While you may not be familiar with sea cucumbers, they’re considered a delicacy in many Asian cultures.
Not to be confused with vegetables, sea cucumbers are marine animals.
They live on sea floors throughout the world, but the greatest population is found in the Pacific Ocean.
Most sea cucumbers resemble large worms or caterpillars and have soft, tubular bodies.
They are gathered by divers or farmed commercially in large, artificial ponds.
In addition to their culinary appeal, sea cucumbers are used in traditional folk medicine to treat a wide variety of ailments.
This article looks into the nutritional benefits of sea cucumbers and whether they are worth adding to your diet.
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 bêche-de-meror trepang, is rehydrated and added to recipes like 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’re 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 Chinese medicine.
While some species of sea cucumber contain bioactive substances with pharmacological potential, no strong evidence supports these purported benefits of sea cucumbers in general.
Due to high demand, many species of sea cucumber are overfished, and some are threatened with extinction in the wild. Make sure to choose farmed sea cucumbers or species from sustainable fisheries.
Sea cucumber is a popular ingredient in Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Sea cucumbers are an excellent source of nutrients.
Four ounces (112 grams) of the Alaskan yane sea cucumber delivers (
- Calories: 60
- Protein: 14 grams
- Fat: less than one gram
- Vitamin A: 8% of the Daily Value (DV)
- B2 (Riboflavin): 81% of the DV
- B3 (Niacin): 22% of the DV
- Calcium: 3% of the DV
- Magnesium: 4% of the DV
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 comprising 41–63% protein (
Adding protein sources to meals and snacks helps keep you full by slowing 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 (
Sea cucumbers are packed with nutrients. They’re low in calories and fat and high in protein, making them a weight-loss-friendly food.
Sea cucumbers are not only packed with protein, vitamins, and minerals but 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 (
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 compounds that are structurally related to chondroitin sulfate, an important component of human connective tissue found in cartilage and bone (
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.
Sea cucumbers have been linked to a number of potential health benefits.
Sea cucumbers contain substances that may help 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, prostate, and skin cancer cells (
Another study found that ds-echinoside A, 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 black sea cucumber extract inhibits the growth of bacteria, including E. coli, S. aureus, and S. typhi, all of which can cause illness (
Another study showed sea cucumbers may fight Candida albicans, an opportunistic yeast that can cause infections if levels get out of control, especially among those who are immunocompromised (
In a one-week study in 17 home residents with oral Candida overgrowth, those who consumed a jelly containing Japanese sea cucumber extract showed a reduction in Candida overgrowth, compared with those who did not consume the jelly (
Additionally, one study in rats showed that black 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 white-bottomed sea cucumber extract showed significant reductions in blood pressure, compared with rats that were not fed the extract (
Another study in young rats demonstrated that a diet rich in chocolate chip sea cucumber significantly reduced total cholesterol, low-density lipoproteins, and triglycerides (
Furthermore, a study in rats with hepatorenal disease found that a single dose of black sea cucumber extract significantly reduced oxidative stress and liver damage, as well as improved liver and kidney function (
Sea 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.
While sea cucumbers have been consumed around the world for centuries and are considered relatively safe, there are some potential concerns.
First, certain species 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 may pose a risk to people with shellfish allergies. While sea cucumbers are not related to shellfish, they may be cross-contaminated at seafood restaurants or processing facilities.
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 sea cucumbers.
Additionally, 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 significantly affected by unsustainable fishing methods (
To ensure sea cucumber populations remain at healthy levels, choose those that are raised through sustainable fish farming or fished using sustainable methods.
Consuming animal species that are not threatened is always the best practice.
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 important animal.
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 delicious dishes.
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.