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Sunday, January 7, 2018


For those familiar with Japanese cuisine, you know there are two primary ways to consume raw fish:  sashimi and sushi.  I'll further refine the presentation today only to sashimi, which means pierced body, making no sense at all.  There is an arcane reason having something do with the Muromachi period from where this term derived, when "cut or sliced fish" was below the dignity of the controlling samurai.

The primary reason I'm ignoring sushi is nutritional.  I grew up on white rice, white bread, white Crisco, white sugar and white salt.  They are all now to be minimized, if not avoided.  Sushi has three of those five, and I don't like the taste of vinegar, anyway.  Per mouthful, sashimi has about a tenth the calorie content of sushi.  In half an hour I downed twenty sushis at Jiro's (he personally served me) adjacent to the Ginza Station in Tokyo, and might  have consumed around 2000 calories, for $300.

The big plus about sashimi is that it has a lot of omega-3 fatty acids.  The fatter the better.  But just for tuna:
Type of FishTotal Omega 3 FatEPA (unique type of Omega 3 Fat)DHA (Unique type of Omega 3 Fat)
fresh bluefin tuna, baked, 6 ounces2.5 grams0.6 grams1.9 grams
fresh albacore tuna, baked, 6 ounces2.6 grams0.5 grams1.7 grams
fresh skipjack, baked, 6 ounces2.7 grams0.7 grams2.0 grams
Light tuna, canned in water, 6 ounces0.46 grams0.08 grams0.38 grams
Light tuna, canned in oil, 6 ounces0.34 grams0.05 grams0.38 grams
Starkist TM Albacore tuna, canned in water, 6 ounces*1.35 gramsdata not availabledata not available
Papa George Gourmet Albacore tuna, canned in olive oil, not drained, 6 ounces8.1 grams2.6 grams5.5 grams

The American Heart Association recommends a gram of EPA+DHA (the two most prominent omega-3 fatty acids) per day for patients.  Not sure why Papa George's cans are so full of omega-3's, but there might be a hint of why in this article.

Enough about nutrition.  Let me start on my sashimi guide with the exotic and morbid.  There are restaurants in Japan that will serve you a live lobster with the antennae twitching and the lobster flesh, while cut in the standard slices, still jiggling.

Then there is the balloon fish, or fugu.  The sashimi is not much different from any white fish.  However, the really good chefs leave in a little bit of poison so that your lips and tongue feel tingly, and the back of your head and neck have a sense of benumbness.

The ultimate, though, are the fugu testicles.  They are about the size of a squashed middle-size marble, and if you've ever had mountain oysters, the taste and texture are similar.  It was almost three decades ago when I had dinner in Kita-Kyushu with a government official from NOAA, a professorial colleague from Nihon University and his benefactor, an industrialist who would be paying for everything.  The meal began with one testicle each, and it's hard to imagine that that smallish male fish could have such large testicles.  Anyway, my friend from Washington, D.C. refused to eat his testicle, so I had two,  Each cost $75, and that was in 1990.  For the next two years, most of what I'm doing today formed in my brain, from the Blue Revolution to Rainbow Pearls to the hydrogen economy.

However, most of you are merely interested in the standard sashimi, where the raw seafood (fish, squid, octopus, shrimp, etc.) is sliced into these bite-sized pieces, and served as the first course of a Japanese meal with a variety of vegetables.  Prepared wasabi (a kind of horseradish) with soy sauce is the dipping sauce.  In Hawaii, most grew up using Colman's Mustard (not the hot dog variety--they make both).

In Japan, it is said that you should not place too much wasabi on the sashimi so that you can better taste the flavor.  I myself use a lot so as not to taste anything too fishy.  In addition, I think those pieces you get in Japan are far too large for my comfort, as you are supposed to eat the whole piece.

The three most popular fish varieties for sashimi are tuna (blue-fin, big-eye and yellow-fin), yellow-tail (hamachi) and hirame (flounder).  In Japan, tuna is maguro, although the fattest is termed o-toro and next as chu-toro.  For the epicurean, o-toro is the ultimate sashimi, although many consider this cut as overly oily.  While premium fatty bluefin tuna can cost $50/pound, that should give you thirty slices of sashimi, enough for half a dozen people.

The largest bluefin tuna was 12-footer, caught off Nova Scotia in 1979 by Ken Fraser, weighing in a 1,496 pounds.  This Atlantic bluefin tuna is the largest of all the species.  Japan consumes 80% of this particular fish, and only 2.6% of what was once there in the Pacific has survived.

