Could jellyfish be the food additive of the future? That’s the question an ongoing exhibition in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is posing through an unusual conduit: cupcakes.
Jellyfish populations are exploding across the world’s oceans, causing major issues. They clog the pipes of nuclear reactors and other coastal power plants, and they can kill off large populations of fish, both by stinging them and by using up all the nutrients in the water.
This fall, Massachusetts art gallery Le Laboratoire Cambridge is exploring the myriad problems that will face a world filled with jellyfish in an exhibit called “The Trouble with Jellyfish.” As part of the exhibit—which also includes a clever simulation of how fish feel in jelly-clogged waters—the gallery’s Café ArtScience is serving up a potential solution in the form of cupcakes laced with jellyfish.
David Edwards, a Harvard professor and founder of the exhibit space, introduced the topic of jellyfish as a food source in his Harvard class "How to Create Things & Have Them Matter.” The students, in turn, came up with the idea of using jellyfish—creatures whose bodies are mostly water and collagen—as an egg substitute in cupcakes.
However, it was up to Café ArtScience pastry chef Renae Connolly to make the technique work for customers. The goal, she tells mental_floss, was to take “a product that would normally just be trash” and turn it into a useful baking aid. She bought dried, salted jellyfish from Chinatown (jellyfish is a common dish in Cantonese and some other East Asian cuisines) and rinsed the jellies in water for 24 hours to remove the salt and excess flavorings. Then, she blended the unsalted jellies into a gel-like paste to use as a leavening and binding agent in cake.
While the initial idea was that jellyfish could one day become a tasty egg substitute for home cooks, “it’s still kind of a work in progress,” Connolly warns. She describes her first attempt at jellyfish cupcakes as an “epic fail.” As soon as she opened the oven door, “BOOM, they all deflated immediately.”
But with a lot more experimentation, she was able to create a successful set of mini-cakes that she says were tastier than you might imagine. “They were just a delicious cake—no ‘jellyfish’ taste perceivable,” she describes. “It’s not too hard to mask any slightly savory flavor with a little vanilla and cupcake flavoring."
Through her many trials, Connolly has confirmed that jellyfish might be a workable future food solution. Normally, when cake batter is made the night before, the butter separates out from the batter. But the jellyfish's "gel" acted as a stabilizer, preventing the butter from separating out, while their collagen added texture.
Still, there may be other barriers to eating away our jellyfish problems. Some critics note that the jellyfish species experiencing the most population growth aren’t the same ones traditionally eaten in Asian cuisine. But perhaps those less-tasty varieties of jellies, though they may not be suitable as stand-alone dishes, could still serve as effective food additives.
“The Trouble With Jellyfish” runs until January 2, 2016, at Le Laboratoire Cambridge.
All images courtesy Le Laboratoire Cambridge