How Are Sea Cucumbers Used?
Sea cucumbers have been used as a food source and medicinal ingredient
in Asian and Middle Eastern countries for centuries.
In fact, they have been fished from the Pacific Ocean for over 170 years.
These slug-like animals are used either fresh or dried in various dishes,
though the dried form is by far the most commonly used.
Dried sea cucumber, known as beche-de-mer or trepang, is rehydrated and
added to recipes likes soups, stews and stir-fries.
Sea cucumbers can also be eaten raw, pickled or fried.
They have a slippery texture and bland taste, so they’re usually infused with
flavor from other ingredients like meats, other seafood or spices.
They are often combined with produce like Chinese cabbage, winter melon
and shiitake mushrooms.
Sea cucumber is also used in Traditional Chinese medicine, where it’s
believed to have healing properties and used to treat ailments like arthritis,
cancer, frequent urination and impotence .
Creams, tinctures, oils and cosmetics infused with sea cucumber extract, as
well as oral sea cucumber supplements, are also popular in Traditional
Sea Cucumbers Are Incredibly Nutritious
Sea cucumbers are an excellent source of nutrients.
Four ounces (112 grams) of sea cucumber delivers (3):
Protein: 14 grams
Fat: less than one gram
Vitamin A: 8% of the RDI
B2 (Riboflavin): 60% of the RDI
B3 (Niacin): 16% of the RDI
Calcium: 4% of the RDI
Magnesium: 4% of the RDI
Sea cucumbers are very low in calories and fat and high in protein, making
them a weight loss-friendly food.
They also contain many powerful substances, including antioxidants, which
are good for your health.
Sea cucumbers are high in protein, with most species consisting of 41–63%
Adding protein sources to meals and snacks helps keep you full by slowing
down the emptying of your stomach.
This can help you eat less and stabilize your blood sugar levels
Foods rich in protein, such as sea cucumbers, may be especially beneficial
for people with diabetes who are looking to control their blood sugar levels
Plus, diets rich in protein may benefit heart health, help lower blood
pressure and improve bone density
Packed With Beneficial Compounds
Not only are sea cucumbers packed with protein, vitamins and minerals,
they also contain several substances that may benefit overall health.
For example, they contain phenol and flavonoid antioxidants, which have
been shown to reduce inflammation in the body. Diets rich in these
substances are linked to a reduced risk of many chronic diseases, including
heart disease and neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease
Sea cucumbers are also rich in compounds called triterpene glycosides,
which possess antifungal, antitumor and immune-boosting properties.
What's more, these marine animals are very high in chondroitin sulfate, an
important component of human connective tissue found in cartilage and
Foods and supplements that contain chondroitin sulfate may benefit those
with joint diseases like osteoarthritis.
Sea cucumbers deliver an impressive amount of nutrients and
beneficial compounds, including protein, antioxidants and B vitamins.
Potential Health Benefits
Sea cucumbers have been linked to a number of potential health benefits.
Sea cucumbers contain substances called cytotoxins, which have been
shown to fight cancer cells.
For example, one test-tube study showed that triterpene diglycosides found
in Vietnamese sea cucumbers had a toxic effect on five types of cancer
cells, including breast cancer, prostate and skin cancer cells Another study
found that Ds-echinoside, a type of triterpene derived from sea cucumbers,
reduced the spread and growth of human liver cancer cells
While these results are promising, more research is needed to determine
the efficacy and safety of using sea cucumber to fight cancer cells.
A number of test-tube studies have demonstrated that sea cucumber
extract inhibits the growth of bacteria, including E. coli, S. aureus and S.
typhi, all of which can cause illnesses Another study showed sea
cucumbers may fight Candida albicans, an opportunistic yeast that can
cause infections if levels get out of control, especially in the
immunocompromised In a one-week study in 17 elderly nursing home
patients with oral Candida overgrowth, those who consumed a jelly
containing sea cucumber extract showed a reduction
in Candida overgrowth, compared to those who did not consume the jelly.
