From the outside, it resembles a rock or coral. But on the inside, pyura chilensis is a gooey mass of blood red. This immobile, hermaphroditic sea creature survives on microorganisms and produces vanadium, a rare mineral also found in crude oil and tar sands. But despite safety concerns, it’s a delicacy on the coast of Peru and Chile.
Local fisherman search the coast for these sea squirts, as they are known in English, which can be found in large concentrations or alone (the latter is happening more, as Pyura banks are being heavily fished). At fish markets, they are typically cut open with a carpenter’s saw before the insides are scooped out.
Stéphane Batigne, Wikimedia Commons
Daring tourists should look for piure on South American menus. The creatures are served raw, in stews, over rice or fried. Here’s one marine biologist’s reaction to trying the food when she was in Chile:
We took a guest speaker, Kevin Lafferty from UC Santa Barbara, to eat lunch after his presentation.He told us that he wanted to try piure. People from the lab grimaced at the suggestion and recommended he get a half portion. … Then the waitress brought out this bowl of red lumps in a red broth. When I asked what it was, that’s when they told me it was sea squirt. I then told Kevin to go first. … He really disliked it, but actually I didn’t think it was that bad. It was true that it had a weird iodine flavor that I had never experienced before in my life.
That iodine-like flavor has been described as “bitter and “soapy,” with another visitor saying the famed South American cocktail, a Pisco Sour, “helps it go down.” Not sure if that sounds appetizing, but at least now we can argue it is possible to get blood from a stone.