marine animals are considered a delicacy in many Asian cultures and are used in traditional folk medicine to treat a wide variety of ailments like constipation, asthma, rheumatism, and impotence .
Sea Cucumber Nutrition Facts
Like most seafoods, sea cucumber is low in fat and cholesterol and a good source of protein. In fact, a 100 grams of sea cucumber provides 26% of the recommended daily protein intake.
It also provides other nutrients, such as vitamin A, calcium, iron, as well as amino acids and collagen, which are all essential nutrients for healthy growth.
According to the USDA, a 100-gram serving of sea cucumber, yane (Alaska Native) contains:
- 56 calories
- 13 grams of protein
- 0.4 g of fat
- 30 mg of calcium
- 0.6 mg of iron
- 310 IU of vitamin A
Sea Cucumber Health Benefits
1. Reduce the risk of cancer
Some of the compounds in sea cucumber have been shown to be effective against cancer in laboratory studies. One of the most studied is Frondoside A, a natural glycoside extracted from orange-footed sea cucumber (Cucumaria frondosa).
A 2013 study published in the journal PLOS one suggested that Frondoside A was a highly safe compound that in lab tests significantly decreases the growth and migration of lung cancer cells .
Another study has shown that Frondoside A has potent anti-metastatic activity in a murine model of metastatic breast cancer, and its ability to antagonize prostaglandin E receptors EP4 and EP2 .
In one study, researchers found that ds-echinoside A, a new type of triterpene derived from the sea cucumber Pearsonothuria graeffei may inhibit the spread and growth of human liver cancer cells .
2. Relieve arthritis and joint pain
Sea cucumber is rich in chondroitin sulfate, which is well-known for its ability to reduce joint pain and arthritis.
A study published in 2006 issue of “The New England Journal of Medicine” confirms that the consumption of chondroitin sulfate was effective in reducing arthritis pain in the group of patients with moderate to severe knee pain associated with osteoarthritis .
The result of this study directly links the effectiveness of sea cucumber for the treatment of arthritis pain due to the high concentration of chondroitin sulfate.
3. Support heart health
Several animal studies have showed that consuming sea cucumber may help improve heart health.
A 2016 study found that an extract of stonefish sea cucumber (Actinopyga lecanora) was able to reduce blood pressure in hypertensive rats, with higher doses conferring to better blood pressure control .
Another study in young rats demonstrated that a diet rich in sea cucumber significantly reduced total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels .
4. Improve liver and kidney function
Studies done on rats have also demonstrated that sea cucumber could benefit the liver and kidney.
According to a study published in the journal BioMed Research International, just a single dose of black sea cucumber extract led to a significant reduction in oxidative stress and liver damage on rats with hepatorenal disease. The same study also revealed that the extract helped improve liver and kidney function .
5. Boost immune system
Sea cucumbers are loaded with glycine and arginine, which are beneficial in boosting the immune system. Glycine can stimulate production and release of IL-2 and B cell antibodies. These antibodies perform an important task in getting rid of foreign bodies.
The arginine can enhance cell immunity by promoting the activation and proliferation of T-cells, a type of white blood cell that fights pathogens and cancer cells.
6. Prevent gum diseases
The sea cucumber extract toothpaste may be beneficial for people with periodontal (gum) diseases.
In a study involving 28 adult patients diagnosed with chronic gingivitis or early stages of chronic periodontitis found that patients who brushed their teeth with sea cucumber-enriched toothpaste twice daily for three months experienced a significant improvement in all clinical parameters, such as Plaque Index (PI) and Gingival Index (GI), compared to the control group .
7. Reduce asthma attacks
Research has shown that sea cucumber extract can be used as a natural remedy for asthma.
In an animal study published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine, researchers from Pusan National University in South Korea found that the consumption of sea cucumber extract could prevent or decrease the frequency of asthma attacks. This is due to its ability to reduce allergic airway inflammation .
8. Keep the bones healthy
Sea cucumbers are a great source of calcium, which helps keeps your bones strong.
In addition, the high content of collagen in sea cucumber acts as a structural component to which calcium adheres onto, helping to retain high levels of calcium in bones thus increase bone mineral density and preserve bone strength.
Sea cucumbers are considered to be a relatively safe and highly nutritious food source. However, there are some precautions you should be aware of.
First, sea cucumbers have anticoagulant (blood-thinning) effects, meaning they can thin the blood. For this reason, you should avoid sea cucumber two weeks before a scheduled surgery to prevent excessive bleeding. Those taking blood thinners like Coumadin (warfarin) or Plavix (clopidogrel) should also stay away from sea cucumbers.
Second, sea cucumbers may cause allergy in people with a known allergy to shellfish. Although sea cucumbers are not related to shellfish, they may be cross-contaminated at seafood restaurants or processing facilities.
How to Prepare Sea Cucumber
- Rinse off the salt and sand on the sea cucumber’s surface thoroughly.
- Soak the sea cucumbers in clean water for about 2-3 days until they are soft, changing the water every day. Some of the available varieties may take longer to soften. You can adjust the soaking time based on the situation.
- Cook the soaked sea cucumbers in boiling water for about 20-30 minutes. Afterwards, turn off the heat, cover and let it cool.
- Remove the sea cucumbers from the water and cut them open to remove the internal organs, and then rinse off with warm water.
- Rinse them in running water and then boil again for another 20 minutes.
- If the sea cucumbers still feel hard, repeat the boiling process for two or three times, until they’re completely soft.
- For storing, drain the cooked sea cucumbers and place in a plastic container or bag and store them in the freezer section. Frozen sea cucumber can retain its freshness for up to a year.
- To prepare frozen sea cucumber for cooking, defrost the sea cucumber in its packaging and submerge in a bowl of fresh water.
How to Cook Sea Cucumber
Whether dried or frozen, sea cucumber is cooked in the same way. Once softened or thawed, add the sea cucumber to a large pot of boiling water. Cover the pot and let it cook for one hour.
If after an hour, the sea cucumber is not soft, boil it in fresh water for an additional 30-60 minutes, testing for doneness every 10-15 minutes.
When fully cooked, a sea cucumber will be double to triple its original size. It will be soft to touch, but the meat will have a slight bounce when pressed. Be careful not to overcook it or it will become too soft and mushy.