Sea Cucumbers: Greece’s Hidden Delicacy Soars in Popularity and Demand



Fishermen at the Greek port of Aedipsos, Euboea (Evia)- Photo Credit: Anastasios Papapostolou

We all know cucumbers, some of the simplest yet delicious and versatile vegetables in the world. But what about sea cucumbers?

Increasing interest has been reported recently on the islands of Greece’s Dodecanese archipelago in fishing for sea cucumbers, a species which until recently was only harvested for use as bait by European fishermen.

The Southern Aegean regional authority of Greece has already issued licenses for the harvesting of the species by certain fishing boats, originating from ports mostly on the islands of Kalymnos and Leros.

Sea cucumbers are echinoderms from the class Holothuroidea, according to scientific classification. They are marine animals with a leathery skin and an elongated body containing a single, branched gonad.

Sea cucumbers are found on the seafloor worldwide, and are in abundance in the seas surrounding Greece as well.

Chinese dish of sea cucumber in sauce. Credit: Wikipedia

Their nutritional value is very high, while innovative dishes of high export value have begun to be produced using them as their main ingredient. They have long been a popular dish in Chinese and other Asian nations.

Sea cucumbers are considered the “cleaners” of marine ecosystems, feeding on the detritus produced by other marine organisms, which is why they live along sandy sea bottoms.

Anyone who has ever set eyes on one of these animals must admit they leave much to be desired in the “looks” category. However, they have high nutritional and pharmaceutical value and many people consider them a great delicacy, despite their repulsive appearance.

Apart from their food value, the Chinese also claim that sea cucumbers serve as an excellent aphrodisiac.

For this reason, the enormous Chinese market has expressed great interest in buying huge quantities of this specific species.

Recently, the environment ministry of Greece approved a study throughout the islands of the Dodecanese on the possible commercial exploitation of sea cucumbers.

A scientific sampling of Holothuria will soon be conducted in the islands of Astypalea, Levitha, Kineros, Sirna, Halki, Alimia, Rhodes, Symi, Tilos, Nisyros, Pergoussa, Giali, Kos, Pserimos, Plati, Kalymnos, Leros, Lipsi, Arki, Patmos, Fourni and Agathonissi.

All of these smaller and larger islands will create one dedicated area, the parameters of which will be laid out by local fishermen, in which the sea cucumbers can be legally harvested.

After this initial sampling, the specimens will be sent to the Oceanography Laboratory of the Department of Ichthyology and Water Environment of the University of Thessaly for further studies. It is hoped that this will eventually result in being able to realize the full potential of commercial exploitation of this hidden delicacy.

With information from AMNA