Fugu: The forbidden fish

Everyone knows that its human nature to want a thing that is forbidden to them. This is what drives many people in Japan and even foreigners who visit Japan, to try the infamous fugu fish. Found in the Pacific Ocean, this fish is a pufferfish and looks rather innocuous, in terms of being poisonous. However, it’s the perfect example of the phase, “looks can be deceiving” as the fish is said to be 1,200 times more poisonous than cyanide. The fish is so poisonous that a slight error in its preparation can cause instant fatality. However, its still one of the most expensive and revered delicacies of Japan.

Described as a fish whose taste is “indescribable”, Fugu is only affordable to the high-end part of our society. The taste of this fish is said to be like no other food anyone would have ever tasted, so utterly delicious that people are willing to risk their lives for it. The liver is famously known as the tastiest part of the fish, but its also the most deadliest part, along with the ovaries, and the eyes. Fugu is deadly because of the poison tetrodotoxin. The poison, a blocker of sodium channels, paralyses the muscles while the victim is completely aware, then the poisoned person cannot respire and dies from suffocation. This takes roughly about 10 mins. Now, with so much advancement in science, there has got to be an antidote to this poison which has been killing people for more than 2,300 years, which is the time during which fugu consumption dates back to. Unfortunately and surprisingly, there is no cure once you ingest this toxin. The normal therapy is to help the respiration and circulation of the person until the toxin is digested and removed through the victim’s body. Researchers found that a fugu’s tetrodotoxin arises from eating other tetrodotoxin-loaded animals that the fish develop insensitivity to over time. So, an effort has been made to cultivate these fishes in toxin free environment.

Now the question looms that if the fish is so poisonous, how are people consuming it? Well, no one is consuming it with a 100% surety that they wont die. However, due to its popularity, high demand and income, there are specialized chefs who prepare fugu. These chefs train in fugu preparation from anywhere between 4-10 years. A license is then assigned to them, specifically for the preparation of fugu. Only then, under controlled restaurant conditions, can they prepare fugu. The fugu is then served in an arrangement representing chrysanthemum petals.

A paradox has appeared in Japan where some activists are proposing a ban on the selling and consumption of fugu, while some are even requesting the government to legalise the consumption of the liver of fugu. Fugu has been the leading cause of food poisoning in Japan and most of the people who have died from it were fishermen who tried to cook fugu domestically. There is no doubt that fugu is highly lethal, however consumption of this delicious delicacy in restaurants with controlled environment and skilled chefs is reasonable. What do you think? Given a chance, would you ever try out this dangerous but indescribably tasty delicacy?

Categories: Health, Science, social issues

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