Jellyfish are a sustainable food resource, and one whose availability will likely increase with global warming. But while the creatures are a popular delicacy in many parts of Asia, they are an unfamiliar food in the West. Charles Spence, our fellow and tutor in Experimental Psychology, on how sound and vision could open up a new food frontier.

Given global concerns over the depleting resources of our seas and oceans, and the increasing lack of sustainable seafood options, jellyfish are emerging as a potential future food.

In a new paper, my team has shown how multisensory experience design can be used to introduce diners to this highly-textured, if essentially flavourless, source of food.

Created by chef Jozef Youssef, and served at Kitchen Theory’s Gastrophysics Chef’s Table, the jellyfish dish is placed on a table that is projection mapped with an underwater scene, accompanied by a bespoke soundscape delivered to diners wearing headphones (listen to the soundscape at (https://soundcloud.com/ivaudiobranding/jellyfish). The response from diners to this unusual food has so far been uniformly positive.

Edible jellyfish fisheries are currently a multimillion dollar business in Asia, due to the ingredient’s popularity in China, Japan, Korea, and Thailand

Scientists in Italy have discovered the chemical composition of jellyfish in the Mediterranean are similar to those eaten in the Far East and are now on a mission to demonstrate that the ideal location for jellyfish is on our dinner tables. Meanwhile, Danish chef Klavs Styrbæk has also been experimenting with jellyfish in a number of innovative dishes

Regardless of their description, jellyfish have many advantages as a source of food, being low in fat, and currently highly sustainable. That said, jellyfish is more jelly than fish.

Given that western palate’s lack of education towards the mindful appreciation of texture in food, coupled with preconceptions regarding what jellyfish will feel like in the mouth and the general negative association with their sometimes dangerous sting, texture will most probably be one of the biggest obstacles to getting this highly sustainable ingredient to gain widespread acceptance

Given the growing global popularity of Japanese cuisine and its associated flavours and textures, we wanted to design this dish to exploit these characteristics, and so the dish was given a Japanese theme. The title of the dish is “Ryujins’s Servant”. Ryujin was the ancient Japanese God of the sea, whose servants were depicted as turtles, jellyfish and other such sea creatures. In keeping with the Japanese theme, the jellyfish is marinated in a traditional so-called Chuka Kurage seasoning.

This is paired with the flavours of fermented cucumber ‘nuka-zuke’, a traditional Japanese form of pickling in which ingredients are buried in a seasoned rice bran overnight, imparting strong umami, yeasty, and salty characteristics.

Visual and auditory cues are key elements in the multisensory presentation of Ryujins’s Servant. The jellyfish is served on a projection-mapped table showing an underwater scene as diners listen to a soundscape that blends crunching sounds with underwater ambience.

The response of diners to this most unusual dish has been uniformly positive, with a number leaving the dinner asking where they can get this ingredient. Who knows whether with such an exciting multisensory presentation, this might be appearing on the menu next Freshers’ dinner?

Further reading?

Professor Frances Stewart named Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences

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Professor Frances Stewart named Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences

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