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Japanese Food: Why do people eat fugu if it is so dangerous?

Updated: Jul 31, 2023


Fugu, Pastel drawing by Chef Kaz Matsune

(originally posted on Quora.com)

Fugu, also known as the infamous pufferfish, has garnered significant attention due to its potential toxicity, leading to exaggerated myths about its consumption. Contrary to popular belief, Fugu does not pose an automatic death sentence to those who dare to indulge in its unique flavors. The myths surrounding Fugu are akin to the misconceptions about sharks—fueled by movies like "Jaws" and sensational documentaries—that portray them as ruthless human predators, when in reality, most sharks are harmless to humans.


In Japan, Fugu has been a delicacy for centuries, and people relish its thinly sliced sashimi, delightful sushi, and delectable kara-age (deep-fried) dishes. It is important to note that Fugu's skin and liver contain lethal poison, necessitating meticulous preparation for safe human consumption. To ensure safety, the Japanese government has implemented a rigorous certification system for chefs handling Fugu. Only licensed chefs with at least five years of experience are eligible for Fugu certification, following years of intensive training and testing.


Interestingly, in the years 2012 and 2013, there were zero deaths associated with eating Fugu in Japan, with only one death recorded in 2011. In the period from 2004 to 2013, there were merely twelve deaths linked to Fugu consumption in Japan. These numbers are incredibly low compared to the thousands of deaths caused by foodborne diseases in the United States each year.


It's essential to differentiate between certified Fugu dishes prepared by skilled chefs and the ill-advised attempts of non-certified individuals to handle this delicate fish. In Japan, where Fugu is widely served in restaurants, people consider it as safe as any other dish. The myth of its danger arose from past incidents before the government established the certification system.


In the United States, some restaurants offer Fugu dishes, which are either prepared by certified chefs or imported fileted and safe for consumption. Savoring Fugu is a delightful experience, whether relishing its sweet flavor as thinly sliced sashimi with ponzu sauce, enjoying it in sushi, or indulging in the popular Fugu Nabe (pot/soup) during winter.


So, if curiosity beckons, and you seek an adventure in the world of unique delicacies, dare to embrace the allure of Fugu. It's an enjoyable and safe dining experience that you'll undoubtedly live to cherish and share with others.



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