Additionally, one study in rats showed that sea cucumber fought sepsis, a
life-threatening complication associated with harmful bacteria
Heart and Liver Health
Several animal studies have demonstrated that sea cucumber may improve
heart and liver health.
For example, rats with high blood pressure that were fed sea cucumber
extract showed significant reductions in blood pressure, compared to rats
who were not fed the extract
Another study in young rats demonstrated that a sea cucumber-rich diet
significantly reduced total cholesterol, low-density lipoproteins and
Furthermore, a study in rats with hepatorenal disease found that a single
dose of sea cucumber extract significantly reduced oxidative stress and
liver damage, as well as improved liver and kidney function .
SUMMARYSea cucumbers may fight cancer cells, inhibit harmful bacteria
and improve heart health. However, more human studies are needed
before conclusions about their potential health benefits can be made.
Potential Side Effects
While sea cucumbers have been consumed around the world for centuries
and are considered relatively safe, there are some potential concerns.
First, they have anticoagulant properties, meaning they can thin the blood).
Those taking blood-thinning medications like Warfarin should stay away
from sea cucumbers, especially in concentrated supplement form, to reduce
the risk of increased bleeding.
Second, sea cucumbers are in the same family as sea urchins and starfish
and should be avoided by people who are allergic to shellfish.
Also, while some animal studies support their use for treating cancer, heart
disease and bacterial infections, research in these areas is limited.
Human studies are needed to learn more about the safety and efficacy of
Additionally, an increasing worldwide demand for sea cucumbers has led to
a decrease in their population.
These species play an important role in the ecosystem of ocean reefs and
has been greatly impacted by unsustainable fishing methods (29).
To ensure sea cucumber populations remain at a healthy level, choose
those raised through sustainable fish farming or that are fished using
Consuming animal species that are not threatened is always the best
Sea cucumbers should be avoided by people with shellfish and
seafood allergies and those taking blood-thinning medications. Choosing
sustainably raised sea cucumbers can help reduce overfishing of this
The Bottom Line
Sea cucumbers are interesting marine animals that have a variety of
culinary and medicinal uses.
They are a nutritious protein source that can be added to a number of
Sea cucumbers may also have a number of health benefits, but more
research is needed before conclusions can be made.
If you are feeling adventurous, try adding sea cucumber to your dishes in
place of more traditional seafood.
Chinese-style Braised Sea Cucumbers and
Prep the sea cucumbers (fresh, dried and frozen require different methods
of preparations) then cook in seasoned mushroom soaking water with the
shiitake. Add starch solution to thicken the reduced liquid. Chinese-style
braised sea cucumbers and shiitake mushrooms make a delicious starter
Yes, it’s very much a Chinese dish. Shiitake is black mushroom in Chinese
cookbooks but I’m calling them shiitake here because that is the term that
most cooks are familiar with. Besides, “black mushroom” can be so
confusing since the color varies from beige to brown to black, and the caps
may be speckled or not.
Cooking this Chinese-style braised sea cucumbers and shiitake mushrooms
starts with rehydrating dried shiitake. Of course you may skip this step
entirely if using fresh shiitake. The upside of using dried is that the
mushrooms have a more concentrated flavor and the soaking water serves
as a good base for making the sauce for the dish.
If using dried mushrooms, soak in water. Anywhere from 20 minutes to a
couple of hours depending on their size. The larger the mushrooms, the
longer it takes for both the caps and stems to soften.
When soft enough, snip off the stems. You won’t be needing them.
While soaking the mushrooms, prep the sea cucumbers. How much
prepping they need depends on whether you bought them fresh, frozen or
Once cleaned and rehydrated, if using dried, boil the sea cucumbers in
water with a few slices of ginger to remove the strong fishy smell.
Drain the sea cucumbers, rinse in running water until cool to the touch then
cut into bite-size pieces.
