Uni in a Milk Bottle/牛乳瓶入りのウニ

Japanese Food

Uni is a Japanese word for sea urchin or sea urchin gonad.
ウニとは、sea urchinやsea urchinの性腺、生殖腺のことです。

I learned about uni in a milk bottle from Yamako Katagiri Sengyo Ten, a fishmonger located in Kamaishi city, Iwate prefecture, back in 2009, as I described here. My family had the uni as toppings for nigiri sushi like this. At that time, I vaguely assumed that selling uni in such a unique style was the fishmonger’s idea.

The August 10, 2017 edition of the famous TV show, Himitsu no Kenmin Show, which featured uni in a milk bottle, has clarified everything about this product. You can still watch this edition of the show by clicking dailymotion video, although it has no subtitles in English.
2017年8月10日のテレビ番組「秘密のケンミンSHOW!」は、牛乳瓶入りのウニを取り上げており、これで、このウニに関してすべて明らかになりました。dailymotion videoをクリックすれば、その番組を見ることができます(英語の字幕はありませんが)。

Here are some bits of information that I have learned from the edition:

It is said that putting fresh uni in a milk bottle started in Yamada machi (town), Iwate prefecture about 50 years ago. Before then, uni were sold in bags to customers nearby. To deliver them to distant customers, a more sturdy container was necessary. One day, a certain uni shop put uni in an empty milk bottle that happened to be there. Uni in a milk bottle has become popular throughout Iwate prefecture ever since because the milk bottle can be tightly sealed, keeps the uni from disintegrating during transport, and is transparent, making the uni look beautiful.

Uni in a milk bottle are additive free. To have uni in a milk bottle, you need not use soy sauce for seasoning, because the bottle contains sterile seawater, which makes the uni taste sweeter to the taste buds. (Before having the uni, I drained them. I should have done that!)

Uni arranged neatly in a wooden container are called ita uni. Usually, alum is used to keep such uni from disintegrating.
Images of ita uni/板ウニのイメージ

One milk bottle can contain about 30 large pieces (gonads) or 50 small ones. Kita murasaki uni (Northern sea urchin) is a popular variety in Iwate prefecture.

In Iwate prefecture, uni is called kaze.

My father’s birthday is in late August, when uni are not in season. I was thinking about presenting him some cheap uni imported from Chile, available from a local supermarket, just when I received an email from Yamako Katagiri Sengyo Ten, saying that they would get uni after a long interval. I immediately placed an order for two bottles. They have arrived today.

Great present for my father’s 89th birthday!

Edited to add some photos on Aug. 27:

On the morning of August 25, my father had half the uni in one bottle for breakfast, with vinegared rice. Here is a photo of the remaining half.

He had the remaining half for lunch the same day.

The expiration date of the uni was August 27. Here is a photo of the uni in the other milk bottle on the morning of August 27.


Just like he did with the first bottle, my father had the half of it for breakfast with vinegared rice.

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