FUGU – Poisonous but Delicious

The flavor of food items varies with the different communities living in this wondrous planet. People seismically enlarge their tastes by finding different cooking recipes, both on vegetarian and non-vegetarian items. Out of such items, fishes remain as a regular food item for different bunches of people in this world. It may be known to some people that there are some countries (Japan, Korea, China) who feed a delicious fish investing a huge sum of money. The fish known as the Fugu (河豚; 鰒; フグ) in Japan, and alternately as blowfish, pufferfish, swellfish, or globefish is actually highly poisonous. The poison that inhibits the fish is Tetrodotoxin (TTX) which is a potent neurotoxin and found to be 1000 times poisonous than potassium cyanide.

Image of the Pufferfish (Fugu) (Credit: Flickr)

The body parts of fugu that contain this neurotoxin are basically the inner organs viz. the liver, the ovaries, eyes, and skin. Although tetrodotoxin was discovered in this fish but are also present in other aquatic animals (blue-ringed octopuses, rough-skinned newts, and moon snails). The poison is actually produced by a symbiotic bacteria namely Pseudoalteromonas, Pseudomonas, and Vibrio. This neurotoxin is a sodium channel blocker, it inhibits the neurons by binding to the voltage-gated sodium channels in nerve cell membranes and blocking the passage of sodium ions (responsible for the rising phase of an action potential) into the neuron. The poison restricts the nervous system from carrying messages and thus muscles from flexing in response to nervous stimulation. The mechanism of action, selective blocking of the sodium channel was first devised in 1964 by Toshio Narahashi and John W. Moore at Duke University, using the sucrose gap voltage clamp technique. Another team led by Robert B. Woodward at Harvard University elucidated the structure of tetrodotoxin. The structure was confirmed by X-ray crystallography in 1970. Yoshito Kishi and coworkers at Nagoya University, Nagoya, Japan, (now at Harvard University) reported the first total synthesis of D, L-tetrodotoxin in 1972.

A fugu dish after preparation (Credit: Bravo Tv).

Fugu can be lethally poisonous due to its tetrodotoxin and is mostly produced when the fish feed on poisonous starfish, snails, and other creatures. As it makes a delicious meal, therefore, it is carefully handled by the certified (licensed) chefs are highly for preparing the fish and to remove the toxic parts and avoid contamination. The chefs  place the flesh, fins and other parts in a tray marked “edible”; and the liver, ovaries and other organs on another plate that contains the neurotoxin.

Official fugu preparation license with face, license number and name censored (Credit: Wikimedia)

There were instances while eating Fugu created fatal to around 10 people between 2006 and 2015, when the item was prepared and served by an unlicensed chef.

Fugu poses little risk to diners, who pay anything from 5,000 yen to 35,000 yen (£260). Records specify that Fugu is the only fish Japan’s emperor is not allowed to eat.

Meals don’t have barriers, the thing you require is the cleverness and consistency in serving and eating it.

Sources: Wikipedia, the Guardian, BBC

A research patron working in the field of Plasma and Nuclear Science. He prefers the hobby in writing scientific prologs and keeps a strong feeling in mind to promote knowledge by holding technology in hand.