Fearless Fugu Finds Favor With A More Friendly Flavor

Fugu, also known as Blowfish or Pufferfish, has been the fishy dish of choice for sushi lovers who like to live dangerously. Now a Japanese fish-breeder has found a way to remove the poison from the prickly poisson.

Not many sushi-lovers on this side of the pond have tried fugu and with good reason: up to 45 Japanese each year are poisoned from eating puffer fish that hasn't been prepared with extreme care and for several of them, it's their last meal. A related fact is that fugu is the only food the Emperor of Japan is forbidden to eat.

Enter Optima Foods Corp., a fish-breeding company from Japan's Ehime prefecture that has found a way to raise a non-poisonous species of pufferfish domestically. While not the famed Torafugu ("tiger blowfish") of legend, Takifugu looks and tastes the same while removing the risk of tetrodotoxin poisoning. States Yoshiyuki Matsuda, Master Chef at Matsuyama's Shichiraku restaurant, "Normally, black blood streaks remain on the body of farm-raised fish, but there is no such streak on the body of fish raised on land. The body is a clear, light brown, and the texture is firm. I would never have thought it's been cultured."

Poison-free fugu would truly be a boon for fans of the fish, as Tetrodotoxin is a very difficult poison to deal with: it's odorless, tasteless, extremely potent in tiny quantities and is unaffected by cooking. In addition, the toxin is concentrated in the pufferfish's liver and ovaries but even the slightest slip of the knife is enough to taint the rest of the flesh. Tetrodotoxin is also notorious for the way in which it affects the imbiber: the body's muscles become paralyzed but the mind does not, leading to a horrific scenario in which one loses the ability to move, scream, even breathe while being forced to watch themselves expire. Still hungry?

If Optima Foods can continue to bring the cost of their farmed Takifugu down while still providing an acceptable substitute for its wilder, scarier cousin, sushi gourmets may be able to dine on this tasty delicacy without having to go through what Homer Simpson did in 1991's "One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish" episode. Indeed, one can safely pig out on fugu then gracefully retire to the couch, there to watch a bowling tournament while scarfing down pork rinds and 6-pack of Duff. (via The Japan Times, SFWeekly)