Puffer fish

"A fool is one who eats puffer fish, and who does not eat it is an even greater fool." This Japanese proverb literally describes the attitude of indigenous people to their deadly delicacy. And foreigners visiting Japan are ready to pay crazy money to feel the dangerous balance on the verge of life and death. They say that once you try this fateful dish, you become attached to it forever. Thrill-seekers are not even stopped by the fact that every year about fifteen people die from eating this fish. To feel the narcotic effect of the puffer, you need to pay about $ 1,000 in a specialized restaurant in Japan, where you have to give your life into the hands of a professional chef.

A brief description of

In fact, fugu is the name of a traditional dish that is so appreciated in Japan. And the fish, which is now also called, is a brown puffer. Often you can hear such names as: dog-fish, pufferfish, fahak, diode. This is a relatively small fish of the family of pufferfish. The length of her body can reach 80 cm, but usually it is about 45 cm. There are no scales for this fish as such. Instead, the puffer has a thin, light skin that has the ability to stretch. Such a structure is not accidental - it is in this way that the puffer is protected from predators. The thing is that in moments of mortal danger, the fish sucks in a decent amount of water and swells, forming a ball completely studded with sharp spikes. If suddenly some shark dare to dine with this fish - a swollen thorny ball will easily get stuck in the throat, and the ill-fated predator dies.

But the worst thing about this fish is not its appearance. Its skin and internal organs contain a deadly poison - tetrodotoxin. This is a poison of neuroparalytic action, which begins to act in the human body about 10 minutes after ingestion. There is no antidote to this toxin and, unfortunately, in most cases of human poisoning it is impossible to save.

Interestingly, the puffer fish itself is not initially poisonous. Dangerous poison begins to accumulate in it in the process of life. It enters the puffer with food, which is composed of various organisms containing small amounts of tetrodotoxin. Once a puffer fish enters the body, it settles in the liver and ovaries and transfers it to the eggs, intestines, and skin through the bloodstream, making it one of the most poisonous fish on the planet. This powerful neurotoxin has destructive effects even in small quantities. For a fatal outcome, a person will need only one milligram of tetrodotoxin. Each puffer fish contains so much neurotoxin that it is enough to kill dozens of people.

Habitat and breeding

This fish loves the coastal brackish waters of the Pacific Ocean. It is widespread in the Sea of ​​Okhotsk, in the waters of the Japanese, East China and Yellow Seas. Adult fish are found at a depth of not more than 100 meters. Fry can also be seen at the mouths of brackish rivers, and as they grow older they go farther from the coast to the open seas. Fugu spawns in the spring, attaching eggs to rocks in quiet places at a shallow depth of about 20 meters. The pufferfish is a shallow fish, she loves small sea bays and calm waters.

A bit of history

In different countries, this fish is called in its own way: in England - spherical, or balloon fish, in Spain - a botet, in the Hawaiian islands - maki-maki, well, in Japan, the most famous is fugu.

This fish is known for a long time. A mention of it was found in ancient Egypt: one of the drawings found on the tomb of the pharaoh of the Ti dynasty was very similar to a puffer. Somewhere at the same time, the eastern sages in their annals wrote about her terrible poison. It has on its pages information about puffer fish and the very first Chinese medical book "Herb Book", written about the third millennium BC.

In Japan they have known and appreciated it for a very long time, but in Europe it became known in the XVII century, thanks to trade relations with eastern countries. The Dutch doctor Engelbert Camfer, being in Japan at the end of the 17th century, mentioned that some fish harbor a lethal dose of poison when consumed, but this does not prevent the Japanese from eating it, throwing out the entrails and thoroughly washing the meat. He also talked about the fact that serious sanctions were imposed on the use of this fish by Japanese soldiers. And if one of the soldiers was dying from the poisoning of the puffer, then his son would lose all the rights and privileges of his father that were prescribed to him by law.