Hopefully, by the the time the sea cucumbers are prepped, the mushrooms
will be ready for cooking too.
You heat a couple of tablespoonfuls of oil in a wok and saute smashed
garlic, sliced ginger and a shallot in it until the aroma going around in your
kitchen makes you terribly hungry.
Next, you add the shiitake and sea cucumber to the aromatics. You stir fry
until everything is coated with oil.
Pour in the strained liquid in which the mushrooms were soaked.
The seasonings come next. Soy sauce, salt (too much soy sauce will make
the dish too dark) black pepper, sugar and oyster sauce. Bring everything to
the boil, cover the wok, lower the heat and braise the sea cucumbers and
mushrooms until tender.
Finally, you add starch dispersed in more of the mushroom soaking water
and continue cooking until the reduced cooking liquid has thickened and
Blackish-brown sea cucumbers and shiitake with a brown sauce won’t look
too appetizing. Add color by serving the braised sea cucumbers and
shiitake mushrooms with blanched broccoli florets. Hot tea on the side is
always a good idea.
Chinese-style Braised Sea Cucumbers and
Keyword sea cucumber, shiitake
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 18 minutes
Soaking time for mushrooms 30 minutes
Total Time 28 minutes
Author Connie Veneracion
10 to 12 dried shiitake mushrooms
300 grams sea cucumbers (click the link for instructions on preparation)
6 to 8 slices ginger divided
2 tablespoons cooking oil
2 to 3 cloves garlic peeled and smashed
1 to 2 shallots peeled and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon tapioca starch or corn starch
salt to taste
1/4 teaspoon sesame seed oil
1 head broccoli broken into florets and blanched in salted water
Recipe: Braised Sea Cucumber with
Last updated on April 6th, 2017,
Growing up, my grandfather has been cooking braised sea cucumber with pork belly during special occasions.
Because I eat it so often, I take it for granted. It is until now when I really sit down to enjoy this dish, then I
realized how much effort he puts in.
If you are wondering what is sea cucumber, here is the explanation from Wikipedia:
“Sea cucumbers are marine animals with a leathery skin and an elongated
body containing a single, branched gonad. Sea cucumbers are found on the
sea floor worldwide. There are a number of holothurian species and genera,
many of which are targeted for human consumption. They are usually being
sold in a dried form and already pre-soaked form in certain Asian grocery
shops that carry gourmet ingredients.”
Each sea cucumber comes in different sizes and grades, a medium grade one costs about $60-$80. The
preparation itself is very torturous. There is no short cut to it. You just have to buy the dried form and soak it till
soft. I wouldn’t recommend buying the pre soaked ones as they have been treated with chemicals to make them
bigger. And when you cook it, it may shrink.
Here I share with you my grandfather’s recipe of Braised Sea Cucumber with Pork Belly. If you decided to
prepare this dish, you have to use pork belly. The fat in this cut makes this dish sing.
Ingredients: (for 6)
2 medium-sized sea cucumbers
1 lbs belly pork, cut into bite-sized pieces
5 cloves garlic, unpeeled and lightly pounded
6 dried shitake mushrooms, soaked and cut into halves
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp light soy sauce
3 slices ginger
2 tbsp of cooking oil
500ml of water
1 stick cinnamon (optional)
2 star anise (optional)
How to prepare the sea cucumber?
1. Soak the sea cucumber for more than 24 hours. Make sure the sea cucumbers are completely covered in the
2. Use a knife to scrap the inside part of the sea cucumber.
3. Boil the sea cucumber for about 1 hour in a big pot.
4. Once it is soft, throw away the boiling water and cut into desired size.
1. Blanch the pork belly in boiling water for a few minutes. Drain and set aside.
2. Heat up oil in the wok. Saute the ginger and garlic till fragrant.
3. Add in pork belly, sea cucumber and mushroom. Add the sauces and quick fry for 1-2 minutes.
4. Add water, cinnamon and star anise. Stir occasionally to coat the ingredients evenly. Bring to a boil.
5. Transfer to a pot. Cover and simmer for 1 hour till the pork belly and sea cucumber is tender. Serve hot.
Sea cucumbers are a type of marine animal. Most commonly found in the Indian and western
Pacific Oceans, they're consumed as a food in some parts of Asia and used for medicinal
purposes in traditional Chinese medicine (a form of alternative medicine that originated in
China). Dietary supplements containing ground and dried sea cucumber are said to offer a
range of health benefits, including arthritis relief.
