Sea Cucumbers

Greetings from Mindoro Occidental!

Earlier this week, with a friend, I checked out a dealer of marine products in the town of San Jose. The dealer is a trader who buys non-fish marine animals such as sea dragons and sea cucumbers from fishermen and sells them to wholesalers and exporters. (Sea dragons, by the way, are actually a type of fish — they’re pipe fish — although they don’t resemble the shape of a typical fish.)

At the time of our visit, the dealer’s inventory consisted of sea cucumbers.

Sea cucumbers (or holutharians) look like large, lumpy and fat worms. Certain species resemble the cucumber vegetable — hence the nickname.

Sea cucumbers are edible delicacies in Chinese cuisine and also have medicinal value in Chinese medicine.

Chinese medicine is preventive rather than remedial (i.e., it promotes good health instead of trying to reverse bad health). One of Chinese medicine’s cornerstones is the principle of Yin and Yang and how these two forces should always be kept in balance. When the two forces are unbalanced (e.g., there is more Yang than Yin or vice versa), that person gets sick.

Chinese medicine puts a lot of emphasis on this concept of staying balanced. Tonics and potions are drank regularly as a preventive or prophylactic measure to ensure good health.

Let me show you how sea cucumbers are processed from the sea and made suitable for the pantry. And let me describe how a typical tonic looks and tastes. Yuck.

retirednoway,Sea Cucumber,mindoro

Five species of Sea Cucumbers. These five are common to Mindoro’s waters and are found at the sea bottom at depths of 10+ meters.

Excerpt from Wikipedia:

Sea cucumbers are echinoderms from the class Holothuroidea. They are marine animals with a leathery skin and an elongated body containing a single, branched gonad. Sea cucumbers are found on the sea floor worldwide. There are 1,700 species of holothurians worldwide with the greatest number being in the Asia-Pacific region.

Many of these are gathered for human consumption and some species are cultivated in aquaculture systems. The harvested product is variously referred to as trepang, bêche-de-mer or balate. In the Philippines, they’re called “balatan,” this is a reference to their leathery skin.

Sea cucumbers serve a useful role in the marine ecosystem as they help recycle nutrients, breaking down detritus and other organic matter after which bacteria can continue the degradation process.


Sea Cucumber, mindoro, retirednoway

This is the raw material. These sea cucumbers were delivered the afternoon before. According to the trader, many specimens are still alive when delivered. These specimens are typical. They were as thick as a man’s forearm and nearly as long as an entire arm. They weigh up to 1.5 kilos each. The white specks visible on some of the sea cucumbers was salt. The animals were transported in a tub of seawater.

Unfortunately, I forgot to ask how much he paid for these holutharians (sea cucumbers). I also forgot to ask how much he sold them. 😉

Sea Cucumber, retirednoway, Mindoro

First step. The holutharians are boiled for several hours in this pot. Boiling softens the animal’s tissue by breaking down the collagen protein that comprises its body.

retirednoway, Mindoro, sea cucumbers

The boiling process is done through learned expertise. The trader and his wife have been in this business for the past ten years.

The boiling process smelled fishy but it wasn’t an obnoxious smell.

retirednoway, Mindoro, Sea Cucumber

Second step. The oven. Sea cucumbers are “baked” or “smoked” in an oven such as this. The Tagalog term used for the oven was “tinapahan” which would translate into an apparatus for smoking the sea cucumbers. (A “tinapa” is any smoked fish in Tagalog.)

And third step. After the holutharians have been baked, they are dried in the sun.

Sea Cucumber, retirednoway, mindoro

These specimens have been processed and are ready to be exported. Processing consisted of three steps: boiling, baking, and drying.

Notice the white thread-like filament at the top of the sea cucumber on the right. Those were organs ejected from the animal’s anus in self-defense! According to Wikipedia again:

Some species of coral-reef sea cucumbers within the order Aspidochirotida can defend themselves by expelling their sticky cuvierian tubules (enlargements of the respiratory tree that float freely in the coelom) to entangle potential predators. When startled, these cucumbers may expel some of them through a tear in the wall of the cloaca in an autotomic process known as evisceration. Replacement tubules grow back in 1.5 to 5 weeks, depending on the species. The release of these tubules can also be accompanied by the discharge of a toxic chemical known as holothurin, which has similar properties to soap. This chemical can kill animals in the vicinity and is one more way in which these sedentary animals can defend themselves.


Seahorse, Brandy, Mindoro, retirednoway

“Chinese-style” Brandy. The next image illustrates why I referred to this as “chinese-style.” Exotic animals (are frequently mixed with herbs) in liquid concoctions to make tonics. Seahorses, for example, are prized for their abundance of yang, the male energy, and are considered to be an aphrodisiac. []

Sea Cucumber, retirednoway, seahorse, brandy

No herbs, just a pile of seahorses!

The following excerpt came from here.

I broke into a smile when I read the last section on Contraindications. 😉

Qualities: This variety of fish is a close relative of the Sea Dragon. It is an extremely yang and powerful Kidney tonic, reputed in China to have “aphrodisiac” qualities. Large wild Sea Horses are highly prized. The larger the Sea Horse, the more potent its energy. Sea Horse is considered to be a powerful sex tonic. It is very similar to Sea Dragon, but is slightly weaker. It is used in a wide variety of men’s tonic formulations to build sexual strength. It is quite effective.

Preparation and Utilization: Sea Horse may be used with any other tonic herbs, but it is most commonly combined with Kidney tonics, both Yin and Yang. You can make a tea of it, or you can grind it into powder and add it to capsules. Also, Sea Horse is commonly extracted, with other tonics, in alcohol to make a tonic.

Primary Combinations: Combine with Deer Antler, Sea Dragon, Gecko, Ginseng, Goji, Schizandra, Cuscuta, Cynomorium, Morinda, etc. as a Kidney yang tonic and to tonify the sexual functions.

Varieties and Grading: Larger Sea Horses are better. Sometimes very large Sea Horses are available and these tend to have strong aphrodisiac power. If they still smell like the sea, they are fresh. That is usually better so long as they are well dried and in good condition.

Contraindications: Men, do not use if you are mateless. Women should use this herb only in very small quantities and only for short periods of time. Do not use when experiencing pathogenic fire (e.g., the flu, a herpes outbreak, etcetera). It is best not to use Sea Horse during pregnancy.

Seahorse, Mindoro, retirednoway, Brandy

I tasted the seahorse-spiked brandy myself and I must say it was disgusting. The “malansa” taste caused it. Malansa is the Tagalog word for.fishy taste and smell. Meanwhile, Nathan (on the left), owner of the brandy tonic, smiles.


6 responses to “Sea Cucumbers

  1. nathan said they can sell the most preferred kind for 6,000 a piece.


  2. 6,000 pesos*


  3. How can we contact them? Iam a buyer 09479467843


  4. Thank you sir Alex, hihintayin ko po.


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