The Japanese eat 10,000 tons of fugu each year. Here’s what makes the poisonous pufferfish so expensive.

There are over 120 species of puffer fish, and 22 different kinds are approved by the Japanese government for use in restaurants. But one is more prized, and more poisonous, than the others: torafugu, or tiger puffer fish.

Wild torafugu is often found at high-end restaurants, where it’s served as perfectly thinly sliced sashimi, deep-fried, and even used to make a hot sake called hirezake. Yamadaya has been serving puffer fish for over 100 years. Their fugu is caught in southern Japan and airlifted alive to their Tokyo restaurants.

In Haedomari Market the fugu is auctioned off using a bag and hidden hand signals. Each potential buyer puts their hand in the bag and makes their bid secretly, before a successful bidder is chosen.

When selling such a dangerous food, safety is paramount. In 2018, a supermarket accidentally sold five packets of the fish that hadn’t had the poisonous liver removed, and the town used its missile-alert system to warn residents.

The tetrodotoxin found in fugu is more toxic than cyanide, and each year about 20 people are poisoned from badly prepared fish.

It takes a lot of skill and training to prepare the fish safely and know which parts are poisonous.

The poisonous parts can vary by species, and hybrid species are appearing now that are even harder to tell apart. One of the hardest things to distinguish between can be the female fugu’s ovaries, which are extremely toxic, and the male’s testicles, which are a delicacy.

The Japanese government tightly control who can prepare fugu, and chefs need to take an extensive exam before they’re legally allowed to serve the fish. This rigorous regulation means that while the fish can be lethal, far more people die from eating oysters than fugu each year.

All of the skill and training that goes into preparing this fish increases the price. The fish is killed seconds before preparation. And while the process looks gruesome as the muscles continue to spasm, the fish is dead.

This method of killing the fish means that the meat stays fresh for longer, and at Yamadaya, the fugu is aged for 24 hours before it’s served. So what does it actually taste like?

There’s another reason tiger fugu is getting more expensive: overfishing.

Tiger puffer fish is near threatened, and in 2005 the Japanese government limited its fishing quotas and seasons. Another popular edible species across Japan, the Chinese puffer fish, has declined in population by 99.9% over the last 45 years.

Farmed versions are much cheaper, and many more affordable chain fugu restaurants are starting to appear, but the farmed version is difficult to raise, and many consumers say it doesn’t taste as good.

Wild fugu’s high price guarantees that it is safely prepared by an expert chef, and when you’re dealing with a potentially deadly fish, that price is reassuringly expensive.

With thanks to Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in July 2019.

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Why wasabi is so expensive

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: Wasabi is a small green plant in the brassica family, that means it’s related to many cheap and easy to find plants like horseradish, cabbage, or broccoli. But unlike these it’s incredibly expensive, a kilogram of fresh wasabi can cost you 25 times as much as fresh horseradish.

Because of its price the “wasabi” you’re used to is probably just a mixture of horseradish, coloring, and sweetener. These products often only have 1-5% of the real thing in.

Wasabi is known for being the hardest plant to grow commercially in the world. It can be found naturally growing alongside Japanese mountain streams has a strict set of conditions it needs to thrive.

Wasabi needs a constant supply of running spring water, it likes a shady area and rocky soil or gravel, and can only tolerate a temperature of around 8-20 degrees centigrade all year round. Too much humidity, or the wrong minerals can also cause problems for the plant and on top of all that it’s susceptible to pests and disease.

There’s one other reason you probably don’t see real wasabi products in your local supermarket or restaurant. Wasabi’s spice comes from a chemical reaction that occurs when you break down the cells, but this reaction is short lived. After 5 minutes the spicy flavour peaks but leave it for 30 minutes and almost all the flavour is gone.

All of these factors mean fake wasabi isn’t going away any time soon.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in January 2019.

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A reporter spent 10 bitcoins on a sushi dinner for dozens of strangers in 2013. Those coins are worth $230,000 today.

friends eating sushi
  • A tech reporter once lived on bitcoins for a week straight to test how valuable they were in the real world.
  • She bought a bunch of bitcoins in 2013 for $136 each on Coinbase, hoping to use them for daily expenses.
  • On the last night of her experiment, she spent 10 bitcoins on a sushi dinner for dozens of strangers. Today those would be worth about $230,000.
  • The restaurant’s owner has now retired from the food business, thanks in part to his cryptocurrency earnings of 41 bitcoins, or $902,000 today.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Kashmir Hill, a technology reporter at The New York Times, once lived on bitcoins for one week straight as an experiment.

She detailed her memorable experience in a piece for The New York Times.

In 2013, Hill had a special interest in the then 4-year-old cryptocurrency, since her work primarily focused on technology and data privacy. Tech junkies were just getting excited about bitcoins back then, so she decided to explore its value in the real world by testing what it would be like to live on the currency for a few days.

Hill bought some bitcoins for $136 each on the cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase, hoping to find ways she could use her new “money.”

Though she lived in San Francisco, a hot spot for tech startups and companies, there were limited options for her to spend any cryptocurrency. During that week, she lost 5 pounds simply because she was tight on food and transport options. She was also “constantly caffeine deprived” because no coffee seller seemed to accept bitcoins.

Read more: Fund manager Brian Bar ish has returned more than 550% to investors over 2 decades, and he just had 2 of his best years ever. He told us how he did it – and 3 top picks for the next 5 years.

Hill decided to celebrate the last night of her experiment by hosting a dinner for at least 15 strangers at a sushi restaurant called Sake Zone – one of the few places that accepted the token. She sent an open invite on the social-networking site Meetup and to a bitcoin community on Reddit. To her surprise, more than 60 people turned up at the event.

She described the attendees as “a wild cast of characters.” Economists, entrepreneurs who were creating bitcoin apps and games, and two founders of the arts event Burning Man were part of the crowd.

The dinner bill came out to a whopping $957, which she paid for in 10 bitcoins.

“I felt guilty at the time, making Yung Chen accept $1,000 worth of funny money, because it was unclear to me whether Bitcoin should be worth anything at all,” Hill said, referring to the restaurant owner.

As of 2020, the restaurant owner and his wife had retired from the food business. That may partially be because of their cryptocurrency earnings. They hold about 41 bitcoins in total, or $902,000 today.

Bitcoin has had a wild ride this year, hitting record highs more than twice in the past month. The digital asset was trading at about $23,235 on Thursday.

Read more about Kashmir Hill’s week-long bitcoin experiment here.

Read more: Bank of America highlights its top 8 stock picks in the booming housing sector – and explains why the idea that people are fleeing cities because of the pandemic is overblown

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