fugu--blowfish sushi

The aphrodisiac history of blowfish (fugu)

It is one of the ocean’s ugliest creatures, not to mention most deadly. Yet the market for blowfish, (also called pufferfish or fugu), is alive and well in Japan where its dangerous flesh offers the aphrodisiac of adrenaline. The concern with fugu is not in the fishing, as is the case with most of the deadly creatures of the deep. With blowfish, it is the eating that is a culinary form of Russian roulette.

Deadlier than cyanide

The danger with this odd-looking warm water fish is its high content of a poison called tetrodotoxin. And it is considered to be more than 1,000 times deadlier than cyanide.

In Japan, chefs must be specially licensed to prepare this deadly delicacy. The training to earn the status of Fugu Chef takes several years of instruction and practice in the art of removing the highly toxic sections of the fish. The idea is to remove the poisons so that only the non-dangerous flesh remains. Should the fish be improperly prepared, there is no known antidote. The diner’s central nervous system shuts down. And this last supper kills him or her with surprising rapidity.

Feel the tingle

It’s the sense of danger surrounding a blowfish feast that makes this toxic sea creature one of the world’s best-known aphrodisiacs. But in addition, fugu is said to have a numbing effect that feels a bit like Novocain on the inside of the cheeks. Some say it is the tingling sensation most diners experience in their lips and cheeks from the trace of poison remaining in the “safe” flesh of the fish is that gives blowfish its sexy allure. Others insist that it is strictly the fugu testicles soaked in sake, not the filets, which makes fugu effective as an aphrodisiac.

Because of the delicate preparation requiring a highly skilled chef, blowfish is one of the most expensive foods sold in the world today. However, modern scientists are working on breeding a variety of blowfish that offers the puffer’s delicate taste and texture but is fully toxin free. Advocates of this dangerous aphrodisiac insist that, danger-free, fugu won’t have a sensual allure.

Blowfish photo by Jeroen Elfferich

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