The famous captain James Cook also suffered from this fish. During his round-the-world trip, he moored to one of the islands, where one of the crew members traded a strange unknown fish from a native. It was decided to cook it for dinner. By this time, two guests were invited to the ship, who were to describe and sketch the find. It took quite a while, so the captain with the guests barely touched the served dish. They were incredibly lucky, because they served just the liver and caviar of puffer fish, which contain a huge amount of tetrodotoxin. They escaped with a slight fright: weakness, loss of consciousness, a slight numbness of the limbs. But one of the crew members who ate the insides was not so lucky. In the morning he was found dead.

By the way, not so long ago, in Japan there was an old unwritten law, the essence of which was that: if a cook prepared a dish that poisoned a visitor, he was obliged to eat it himself or commit a ritual suicide - the so-called seppuku or hara-kiri.

Composition and useful properties

In terms of its chemical composition, fugu practically does not differ from other representatives of this class. It contains a wonderful vitamin and mineral complex. Its energy value is approximately 108 kcal. It contains a protein that is easy for the body - 16.4 grams, and about 2 grams of fat.

Neurotoxin, contained in large quantities, is used in medicine to prevent certain diseases and prolonged analgesic effect.

Despite the deadly poison in its composition, this fish is in great demand for culinary purposes. In order to try this unsafe dish, lovers of "tickle nerves" lay out considerable amounts.

At the moment, there is an artificially derived type of puffer that does not contain a dangerous toxin. But she is not at all popular. The most valuable in it are precisely the thrill, emotional outburst and a huge surge of adrenaline that accompany the use of puffer in food. Some even consider eating such a fish as a kind of Russian roulette.

Cooking Application

In 1958, a law was passed in Japan stating that a cook who is going to work with puffer fish must have a special license. To get it, the applicant needs to pass two exams: theory and practice. A larger number of candidates are eliminated after the first stage. To successfully pass it, you need to know everything about the different varieties of pufferfish and remember all the known methods of detoxification. To go through the second stage and obtain a license, the cook must eat the dish he cooked.

Cutting fugu is a delicate and jewelry art owned by a few. To do this, you need to cut off the fins with quick and accurate strokes, separate the mouth apparatus and use the sharp knife to “open” the belly of the puffer. Then carefully, so as not to tear, take out the poisonous entrails and dispose of them. After the fillet, the fish is cut into thin transparent slices and washed thoroughly under running water to get rid of traces of blood and poison.

A set lunch in this restaurant consists of several dishes. Fugusashi is served as a cold snack - a unique dish of the finest mother-of-pearl slices of puffer, laid out in the form of intricate paintings: butterflies, birds and so on. They are eaten dipped in Ponza (specially prepared sauce with vinegar), in Momiji-Oroshi (grated Japanese daikon radish) or Asatsuki (finely chopped chives). After that, they bring the first dish - fugu zosui. This is a soup made from boiled puffer and rice with the addition of a raw egg. The second dish consists of fried pufferfish.

Serving puffer fish dishes also has its own sacred ritual. So, for example, less venomous back pieces are first served, approaching more and more to the most poisonous part of the fish - the belly. The cook should monitor the guests, evaluating their condition also from a medical point of view, in order to stop the possible consequences in time and not allow them to eat more than the norm.

The superiority and skill of the cook is to leave a small dose of poison in the fish, at which the restaurant visitors experience something similar to drug intoxication, fall into a light euphoria. Those who have tried this treat tell that in the process of eating such a dish a slight paralyzing effect is felt, which manifests itself in a slight numbness of the hands, feet and jaws. It lasts just a few seconds, but during this time, a person experiences a storm of emotions, balancing on the edge of life and death. It is said that many who have experienced these feelings at least once are ready to risk their lives in order to repeat this moment.

