Starfish are one of the most enigmatic creatures in our oceans, looking more like a celestial body than an animal.
With biology that’s drastically different from our own, it isn’t readily apparent that these pointy bottom dwellers are even alive at all.
Not only are they alive, but they can actually be consumed too!
This exotic seafood treat is one of the strangest-looking animal proteins out there, but the unique taste makes it stand out to many.
Here’s the lowdown on preparing and eating starfish, and why it may be worth a try if you get the chance!
Table of Contents
A Superstar Meal: How do Starfish Taste?
If you’ve read our article on eating sea urchins, or if you’ve eaten them yourself, then you have a pretty solid idea of how starfish tastes. The two types of animals are closely related, after all!
The most noticeable flavor is the brininess. Starfish has a salty quality that, if the specimen is clean, often reminds tasters of the very seawater that the animal lived in.
Starfish has a creamy, almost buttery texture that it shares with its sea urchin cousins as well. Starfish would work just as well as a spread as it does by itself, assuming you like the taste!
Beyond that, the exact notes of flavor you can taste often varies wildly from person to person and from starfish to starfish.
Accounts by different individuals have compared the taste to beef, Chinese river crabs, chicken (like most every meat), and even toothpaste! Guess that person wasn’t a fan.
While these are the best approximations for starfish’s taste that the internet can agree on, most will tell you to try it yourself and form your own opinion. Starfish doesn’t seem to taste the exact same to anyone!
Where is Starfish Eaten? How is it Prepared?
As is the case with many other sea creatures not traditionally found on European and American menus, starfish are popular in East Asia, particularly in China and Japan.
This region of the world is seemingly a Mecca for exotic seafood, and China produces more seafood than any other country on Earth!
The outer shells of starfish are tough and covered in sandpaper-esque growths, making it appear rather unappetizing. The bottom of the animal is similarly coated in ‘tube feet’, which are equally unappetizing.
The edible portion of the animal is inside the shell, which needs to be broken open after cooking. Think of them like weird, alien crab legs! Sounds delicious, doesn’t it?
Starfish can be cooked in a wide variety of ways, including grilling, boiling, and deep frying. The latter is a particularly popular method for street food, and starfish can be bought on sticks from food carts in China, Chile and other coastal countries!
This practice is seen as being less of a local tradition and more of a tourist draw, but it’s still a very iconic part of the areas where it happens.
Once cooked to your liking, starfish arms must be broken off of the main body. Inside you’ll find a soft, greenish brown substance inside.
This is the part that people are after! The meat can be sucked out with your tongue, or scooped out with a small utensil.
Sinister Stars: Are Starfish Poisonous?
There are some people online that will tell you that starfish are entirely inedible, and in fact toxic, to eat. If this were true, then millions of people who eat this stuff all the time would be sick or even dead!
The fact that most are alive and well serves as pretty good evidence to the contrary.
That being said, those sounding the alarm aren’t entirely in the wrong, because starfish can be dangerous if not eaten properly.
First of all, there are some species that are legitimately lethal to eat. The crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci) is covered with sharp spines that can cause nausea, confusion and swelling for days if you’re stung.
Eating this thing is even worse and it’s best to admire from afar.
Secondly, the outer shell and skin of many other starfish can be poisonous as well. Many species use compounds and spikes on their exteriors to sting anything that may want to touch it… not something you’d want to consume.
Finally, the starfish has to be fully cooked, and it cannot have been dead for more than a day at the longest. Most chefs keep them alive until preparation similarly to lobsters just to stay on the safe side!
Consuming raw or undercooked starfish, as well as one that’s been dead for too long, can cause stomach aches, bowel issues and a whole bunch of side effects that you probably don’t want to be dealing with.
Thankfully, as long as the starfish is prepared correctly, it’s perfectly safe!
Why Don’t People Eat More Starfish?
The starfish’s odd body shape and rough shell is probably a primary reason. At a glance, these creatures might not even seem edible to begin with!
The intensive preparation process, the divisive nature of its flavor, and the fact that some may be toxic have also turned some people off.
But most of all, there simply isn’t much meat on a starfish! You don’t get a lot of food given the amount of work you need to do to obtain it, so many cultures just never bothered developing local dishes using them, rather sticking to fish and other meatier animals.
But the rise of aquaculture and advanced farming practices may change this reality. Some species of starfish can be raised on nothing but the waste from other farms, providing essentially free bonus food! Starfish may soon come to a farm near you.
Why are Starfish so Strange Looking?
Starfish are members of a group of animals called echinoderms, along with sea urchins and sand dollars. Unlike fish (and all animals with a backbone), starfish and other echinoderms have five-fold radial symmetry.
This means that while vertebrates have a ‘left’ and ‘right’ side, starfish have 5 identical body segments that grow circularly, almost like a snowflake. This is how they get their famous “star” shape!
Starfish Fun Facts
Starfish are an incredibly diverse group of animals, and different species can live nearly anywhere. They range from the tropics to cold polar waters, and from the shoreline all the way down to the deepest parts of the ocean.
Starfish arms are also lined on the bottoms with hundreds of little hydraulic ‘tube feet.’ This is how they shuffle around looking for food particles in the silt!
While most starfish have 5 arms as one would expect, some grow more than one arm per radial segment. This results in some species, such as the sunflower sea star (Pycnopodia helianthoides), having up to 20 arms… talk about a super star!
While starfish is a bit outside of the normal comfort zone for the western palate, they are a unique and distinct seafood option that is unlike anything else you can eat.
While it’s not for everyone, it’s certainly worth trying to see if it’s for you!
Growing up in Florida, I’ve been surrounded by saltwater my entire life…and I love sharing my passion with others.
To learn more about why I started Saltwater Mecca, visit the ABOUT page.
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