1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bêche-de-Mer

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BÊCHE-DE-MER (sometimes explained as “sea-spade,” from the shape of the prepared article, but more probably from the Port, bicho, a worm or grub), or Trepang (Malay, tripang), an important food luxury among the Chinese and other Eastern peoples, connected with the production of which considerable trade exists in the Eastern Archipelago and the coasts of New Guinea, and also in California. It consists of several species of echinoderms, generally referred to the genus Holothuria, especially H. edulis. The creatures, which exist on coral reefs, have bodies from 6 to 15 in. long, shaped like a cucumber, hence their name of “sea-cucumbers.” The skin is sometimes covered with spicules or prickles, and sometimes quite smooth, and with or without “teats” or ambulacral feet disposed in rows. Five varieties are recognized in the commerce of the Pacific Islands, the finest of which is the “brown with teats.” The large black come next in value, followed by the small black, the red-bellied and the white. They are used in the gelatinous soups which form an important article of food in China. They are prepared for use by being boiled for about twenty minutes, and then dried first in the sun and afterwards over a fire, so that they are slightly smoked.