Death-Defying Diners Shoo Away Safe Sushi

For those who like to live dangerously, the pricey Japanese treat Fugu (Puffer fish or Blow fish) has achieved an almost mythological status in adventurous dining. Eating Fugu is synonymous with risk taking because if incorrectly prepared, even a single bite could mean certain death.

So you would think that the introduction of non-poisonous, commercially farmed fugu would be welcome news in the puffer-partaking community, right? Well, wrong. After all, what fun is that? Do you think a squeaky-clean Puffer fish would amaze and impress your friends?


But many fugu chefs – who are traditionally bound to commit ritual suicide with their own fish knife should one of their customers expire after eating one of their meals – said they preferred to take their chances with the potentially deadly wild varieties.

“It’s a very tasty fish, but that’s not the only reason people choose to go to a fugu restaurant,” said Shinichi Ueshima, the chef at the Dote fugu restaurant in Yokohama.

“It’s obviously more than a little exciting to go to a restaurant knowing that it might be the last meal that you ever eat,” he said. “Where is the enjoyment in eating something that has no risk in it?”

At Osaka: Whole fugu for sale at Kuromon Ichiba for up to 27,000 yen (about $270) from A Culinary Photo Journal on Flickr

Certainly, the Fugu chefs themselves have much invested in the toxic thrill of the classic experience. For 50 years, only specially licensed elite chefs are permitted to prepare and sell fugu to the public. Getting there involves a 3-year apprenticeship culminating in rigorous testing that only 35% of applicants pass. (There’s no room for a slight mistake in this particular occupation!)

That should make you feel better about putting it all on the line for the ultimate extreme meal, especially since the potent neurotoxin in question, Tetrodoxin, Tetrodotoxin (Toxin typo! See comments) is not affected by cooking and works by rapidly paralyzing the nerves and preventing the lungs and other body systems from working. There is no antidote and death can occur within minutes. (It does not cross the blood-brain barrier so the victim remains fully conscious.)

Thrilling, right? But not a cheap thrill…Fugu can range anywhere from US$30 up to a $200 full course meal.

Photos: Whole Fugu from A Culinary Photo Journal on Flickr

Fugu Restaurant from tiptoe on Flickr

A Kinder, Gentler Lobster Boil

Are you “soft” on seafood? If you can’t bear the sound of that “screaming” lobster as it’s plunged into a boiling stockpot, take note: we’ve run across a new product (via named the CrustaStun, which offers a more humane way to get that fresh seafood to diners’ plates. Somewhat like a shellfish taser, the device electrocutes the animal with an instant current which anesthetizes and kills shellfish within seconds.

There are two models–“The Stunner” for food processors and the “Single Stunner” for restaurants. No word yet on development of a home model…the George Foreman Mini-Stunner, maybe?

In the “more than you want to know” category, here’s the science behind the device, as explained on website:

The application of a stun (110 Volts – 2-5 amps) causes an immediate interruption in the functioning of the nervous system of the shellfish. By interrupting the nerve function, the shellfish (be it Crab, Lobster or other) is unable to receive stimuli and thus by definition, cannot feel pain or suffer distress (Dr. Dave Robb 2000 – Bristol University – paper on sentience in Crustacea, Baker 1975, Jane Smith 1991, Bateson 2000, Sherwin 2000 & Gregory & Lumsden 2000). The prolonged application of the stun causes a permanent disruption which kills the shellfish.

If you’re simply not bothered by the death-by-boiling method, current and pending legislation could make your violent sadistic meal prep against the law! Their website also notes that:

New Zealand & a number of Australian Provincial States include Crabs, Lobsters and Crayfish within the definition of animals requiring humane treatment in handling and killing; NZ; Animal Welfare Act 1999.

It is unclear whether Crabs, Lobsters and Crayfish are included within the current UK Animal Slaughter Regulations. They are however likely to be specifically included in the Animal Welfare Bills currently going through the UK & Scottish Parliaments. This would require them to be ‘humanely killed’.

Me want cookie, me drink cookie?

Om nom nom nom! Don’t we wish we lived in Washington State, where researchers have found traces of spices and food flavorings in the waters of Puget Sound.

Via, National Geographic News has reported this delicious water gossip in a November 12th segment of a new series exploring the global water crisis.

University of Washington associate professor Richard Keil said the spices and flavorings vary depending on the time of the year. For example, around Thanksgiving, researchers have detected a spike in thyme and sage; around the Fourth of July, waffle-cone and caramel-corn byproducts surge.

Keil and his research team have been tracking the “pulses” of food ingredients that enter the Puget Sound. They found that of all the food ingredients detected, artificial vanilla is most prevalent in the sound. The team found an average of about 6 milligrams of artificial vanilla per liter (mg/L) of water sampled; the region’s wastewater effluent contains more than 14 mg/L. According to the story, “This would be like spiking an Olympic-size swimming pool with approximately ten 4-ounce (113.4-gram) bottles of artificial vanilla.”

Puts a whole new perspective on the branding of “Dunkin’ Donuts!”