Puffer Fish, or Botete: Eat Me and Die!
These fish can easily kill you.Click thumbnail to view full-size
One species know as Botete in Mexico Best Ignored
Eat Puffer Fish: A Quick Way to Heaven!
Can’t say why I do so many articles on the more unsavoury creatures which share the planet with us, unless it’s because I see a lot worse during prime minister’s questions every week. I’d take a Black Widow over Mandleson any day.
The land and sea are full of quite attractive life forms that only wish to be left alone. They never jump on an unsuspecting human with the intention of doing him or her harm - well, not often. The exceptions get a lot of press: the sting ray that extinguished the life of Steve Irwin a couple of years ago; the crocodile that had that American model for dinner some time earlier, the python that choked the little girl in Florida last month, or the sharks that apparently put paid to the couple abandoned by their dive boat on the Great Barrier reef.
Leaving sharks, crocs and constrictors out of the picture, when we come to harm it is usually a result of an animal’s defensive mechanism being employed because we just won’t take “clear off” as a warning. Snakes strike us, spiders bite us and bears chase us up trees. But few creatures cause our death hours or days after we have victimised them. One glaring exception is the Puffer Fish, a member of the Tetraodontidae, with up to one hundred members. This is a family of fish found in most of the warm oceans and seas of the world. They are one example of something conspicuously ugly that is also poisonous as well. We’ll keep your mother-in-law out of the equation. They peer up at you and says, “Hey, you don’t want to eat me, I’m as nasty and unpalatable as I look.” But still people line up to eat this fare in restaurants and many pay the ultimate price.
This is how dangerous the poison, Tetrodontoxin, contained in the liver and other organs is. If you eat the flesh that has not been prepared by expert, specialist chefs, you will have a 50% chance of dying within a few hours, screaming in agony. Yet this fish is sold in markets and restaurants in many countries, especially (of course) Japan, Korea and the Philippines and, occasionally, Mexico (known as Botete). Despite being so lethal, there is little literature available, especially in the countries where the fish is sold.
Why do people eat Botete when there is so much harmless and delicious seafood around? The flesh has been described as “Thin, hard and unpalatable,” (Herre). The poison first affects the nervous system, then the gastric system; paralysis and death soon follow.
One explanation of why the flesh is so popular is that some diners say they reach an exhilarated state accompanied by a sense of warmth, well-being and mood elevation. That some then become so enraptured that they fall off the chair in agony and soon meet their Maker receives less publicity. Heck, a nice swordfish steak, a glass of wine and a joint would do the same job without risking your life!
In Mexico, the poisonous attributes of Botete are well know to fishermen and others who have used the poison found in the livers to use as a pesticide. They make a paste with the raw, ground-up liver and even use it to rid themselves of unwanted cats. Perhaps Gringos, too, although this has not been revealed.
One reason the fish may get to market is plain old greed, or financial desperation. With fish getting harder and harder to catch, perhaps botete was all the fisherman netted that day, so he sold it for a few pesos. And once a fish becomes fillets, it’s hard to say what species it is until the coroner comes up with a verdict.
The Puffer and its brothers carry the second most deadly poison in the animal world after the Golden Poison Dart Frog. Note this means poison and not venom. They are generally confined to the tropics and are never found in really cold water.
There is often confusion over the poison tetrodontoxin and the condition called ciguatera, also caused by a poison found in many types of fish, mainly in reef fish, but spreading all the way up the food chain into predator fish. The effects are similar, but you are far more likely to recover from ciguatera, although its effects can last for years.
As a sea-food addict and a fisherman when I have the time and conditions (warm weather) I steer clear of bottom fish, (those feeding on the sea floor, not those attacking your exposed cheeks). I apply this rule to fish market offerings, as well. If you stick to fast-swimming predatory fish, such a salmon, trout, tuna, sword-fish, and the rest, you don’t have to worry about them carrying poisons. And there’s no fancy preparation, slap ’em in the skillet with a bit o’ garlic and you’re done.
Notes: A market in Thailand has been selling Pufferfish fillets labelled "Salmon!" 18 dead so far.
On Jan 9 this year, 7 men were taken to hospital in Japan after eating puffer fish in the restaurant Kibuna in Tsuruoka, 5 were in critical condition.