Sea cucumber contains several substances thought to influence health, including antioxidants,
triterpenoids (a class of compounds found to slow cancer growth in preliminary studies),
and chondroitin sulfate (a substance found naturally in human cartilage and sometimes taken
in dietary supplement form to treat arthritis).
In alternative medicine, sea cucumber is touted as a natural remedy for the following health
The common cold
High blood pressure
Sea cucumber is also said to reduce inflammation and slow up the aging process. In addition,
some proponents suggest that sea cucumber can help fight cancer.
So far, research on the health effects of sea cucumber is very limited. While clinical trials are
currently lacking, a number of preliminary studies suggest that sea cucumber may offer
certain health benefits. Here's a look at several key findings from the available research:
1) Gum Health
Use of a toothpaste containing sea cucumber extract may be beneficial to people with gum
disease, according to a preliminary study published in the Journal of Oral Science in 2003.
For the study, 28 adults with chronic gingivitis or early stages of periodontitis brushed their
teeth with either a sea cucumber-enriched toothpaste or placebo toothpaste twice daily for
At the study's end, participants who used the sea cucumber toothpaste showed significantly
greater improvements in several markers of gum health (such as plaque buildup and bleeding)
compared to those assigned to the placebo.
Some animal-based research indicates that sea cucumber may help keep cholesterol in check.
In a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in 2002, for instance,
tests on rats demonstrated that sea cucumber may help reduce LDL ("bad") cholesterol and
total cholesterol levels while increasing HDL ("good") cholesterol levels.
Although the study's authors suggest that sea cucumber holds promise for the prevention
of atherosclerosis, further research is needed to determine sea cucumber's cholesterol-
lowering effects in humans.
A number of preliminary studies show that certain compounds found in sea cucumber may
have cancer-fighting effects.
For example, a study published in the journal Pancreas in 2010 suggests that Frondanol-A5P
(a substance extracted from a sea cucumber species called Cucumaria frondosa) may aid in
the prevention or treatment of pancreatic cancer. In tests on human pancreatic cancer cells, the
study's authors observed that sea cucumber extract may fight cancer by inducing apoptosis (a
type of programmed cell death essential for stopping the proliferation of cancer cells).
Individuals with seafood allergies should avoid the use of sea cucumber.
There's also some concern that taking sea cucumber in combination with blood-thinning drugs
may have harmful effects.
It's important to note that, due to a lack of research, little is known about the overall safety of
using dietary supplements containing sea cucumber.
Keep in mind that supplements haven't been tested for safety and dietary supplements are
largely unregulated. In some cases, the product may deliver doses that differ from the
specified amount for each herb. In other cases, the product may be contaminated with other
substances such as metals. Also, the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing
mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not
If you're seeking a natural remedy for osteoarthritis, several types of dietary supplements may
provide relief. These supplements include avocado/soybean unsaponifiables, glucosamine,
and white willow bark.
For protection against gum disease, there's some evidence that vitamin C, cranberry, and tea
tree oil may be beneficial.
Where to Find It
Available for purchase online, dietary supplements containing sea cucumber are sold in many
natural-foods stores and stores specializing in natural products. In addition, whole sea
cucumber is sold in some grocery stores specializing in Asian foods.
A Word From Verywell
Due to the limited research, it's too soon to recommend sea cucumber as a treatment for any
condition. It's also important to note that self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying
standard care may have serious consequences. If you're considering using it for any health
purpose, make sure to consult your primary care provider first.