Can You Eat Starfish? – What Does It Taste Like?

Edibe starfish up close

“Are starfish edible?” is one of the many questions people wonder about when they see these beautiful sea creatures adorning our ocean floors.

In regions like China and Japan, starfish are not just a popular street food but also considered a delicacy. However, it’s essential to note that starfish is not a common dish globally.

If you’re curious about the taste of a starfish or how to prepare starfish meat, this article is for you. Here, we’ll delve into the intricacies of starfish cuisine and what you should know before trying it.

Can You Eat Starfish?

Two starfish side by side

Starfish are edible and generally safe to eat. This has even become a popular dish in many oriental Asian countries. However, only the meat of the starfish’s legs is safe for consumption. Its exterior contains toxins and must not be eaten. Avoid highly poisonous starfish species, as well. 

In many cultures and places worldwide, starfish are beautiful sea creatures that double as a delicacy. For instance, many starfish species, especially in places like Qingdao, are considered a popular street food.

However, some starfish can cause food poisoning, making it essential to know the specific starfish you’re dealing with.

For example, starfish on a stick, a treat often found in Chinese river markets, should be prepared by a chef or an expert to ensure safety. 

In the following sections, we’ll dive deep and learn all the nitty-gritty details of eating and preparing starfish. 

Is It Safe to Eat a Starfish?

The starfish, with its unique appeal, has found its way onto plates in various parts of the world. However, the answer as to whether or not a starfish is safe to eat is not as straightforward as a simple yes or no. 

For starters, not every species of starfish is suitable for consumption. Some, due to their natural toxins, are poisonous and can be harmful if ingested. This makes it crucial to be well-informed about the specific species you’re considering for a meal. 

For reference, here are some starfish species that can be safe for consumption if prepared properly:

  • Common Starfish (Asterias rubens): Found in the eastern Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, this starfish is a popular choice for many who eat starfish. Its legs contain the succulent starfish meat, offering an acquired taste that’s both unique and flavorful.
  • Sand Star (Archaster typicus): Native to the Indo-Pacific region, this starfish is often found in shallow waters. Many people wonder about its taste, which is delicate and reminiscent of the sea. It’s not uncommon to find starfish like this in food markets in areas where starfish is a popular street food.
  • Purple Sea Star (Pisaster ochraceus): A Pacific Ocean dweller, this starfish is sometimes used in traditional dishes. While not as popular as some seafood, like river crab or Qingdao sea urchins in places like China, its distinct flavor holds a special place for those who have an acquired taste for starfish.
  • Spiny Starfish (Marthasterias glacialis): This cold water starfish from the North Atlantic is known for its size. With meaty legs, it offers more to consume than some of its counterparts.

On the other hand, here’s a list of some starfish species that are deemed unsafe for human consumption:

  • Marble Sea Star (Fromia elegans): Recognized for its dark and marbled patterns, this species stands out in oceans. However, this starfish has a potent toxin in its skin, and consuming it is not only illegal in some places but also dangerous.
  • Sand Sifting Starfish (Astropecten polyacanthus): Often seen during low tide in the sandy terrains of tropical waters, this starfish, with its sharp spines and vivid colors, is more than just an alluring sea creature. While it’s crucial in marine ecosystems, feeding on detritus and tiny organisms, it’s not a starfish to consume. Its spines can inflict a painful sting, making it best admired from a distance.
  • Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (Acanthaster planci): This starfish is notorious for its venomous spines and the threat it poses to coral reefs. The spines can lead to intense pain and inflammation if they come into contact with the skin. It’s not part of the starfish people eat, and extreme caution is advised when near it.

If there’s any uncertainty about the edibility of a particular starfish, it’s always best to be especially careful and avoid consuming it.

What Does Starfish Taste Like?

A galaxy of starfish near the shore

The taste of starfish is an acquired one. Many describe the taste as being similar to that of a sea urchin, with a creamy texture that’s slightly mushy. 

Meanwhile, some say it tastes like ocean water, giving your taste buds a hint of the sea. On the other hand, others find a bitter taste, especially if not prepared correctly. 

As a marine scientist fond of seafood, I’ve had my fair share of starfish dishes during my travels and research. I think most starfish taste like a blend of clams and oysters but with a more pronounced marine essence. 

The key to enjoying starfish is in its preparation, ensuring that it’s cleaned and cooked properly to bring out its natural flavors.

I’ve found that pairing starfish with a sauce, especially a tangy citrus sauce or a light soy-based dip, can elevate the experience. 

The meat inside the starfish, especially when deep fried or served on a stick, can be succulent. However, don’t expect it to taste like fish. The flavor is unique, and while some love it, others might need time to get used to it.

