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Dried Beche-de-mer

What is Beche-de-mer?
Beche-de-mer, is meant to be pronounced as 'bicho-do-mar', literarly means worm-of the-sea. It is processed sea cucumbers that are sold as a gourmet food item in Asian markets, where they form the basis of a multimillion dollar industry.

What are Sea Cucumbers?
The sea cucumber is an echinoderm of the class Holothuroidea, with an elongated body and leathery skin, which is found on the sea floor worldwide. It is so called because of its close resemblance to a cucumber.

Sea cucumbers are valued for their exotic flavor and medicinal properties. They have curative properties for ailments such as high blood pressure, muscular disorders, whooping cough, bronchial inflammation, and minor wounds.

These marine invertebrates that can be processed as smoke-dried or boil-dried to make dried Beche-de-mer. They are usually prepared as delicacies, condiments for soups, noodles and other dishes, and as salad, eaten fresh or fermented.
 

Processing Technology
The artificial smoke drying technology plays a significant role in improving the quality and self life of the Beche-de-mer, thereby increasing its export potential and ensuring the availability of processed sea cucumber products at all times. The production process comprises of the following steps:-

  • Fresh sea cucumbers are boiled for 3-5 minutes
  • A slit about 2-3 cm long is cut on the belly portion of the sea cucumber to remove the dirt and entrails
  • After which, the sea cucumbers are boiled for another 10-20 minutes to remove the calcareous substances that are attached to their skin
  • The boiled sea cucumbers are cleaned with 200 g of papaya leaves
  • After cleaning, the sea cucumbers are washed in water with 5% alum
  • They are then smoked, sun dried and packed prior to marketing.
  • An artificial smoke-dryer fueled by agro waste materials (e.g., coconut husks, sugarcane bagasse, etc.) was fabricated, tested and proven to be effective in improving the quality and prolonging the shelf-life of smoke-dried sea cucumbers. The dryer can process 100 kg of sea cucumber per operation which lasts for about 8 hours.
 
Cooking
Beche-de-mer has been an essential item in Asian cuisines for centuries, their use in other parts of the world is relatively recent.
  • Following a complicated process of boiling and smoke drying, the dried skin of beche-de-mer can be used in soups and in stir-fried dishes. They can also be pickled.
  • A traditional Chinese preparation (sometimes referred to as hoy sum  ) is to poach the beche-de-mer, and cover with a thick sauce of garlic, ginger, onion and soy sauce.
  • Whole beche-de-mer can be stuffed with a filling of pork, cornstarch and chopped, fried dried fish.
  • In some parts of Asia, internal organs such as gonads and intestines are fermented, pickled or dried to produce very high priced specialty products.
  • Beche-de-mer have naturally high protein levels and, in Asia, are highly valued for their reputed effects as an aphrodisiac.
 
A Very Brief Historical Background
Fossils of these soft-bodied, sausage-shaped marine invertebrates date back 400 million years.

Market
The demand for smoke-dried or dried sea cucumbers is high in Asian countries. These are being sold as an item of delicacy in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, Singapore, and the People's Republic of China, Philippines.
 

Grading
The following characteristics leads to a higher grade:

  • Large size
  • Low moisture content
  • Firm, hard texture
  • Regular, even shape;
  • Smooth incisions without ragged edges.
Colour and odour are also taken into account
 
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