A female can lay up to 30 million eggs.  As this variety is endangered the world over, wouldn't aquaculture make good sense?  The answer is yes, and Kinki University has a laboratory at Wakayama Prefecture.  Let me adjust that.  Because there are some negative implications about that name, they have international expansion plans, and have changed the name to Kindai University.  In any case, their research has led to the beginning of cultivated bluefin tuna.

Yellow-fin tuna in Hawaii is called ahi.  This is the standard best fish for sashimi in Hawaii.  It costs from $5 to $20/pound, and every so often o-toro varieties can be found for $30/pound.  The yellow-fin is also a challenge for anglers, and I once took forever to land one that weighed less than 20 pounds on a small boat off the coast of Southern California.  While most actually caught are around 3.5 feet long, the world record goes up to seven feet and 440 pounds.

Skipjack tuna is also called aku or bonito, and is a cheaper sashimi.  A big plus is that, while it is #2 only to the Peruvian anchoveta for most fish captured, it is not a threatened specie.  It grows up to a length of a yard and appears to be self-sustaining even under current high tech harvesting methods.

I should also mention the albacore tuna, used in StarKist.  Their spokesperson is Charlie, but I'm not sure he is an albacore, for he is always rejected as a candidate for their cans.   However, this is also an excellent sashimi, and pinker in texture.  StarKist has been part of Del Monte and Heinz, but is now wholly owned by Dongwon Industries of South Korea.

The confusion comes between yellow-tail and amberjack (which has around a hundred names).  The Japanese amberjack is called kanpachi or yellow-tail (generally, hamachi is farmed, while buri is wild and larger).  Then there is the Hawaiian kampachi, which is a yellow-tail, but seems to be a cultured form of the natural amberjack in Hawaii.

They are all related, but certain amberjack varieties can get much larger than any yellow-tail.  Further, yellow-fin tuna (ahi) is even larger than both.

In the 1950's, the tuna catch was 0.66 tons/year.  People in the USA (and much of the western world) mostly ate tuna sandwiches and casseroles, usually on Friday nights, for the Catholic Church, it was said, recommended so.  Amazingly enough, when Pope Paul VI loosened fasting rules in the 1960's, fish prices plummeted.

Today, the annual catch is more than 7 million tons, and the bluefin tuna, in particular, has become an endangered animal.  Longlining has become especially devastating.  Some of those lines have 3,000 baited hooks and stretch for 50 miles.  Many other fish varieties are also now also endangered.  The stock of large fish have dropped by 90% since 1950.  The end annual value of tuna amounts to $42 billion.  The vexing question is, should you avoid o-toro because bluefin tuna is is threatened?   Maybe yes, today, but hopefully no tomorrow.

About an important negative, tuna eats smaller fish which eats even tinier ones, leading to a concentration of mercury at the highest trophic level feeder.  From where did the mercury come?  Mostly coal burning.  List of seafoods (ppm):
  • tilefish from Gulf of Mexico = 1.450
  • swordfish                                  0.995
  • shark                                         0.975
  • king mackerel                           0.730
  • bigeye tuna                               0.689
  • tuna average                             0.391
  • snapper                                     0.166
  • tilefish from Atlantic                  0.144
  • canned tuna                              0.128
  • lobster                                       0.107
  • crab                                          0.065
  • catfish                                       0.025
  • tilapia                                        0.013
  • shrimp                                       0.001
Four years ago, a 489 pound blue fin tuna caught off Japan sold for 56 million yen was bought by Kiyoshi Kimura, who owns a sushi chain.  That was a cost of $3500/pound.

This year, Hiroshi Onodera paid $323,195 for an 890 pound Pacific bluefin tuna, or a measly $363/pound.  Onodera owns two restaurants in Honolulu.  Maybe I'll drop by and try a tiny piece.

Why should you eat more sashimi?  You will live longer.  Anyway, the Japanese diet is one reason people there have the highest life expectancy of any developed country.  For women, 87, and men, 80.  However, Japanese men in Hawaii live longer than men living in Japan, and I eat a lot of sashimi.

Tomorrow I will delve into what will be the nature of sashimi in the year 2100.  Then on Tuesday, life on Planet Earth for Humanity in the 22nd century.  World peace?  Certainly.  Life on the Moon and Mars?  Why?  Direct confirmation of life beyond our globe?  Confirmation of intelligent life in the Universe?  

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