To steal a line from a classic Simpsons episode:
‘Poison. Poison. Poison. Tasty Fish.’
Blowfish or fugu (??)???packs a lethal punch in the form of tetrodotoxin, an extremely potent neurotoxin that paralyzes its victims while they are still conscious. To put things into perspective, this means that you are fully aware as your throat closes, your lungs deflate and you drift slowly into death’s arms.
There is no known cure.
However, Japan is a country of safety and order, so thankfully the majority of deaths occur when untrained people catch and prepare the fish, accidentally poisoning themselves in the process. The most dangerous culprit is the liver, which has been illegal for centuries despite being the tastiest morsel of the blowfish – it is often compared to the highest-quality foie gras (fatty goose liver).
While illegal meals of liver can still be had on the black market, the danger cannot be understated. In 1975, the famous Kabuki actor and ‘Living National Treasure’ Bandou Mitsugorou VIII requested four servings of liver from a fugu chef in Kyoto. Unable to refuse the request of someone of such an elevated stature, the chef served him the livers. He died soon after.
Of course, all of this is set to change now that Japanese fish-farmers have found away to raise non-poisonous blowfish….
According to an article in the New York Times, recent advances in fugu research and farming have led to the production of blowfish that are ‘as harmless as goldfish.’ In fact, the advances are so significant that farmers have even been successful in producing completely poison-free fugu livers.
So, how did they do it?
About eight years ago, Mr. Tamao Noguchi, a marine toxin specialist at Tokyo Healthcare University and a leading fugu expert, concluded a two-decade study demonstrating that fugu could be made poison-free by strictly controlling its feed. While it was once believed that blowfish develop the toxin on their own, in actuality they eat other animals that carry tetrodotoxin-laden bacteria.
Earlier this year, Mr. Noguchi tested more than 7,000 fugu that had been given only feed free of the tetrodotoxin-laden bacteria. His hypothesis was correct – not a single fish was poisonous!
So, will it once again be possible to eat fugu livers in Japan?
Sadly, Mr. Noguchi’s research is being suppressed by powerful interests in the fugu industry, who fear that farm-raised blowfish will jeopardize their monopoly.
“We won’t approve it,” said Mr. Hisashi Matsumura, the president of the Shimonoseki Fugu Association and vice president of the National Fugu Association. “We’re not engaging in this irrelevant discussion.”
Sigh. Looks like thrill-seekers in Japan are going to have wait a bit longer to legally sample fugu liver. Of course, there are certain places in Japan where you can get your fingers on some fugu liver, though be sure that your affairs are in order before you dig in!
** All images are screenshots from the classic Simpsons episode One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish. The show, which first aired January 24, 1991, was the 11th episode of season 2 **