Fugu: Japan’s potentially deadly delicacy
Posted by ampontan on Friday, February 23, 2007
“I cannot see her tonight.
I have to give her up
So I will eat fugu.”
ONE of the oldest gags in Japan is the guy in a restaurant eating fugu who clutches his throat, makes gagging sounds, and pretends he’s dying on the spot.
That’s because eating the fugu, or globefish, will kill you if it has been improperly prepared. The liver and the ovaries contain the deadly poison tetrodotoxin, and one fish contains enough to kill 30 people.
Fugu consumption has been periodically prohibited in Japan, and it still is in certain areas. The dish is the only one never served to the Emperor.
The potential danger is the reason for licensing the chefs in Japan who prepare it. Fugu also takes a long time to prepare. The combination of skilled chefs, long preparation time, and the psychological appeal of flirting with danger makes dining on the fish an expensive proposition.
The potential profit is one reason Ureshino in Saga Prefecture is lobbying for authorization to raise non-poisonous fugu in fish farms on land. According to a Saga Shimbun report (in Japanese), the prefectural government claims fugu are deadly because the food they eat contains toxins, and these toxins accumulate in the fish’s body. (The idea that you are what you eat seems to be true for fugu, too.) They also claim, based on research conducted by Nagasaki University, that fugu raised on land and prevented from feeding on other creatures with toxins will grow up to be non-poisonous.
Saga and Ureshino petitioned a Cabinet committee on food safety to allow these fugu to be served in Ureshino inns, where they are currently prohibited. They also have submitted a plan for preventing non-poisonous fugu from getting mixed in with the ordinary poisonous fish.
The Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare already has looked at the data presented by Nagasaki University and they aren’t buying it. They don’t think it explains the mechanism through which the fish become toxic. The Ministry first wants to see data from a new facility that uses the new breeding techniques before they change their mind. So Saga and Ureshino have appealed to the committee to consider the issue again.
If safe fugu becomes easily available, will it eliminate the thrill people get from eating it and cause the price to drop?