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Fugu, The Deadly Seafood

Only specialized chefs with years of training are allowed to serve this potentially deadly Japanese pufferfish dish.

Culinary Overview and History

With a poison stronger than cyanide, Fugu is one of the most notorious dishes of the world. Though treated as a coveted delicacy, fugu has the potential to kill its consumers if not prepared following the strict rules and regulations of fugu preparation. This Japanese dish is prepared from the highly poisonous pufferfish body parts. Fugu has been consumed by the Japanese for centuries. Bones of fugu fish have been discovered at archaeological sites of the Jōmon period. The consumption of fugu was restricted by the Tokugawa shogunate between the early 17th and late 19th centuries, as well as during the Meiji Era. Many deaths have resulted from consumption of improperly cooked fugu over the years, forcing the modern-day Japanese government to strictly regulate the restaurants and eateries serving fugu across the nation. An extensive training of 3 or more years is required by those aspiring to become fugu chefs and only after such training are they allowed to serve this dish to the diners.

Species Used and Preparation

Fugu is prepared from several species of pufferfish. The most coveted one, the tiger blowfish or the Takifugu rubripes, is also the most poisonous one. Other species used in fugu preparations are Takifugu pardalis, Takifugu porphyreus, and Takifugu vermicularis. Fugu is used for various types of preparations, with the most popular one being fugu sashimi. Other dishes made from fugu includes fugu fry, baked fugu, fugu stew, salad, and a dish involving fugu ovaries. Fugu preparation requires immense knowledge of the anatomy of the fish, the areas of its body with high poison concentrations. Intricate cutting and slicing methods are harnessed to prepare fugu. The expert fugu chefs begin their preparation with the primary aim to reduce the toxin to such low, calculated levels that the dish would not claim any lives but instead would inject such small volumes of the toxin into the diner’s system that the diner would feel mildly intoxicated. Feelings of euphoria would then be experienced by the diner.

The Dangerous Effects of Fugu Toxins

The pufferfish used in fugu preparations has high concentrations of a lethal toxin in its body known as tetrodotoxin. The toxin is a highly potent neurotoxin and it is estimated that a single fish possesses enough toxin to kill 30 human adults. The toxin kills an individual by respiratory paralysis and asphyxiation. While the fish itself is immune to this toxin because of a mutation in its genetic material, humans, and many other species are highly susceptible to this toxin. There have been reports in Japan that some individuals have consumed improperly cooked fugu as a means of suicide. In 2009, a Malaysian fisherman died when he unknowingly consumed pufferfish on a boat trip with four others. The others had to be hospitalized but were saved. The liver of the fugu is regarded as its most dangerous body part. In 2011, a 35-year-old diner at a restaurant in Tokyo demanded to be served fugu liver. Despite being warned about the dangers, he was determined to have the dish. Due to improper preparation, the person had to be hospitalized after he ate the dish and the chef was suspended from his post.

Pufferfish Conservation and Commercial Availability

Like all other marine creatures, fugu populations are also under potential threat. Thus, there are strict regulations in place to protect fugu species from exploitation by human populations for food. Fugu is harvested from the Pacific Ocean during the spawning period and then cultivated withing floating cages in the ocean or in controlled aquaculture environments. The fugu processed in Japan is often exported to other countries where fugu is sold as a delicacy. Fugu dishes are also sold at a very high price in the restaurants to compensate the hard work done by fugu chefs to present a safe dish to the diner.

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