Sea Grapes, why are they called Green Caviar ?

Sea Grapes, scientifically called Caulerpa, are a genus of seaweeds in the green algae group.

Their name no doubt comes from their physical resemblence to beautiful bunches of little grapes.  There are many varieties but two are popular as food. Their colours range from bright green to bluish and olive green. Sea grapes grow in the tropical and subtropical zones, on coral rubble or on rocks, in full-mineral water and strong sunlight. Each bunch is roughly 2-8cm long, with bead-like bobbles (the 'grapes') arranged on a vertical 'stem'. They are also called the vegatarian 'green caviar' from the sea. They are unusual because they consist of only one cell with many nuclei, making them among the biggest single cells plant in the world.

Fresh Sea Grapes

They are a staple seafood in the Okinawan region where they grow; they are called 'umi-budo' and, especially during summer time, they are shipped to various other locations in Japan where they are offered in restaurants as a delicacy. In Japan, Sea grapes are eaten raw, served with soya sauce & wasabi, placed as vegetable & garnish on rice or salad, or with tofu, sushi and sashimi.
They can also be found in other parts of Asia - in the Philippines they are called "ar-arosep" or "lato" and mostly they are eaten fresh with onions and tomatoes; in Indonesia they may be coated with sugar; in China, added to noodle soup; in Taiwan, quick fried or boiled. Sea Grapes are also found in the Pacific Islands in a number of dishes in season. Among the most delicious presentations for this unique delicacy is served with a mixture of fish & vegetables in coconut milk as a dish called kokoda or Nama in Fijian.

Sea grapes are crunchy and slightly sweet with a succulent texture. The taste is delicate with a hint of the sea. The feature of this food is more in the potentially-addictive texture. Sea grapes bring to mind crunchy bubbles filled with liquid that pop in the mouth like caviar. Some say that the taste is slightly peppery but refreshing as cucumber would be.

Recipe, Blinis with Smoked salmon & Sea Grapes

Their grape-like shape and fish-egg taste make them a very versatile sea vegetable garnish. They pair well with all other seafood and also with ingredients that would be served with caviar such as potatos, omelettes, ceviche and salsa. Click on the link for Recipe Blinis with Smoked Salmon & Sea Grapes.

Sea grapes are immediately packed in brine at harvest time. Before serving them, it is customary to soak them in fresh room temperature water for about 10 minutes in order to bring them back to their fully buoyant state and remove excess sea salt. It is preferable to keep them out of the fridge as excessive cold temperatures alter their delicate flavour.

On the wellness side, they are recognised for their antibacterial and antifungal properties, and are said to moderate blood pressure and blood sugar levels and ease rheumatism. Their high concentration in minerals & vitamins make them very nutritious and they have very few calories. Folkore medicine boasts their anti-aging properties and for that reason they have been called the "longevity seaweeds".

Pacific Harvest's Sea Grapes are imported from both Fiji and The Philippines (Cebu) according to availability.

Sea grapes at Kermadec Island, photo by Wendy Nelson, NIWA

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