Sea pineapple, or hoya, is a rare marine produce found mostly in the northeast of Japan. It is popular as a summer delicacy in Aomori, a perfect appetizer to accompany a summer drink.
About Sea Pineapple
Sea pineapple can be found attached to rocks and stones on the coast. Its name, sea pineapple, comes from its pineapple-like shape. In Japan, it is harvested in the Northeast and the Hokkaido region. Though there are over 2,000 types of sea pineapples in the world, only a few countries including Japan, Korea, Chile, and France share the custom of eating sea pineapples.
“Enjoy hoya when wisteria blooms” or “eat hoya with cucumbers”are a few of traditional sayings about sea pineapples, which reaches its peak season between May and August.
Sea Pineapple in Aomori
The two types of sea pineapples eaten in Japan are the mahoya and akahoya. In Aomori, the mahoya dominates the market.
Mahoya – Covered in bumps, the mahoya is yellowish orange and has a distinct flavor and fragrance.
Akahoya – With no bumps, the akahoya is larger than mahoya, featuring a red flesh that is easy to enjoy.
The top producer of farmed sea pineapple is Miyagi prefecture, with Hokkaido dominating the wild-caught products. Aomori prefecture boasts third to fourth in the nation in sea pineapple catch. Coastal cities and towns including Aomori city, Hiranai, Sotogahama, Hachinohe, Noheji, Yokohama, Mutsu, Higashidori, Sai are all producers of sea pineapple.
Sea pineapple is often served at Japanese bars in the early summer and it is a favorite among locals as a companion to sake.
The Life of Sea Pineapple
Juvenile sea pineapples are able to swim around in the ocean. Once it attaches to a rock or stone, it transforms into the sea pineapple found in the market. The attached sea pineapple becomes immobile. Farmed sea pineapples become mature in about 4 years.
Sea pineapples are hermaphrodites, meaning one individual has both the female and male reproductive organs. Every single one lays eggs. Wild sea pineapples in Aomori typically goes through spawning season from fall to early spring. They are most flavorful when the weather begins to warm up.
The Rarest Delicacy of All
The pungent ocean flavor in addition to the strong umami and astringency makes the sea pineapple the ideal candidate for being a favorite, or in some cases the least favorite seafood. Sea pineapple is said to be unique in that it has all five tastes humans are able to detect – sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami.
Sea pineapple is a versatile ingredient and can be eaten raw as sashimi, steamed, dried, or in broth.
How to eat Aomori “Hoya”
How to prepare a sea pineapple
The Aomori Standard“Hoya and Mizu Mizumono”
The majority of the “hoya,” or sea pineapple comes from Tohoku and Hokkaido region. Long loved by the locals in Aomori, it is a must-eat dish when drinking sake. This early summer dish which combines “hoya”and the mountain vegetable “mizu” is considered a soul food for the people in Aomori.
Other Ways to Enjoy “Hoya”
- Steamed hoya
- Marinated hoya
- Salt-pickled hoya
- Grilled hoya with butter
- Fresh hoya can be used in a wide variety of dishes including sashimi.