I’ve been in the mood for sushi recently. One buddy tells me of sushi from the poisonous pufferfish that can only be made by specially trained, tested, and licensed sushi chefs.
Pufferfish, also known as blowfish, is called Fugu in Japan and they make all sorts of delicacies from this fish, avoiding areas like the ovaries and liver that have high concentrations of the nerve-affecting poison tetrodotoxin, which is abbreviated TTX. The neurotoxin is a sodium channel blocker, so it paralyzes the muscles while the victim stays fully conscious. The poison does not cross the blood brain barrier.
The meat is sliced thin in many dishes so it almost looks translucent. People say it’s tasteless. If the fish is cooked, remarkably the toxin remains unaffected! Beginning symptoms of tetrodotoxin poisioning include dizziness, exhaustion, headache, nausea, or difficulty breathing. The victim remains conscious but cannot speak or move. Breathing stops and asphyxiation follows.
TTX is 12 times stronger than cyanide and there’s no known antidote. Standard treatment is supporting the respiratory and circulatory systems until the poison is metabolized and excreted. Emergency services may pump out the stomach or use activated charcoal to absorb the toxin.
Recent evidence has shown that TTX is produced by certain bacteria like Pseudomonas and Vibrio, and that these bacteria are the source of the toxin in pufferfish. The fish isn’t affected by the poison because its sodium channel has a mutation! So it’s not affected.
Some people do say there is a distinctive taste and texture. Sometimes there’s a strange tingling of the lips from traces of the poison. And of course there’s that extra thrill from “cheating death.”
Fugu’s not for me, yet.