And from the fins of the pufferfish they make a drink, after which all the senses become aggravated, a hallucinogenic effect and slight intoxication are manifested. To do this, the charred fugue fins are lowered for a minute in a sake. Such a drink is required to be offered to visitors before eating deadly fish dishes.

Medical use

Centuries ago, in the East, powdered puffer was mixed with other ingredients of animal origin and taken as an anesthetic. Patients soon recovered, their cheerfulness and high spirits were noted.

In ancient times, ancient healers often used the following recipe for treating patients: the poisonous entrails of the puffer were soaked for seven days in vinegar, then they were mixed with flour and honey. Small balls were rolled from such a mixture. They were prescribed for diseases such as:

  • leprosy;
  • mental disorders;
  • heart failure;
  • cough;
  • headache.

In very small doses, fugu poison was used for the prevention of age-related diseases, for the treatment of the prostate gland, arthritis, rheumatism, pain of a neuralgic nature, as well as an anesthetic for inoperable forms of cancer. The norms of neurotoxin were clearly established, in which its toxic properties were practically absent, and medicinal qualities came to the fore.

Currently, for medical purposes, tetrodotoxin is practically not used because of its extreme toxicity. It is much safer to use for such purposes, similar in properties to novocaine, or other drugs anesthetizing action. Recently, laboratory tests of tetrodotoxin as an anesthetic for cancer patients have been performed, but they have shown controversial results. Currently, studies of tetrodotoxin in this area are ongoing. It is widely used for the study of cell membranes by biologists.

Hazardous properties of puffer fish

The most dangerous in this fish is the neuroparalytic toxin - tetrodotoxin, which can cause complete paralysis of the human respiratory system, and as a result - death. It is physically capable of blocking the sodium channels of the membranes, thereby preventing the spread of nerve impulses. The most common way to poison puffer fish is to cook them incorrectly. Even the most experienced professional chefs are not safe from mistakes, so every year in Japan about fifteen people die from eating puffer, and more than 50 go to hospital with severe poisoning. Therefore, before setting off on a thrill, ask yourself: is it worth it?

Symptoms of poisoning and first aid

Symptoms of tetrodotoxin poisoning occur in the first 10-15 minutes after eating puffer fish. Their soon manifestation indicates a large amount of poison in the body. Symptoms are very similar in signs to cardiological and neurological: numbness, dizziness, burning in the body, impaired coordination of movements and speech, hypotension, a sharp decrease in heart rate and heaviness in breathing. In more severe forms - impaired consciousness, convulsions and death.

There are four degrees of severity of poisoning:

  1. First degree: numbness and tingling in the nasolabial region, nausea, vomiting.
  2. Second degree: complete numbness of the muscles of the face, tongue, hands and feet, impaired coordination of movements and speech, partial early paralysis, normal reaction to muscle contractions.
  3. Third degree: flaccid paralysis of the whole body, severe shortness of breath, aphonia, enlargement and expansion of the pupils, clarity of consciousness is maintained.
  4. Fourth degree: acute respiratory failure, hypoxia, a sharp decrease in blood pressure, arrhythmia, slowing heart rate, loss of consciousness is possible.

The antidotes against this terrible neurotoxin do not currently exist. First aid and treatment consists mainly of symptomatic and supportive therapy. At any degree of poisoning, the victims must be hospitalized for the artificial maintenance of the respiratory system and circulatory system, until the peak of the action of the poison passes. Usually, terrible consequences are unlikely after 24 hours after poisoning.


Fugu is a deadly poisonous Japanese food made from fish containing a dangerous neurotoxin. The use of such a dish every year takes the lives of dozens of people. In large cases, this of course happens due to improper preparation of the dish by unlicensed chefs. But there are mistakes and professionals. Antidotes against this toxin do not exist. Only quick resuscitation and connections to mechanical ventilation devices can save a person. Every spring, many thrill-seekers are drawn to restaurants that are licensed to produce puffer. But before tasting this exquisite delicacy, ask yourself: is the game worth the candle?

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