Weird Ingredient Wednesday: Would You Risk Your Life to Eat This Deadly Fish?

Would You Risk Your Life to Eat This Deadly Fish?

Sushi aficionados and Simpsons fans alike know all about the joys of fugu. Known also as blowfish, it's reputed for being tasty if sliced from the correct part of the animal and many even say they experience a "fugu high" after eating the fish. Alas, if you have an unskilled chef, fugu is famous for being deadly.

A freshly caught fugu in Japan. Image by jim/Flickr

The training program to deal with fugu is rigorous. It can take up to three years to receive a license in fugu preparation. This seems over-the-top, but most fugu-related fatalities occur when the fish is prepared by the untrained.

In the video below, an experienced fugu chef preps the fish (warning: the fish is alive during most of the scaling and slicing). It takes him over an hour, and a wrong slip of the knife could be deadly.

When you consider how much poison there is in the pufferfish—enough to kill 30 people in one fish—and that its skin, internal organs, and eyes all contain said poison, the rigorous training more than makes sense. Tetrodotoxin, a neurotoxin, is an incredibly painful way to go. First it takes out the nervous system and paralyzes you, then it causes asphyxiation. It's said to be 1,200 times more deadly than cyanide.

So Why Do People Risk It?

Because along with the chance of death is that famous fugu high. Many fugu eaters report a sense of lightness and well-being as well as a pleasant tingling in the lips and extremities. If present in low doses, the poison in fugu is responsible for this. Some diners even dredge their fugu in the toxin to make sure they get that extra kick.

Plus there are always daredevils and extreme eaters who want to do something dangerous simply because they can. Because of the high cost of training to prepare fugu, the dish itself is costly, and that also attracts a certain type of diner.

How Does It Taste?

Some people consider fugu overrated. It can be served baked, fried, or in salads, but the most common way it's eaten is as sashimi. Eddie Lin, writing for Los Angeles Magazine, ate fugu and reported that the fish had barely any taste. He also experienced no symptoms—pleasant or otherwise—attributed to fugu.

Fugu sashimi is usually sliced in paper-thin slices. Image by Suguri F/Wikimedia Commons

A chef I know recently got the chance to sample fugu and described the taste as "delicate and creamy." He loved the way it tasted and had a feeling of mild euphoria and pleasant light-headedness after eating the fish. In other words: your mileage may vary.

(1) Fugu skin salad. (2) Grilled fugu. (3) Fugu shabu-shabu. Images by Johnia!/Flickr, shinyai/Flickr, Nathan Wind as Cochese/Flickr

So there you have it. The risks of fugu are the highest possible, and the rewards are a low-key sense of well-being and the adrenaline rush that comes from doing something extreme and surviving. If you want to experience the rush of eating fugu but don't have the budget or the devil-may-care attitude, you might be better of eating mangoes and smoking pot while watching Jackass instead.

It's a Wide World Filled with Weird Ingredients

So many weird ingredients to cook, so little time. Learn about black garlic, a long-fermented delicacy that can change the way you think about this cooking staple. Want something sweet and surprising? Candy caps are mushrooms that taste like maple syrup. And there are many reasons to start adding charcoal to your food.

Cover image via ejorpin/Flickr

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