Killer fish

Thursday, September 2017 09:30:28:31

Pufferfish: Euphoria from surviving a brush with death 

Fugu (Blowfish) Sashimi

With so many delectable types of seafood available, it’s curious why anyone would pay hundreds of dollars to eat one that’s so dangerous. There are several species of pufferfish, but portions of all — and especially the livers — contain tetrodotoxin, a toxin 1,200 times more deadly than cyanide. In order to be certified to prepare pufferfish (known as fugu in Japan, its primary country of consumption), chefs must go through special training that can last up to three years.  

What is Fugu?

Fugu (foo-goo) is a dish made from the Pufferfish (blowfish) or Porcupine fish that has achieved an almost mythological status in western cuisine. It has become synonymous with risk-taking, a risky game of culinary "Russian roulette". If incorrectly prepared, death from even a single bite due to a potent neurotoxin found in the fish comes quickly. 

Despite the care that it takes to properly prepare pufferfish, there were still 23 deaths linked to its consumption recorded in Japan between 2000 and 2009.

While the meat itself is not innately poisonous, the organs contain lethal amounts of a particular tetrodotoxin which may contaminate the meat if the fish is not prepared by a chef skilled in the art of fugu preparation. Death is not an uncommon result for those who accidentally consume the toxin, to which there is no antidote.

Toxic Meal

The poisonous nature of the dish comes from marine microorganisms that produce the neurotoxin, which travels up to food chain, eventually finding its way into the puffer fish. While the fish is itself immune to the toxin, it nevertheless concentrates the substance in its organs and skin, much to the chagrin of would-be predators, or sushi enthusiasts. It is reported that the small amount of toxin that finds its way into the meat of the fish slightly numbs the lips and mouth during the meal, and some even claim a mild state of euphoria results from eating the dish. 

An element of danger may also heighten the experience, as even a minor mistake on the part of the chef incorrectly preparing fugu, usually by amateurs can mean death. 

VooDoo Child

It is believed that this particular tetrodotoxin is used in the Caribbean by Voodoo practitioners in the creation of their supposed ‘zombie powder,’ as just the right dose may induce a paralytic state resembling death, which will last for hours or days.

Ran DeBord is a Sr. Editor with All Access Sporting News  (AASNSports)

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