Considered a delicacy by many, puffer fish are the second most deadly vertebrate in the world. In fact, in order to prepare fugu, Japanese chefs must obtain a special license after three years of apprenticeship. Only 30% of chefs actually pass the test and become fugu licensed. The dangers of preparing and eating blowfish may be no longer, thanks to a Japanese aquaculture company that has raised 50,000 non-toxic fugu.
Eating puffer fish sushi or sashimi can be dangerous if not properly prepared. DIY Sushi Recipes explains:
The blowfish, or “fugu” as it is known in Japanese contains a nasty poison called tetrodotoxin. An amount the size of a pin head is enough to kill one person and the fish itself contains enough poision to kill 30 people!
So what happens if you eat ill-prepared blowfish sushi? The poison will paralyze your muscles while you remain fully conscious. Death by suffocation occurs within a few hours.
Eating puffer fish is so dangerous that it is banned in the European Union, and every year deaths occur from eating fugu. Surprisingly, there is a high demand for blowfish, and it is currently being overfished. Aquaculture companies have developed a solution in a safer, farm raised variety of blowfish. Despite the safety of a non-poisonous variety, fugu chefs are not happy with the new variety. The Telegraph reports:
But many fugu chefs – who are traditionally bound to commit ritual suicide with their own fish knife should one of their customers expire after eating one of their meals – said they preferred to take their chances with the potentially deadly wild varieties.
“It’s a very tasty fish, but that’s not the only reason people choose to go to a fugu restaurant,” said Shinichi Ueshima, the chef at the Dote fugu restaurant in Yokohama. “It’s obviously more than a little exciting to go to a restaurant knowing that it might be the last meal that you ever eat,” he said. “Where is the enjoyment in eating something that has no risk in it?”
Personally, I like assurances my food is safe, but I am also not in favor of farm raised fish. Will a safer variety of fugu make this delicacy so common place supermarket sushi will feature it? Perhaps fugu chefs fear their elitism would be threatened by a safer variety.
The 50,000 safe puffer fish are not the first of their kind. In 2004, 4800 non-toxic blowfish were raised at Nagasaki University by restricting their diet and isolating the fish. Scientists believe it is the diet of mollusks, algae, invertebrates, and crustaceans and their digestion that causes the fugu to be so toxic.