Can You Eat Starfish Raw? 

Many sources claim that starfish is technically edible in its raw form; however, it’s not recommended to eat starfish raw. 

When you first examine a raw starfish, you might notice a distinct smell of a beach or even an off-putting scent reminiscent of rotten meat. 

This aroma might not be appealing to everyone. Additionally, on top of the unpleasant smell, consuming starfish raw can pose a risk of food poisoning.

This is why, in regions where starfish is eaten, such as China, it’s typically prepared and cooked to both ensure safety and enhance its flavor. 

If you’re intrigued and want to try eating starfish, it’s crucial to purchase starfish that’s fresh and sourced from clean waters.

In conclusion, while some say that you can technically eat starfish raw, it’s safer and more palatable to prepare a starfish properly before consumption.

How to Prepare and Cook Starfish

Starfish laying on corals

Now that you are aware that starfish can be safe to eat, the next step is to learn how this delicacy is prepared and cooked. 

For starters, it’s essential to understand that not all parts of a starfish are edible. In fact, some parts of the starfish are not safe to eat. So, how do you prepare and enjoy this unique treat safely?

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to prepare and cook starfish:

  1. Source fresh starfish: Always prioritize obtaining starfish from reputable and fresh sources. Freshness is key to ensuring the best taste and safety.
  2. Clean the starfish: Immerse the starfish in a bowl of cold water for at least 15 seconds. Afterward, remove the starfish from the water and let it dry. This brief soak not only helps clean the starfish but also prepares it for the subsequent steps.
  3. Remove the outer layer: The outer layer of the starfish is usually tough; hence, it’s not typically consumed. Make use of tools like pliers or a lobster cracker to gently remove this layer.
  4. Extract the edible meat: The meat located within the starfish’s legs is considered the edible portion. Carefully break each leg and extract the meat inside.
  5. Cook the starfish: While there are various methods to cook starfish, deep-frying is one option that provides a crispy exterior and preserves the inner flavor. If you opt to boil the starfish, immerse it in cold water for 15 seconds after cooking. This helps in enhancing its texture.

Deep-fried starfish can be served on a stick, reminiscent of popular street food in China, or accompanied by a dipping sauce to elevate its flavor. Meanwhile, starfish soups can be served with vegetables and even rice.

In conclusion, it’s vital to prepare starfish correctly. When done right, it offers a unique culinary experience, making it a must-try for adventurous foodies.

Watch this video to see how a starfish is cut up in preparation for cooking:

How to Cut up a Live Starfish for traditional Chinese soup

Benefits of Eating Starfish

Starfish are not just a treat for the eyes; some of them may offer some health benefits, too. 

In regions where starfish is a delicacy, they are not only cherished for their unique taste but also for their nutritional benefits. Rich in protein and low in fat, starfish can be a healthful addition to one’s diet.

Beyond their protein content, many starfish species are packed with essential minerals and metabolites that may be beneficial for overall health. 

For those looking to diversify their culinary experiences, trying starfish can be an adventurous way to eat. 

Some cultures even attribute medicinal properties to starfish, although such beliefs are rooted in tradition rather than scientific evidence.

Frequently Asked Questions

Starfish in an aquarium

Are Starfish Poisonous to Humans?

While some people eat starfish, it’s essential to note that not all starfish are safe for consumption. Some species are poisonous, containing toxins that can be harmful when ingested. 

Always ensure you’re consuming a species that isn’t closely related to the poisonous ones and is safe for human consumption.

Are Crown-of-Thorns Starfish Edible?

The answer is no; the Crown-of-Thorns starfish isn’t one of the edible species of starfish. It has harmful spines and a hard outer shell, making it not recommended for consumption. 

Unlike other seafood delicacies, such as the Qingdao sea urchins, live octopus, lobsters, and scallops, the Crown-of-Thorns starfish isn’t typically considered an edible treat.

Is It Legal to Eat Starfish?

The legal regulations of starfish vary. In the United States, you can eat starfish, but it might be illegal to remove starfish, especially from protected marine zones. 

Before you buy starfish or try to remove starfish from rocks, always check local regulations. 

Final Thoughts

Starfish, with its unique taste and texture, offers a culinary experience like no other. While it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s a delicacy in certain parts of the world.

For those with an adventurous palate, starfish can be a fascinating addition to your culinary bucket list. However, it’s crucial to remember that there are some starfish species you can’t eat.

Always ensure you’re familiar with the species you’re about to consume and that it’s been prepared correctly.

How about you? Would you eat a starfish? Leave a comment below and share with us your thoughts about eating starfish!

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