Careful: the relations are poisonous

An average-sized pufferfish has enough toxin in its liver to kill 30 people
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The Independent Online

It's refreshing to discover that our obsession with showroom homes and interior design has made not a jot of difference to seaside gift shops. Trade in frogs made from cockle-shells, annoying wind-chimes and "A Present from Blackpool" plastic lobsters still flourishes.

It's refreshing to discover that our obsession with showroom homes and interior design has made not a jot of difference to seaside gift shops. Trade in frogs made from cockle-shells, annoying wind-chimes and "A Present from Blackpool" plastic lobsters still flourishes.

Wholesale orders for everything that's tacky and tasteless for the home (available at a seaside near you) are holding up. So it's a shame that I am forced to destroy demand for one of the kiss-me-quick sellers' most enduring lines – the dried pufferfish.

Every resort emporium boasts at least a couple of these, usually floating at head level to snag unwary shoppers. The permanently inflated fish look curiously resigned, as if they had been told as tiddlers: "Eat up your seaweed, or you'll end up in a Bournemouth gift shop."

Who buys them? Certainly not fishermen, and not chefs either. They need the whole fish to prepare that deadly delicacy called fugu, a dish that can cost $200 and kill you. For fugu is made from the Japanese pufferfish, diodon holacanthus, whose liver contains a toxin 1,200-times deadlier than cyanide. For reasons unknown, an average-sized pufferfish has enough to kill 30 people.

Nearly 100 people are said to die annually in the Philippines and Japan from fugu poisoning. It's little wonder fugu consumption was banned in Japan for several decades. By law, the fish still cannot be served to the emperor. There's even a poem that says (in Japanese):

I cannot see her tonight I have to give her up So I will eat fugu.

Amazingly, it's still immensely popular. One Tokyo fish market rakes in $40 million every winter from fugu sales. All sushi chefs must be licensed to prepare it, and they use most of the pufferfish: apart from the fillets, the fins are served in hot sake, and the skin spices up a salad.

Those who tuck into the fish would probably be less enthusiastic if they knew puffers can close their eyes and make a crying sound, an experience some chefs find more upsetting than the thought that they might wipe out the evening's diners.

But even more disturbing is the fact that we have a great deal in common with the pufferfish. Researchers have been decoding the 365 million pairs of amino acids that make up puffer genes (surely proof that scientists do not waste their time on useless projects). According to my source, they are up to 97 per cent at the moment. Amazingly, they have found that three-quarters of the fish's genes are identical to those of a human being.

Does this destroy the whole theory of evolution, and prove we are actually descended from pufferfish rather than apes? Don't ask me. I only catch the things. But it makes you think twice about hanging a puffer in the bedroom to add a little ambience. It could be one of your relatives.

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