Cannonball jellyfish are bland at best. In China, where slivered, dry jellyfish are commonly served before banquets and strewn across salads, cooks don't use the cellophane-like strips without first dousing them in soy sauce or sesame oil.
Tabasco works too, said University of Georgia food safety professor Yao-Wen Huang, who in the 1980s earned the nickname "Cannonball King" for his work developing a jellyfish processing system.
According to Huang, the allure of jellyfish is its distinctive texture, suggestive of a cross between a potato chip and a stretched-out rubber band. "We call it crunchy-crispy," said Huang. "It's like when you eat chitterlings, you're not really hungry that you want food. You want that mouthfeel."
Desire for that mouthfeel is so intense in China, Japan and Thailand that an export market has cropped up in the Southeastern United States.
Processors in Florida and Georgia are now shipping millions of pounds of jellyfish to Asia, where environmental degradation and primitive processing techniques have conspired to tamp down supply.
Although the price jellyfish commands is contingent on quality, U.S. fishermen can typically sell their catch for nine or 10 cents a pound.