An Acquired Taste of Japan – Fugu


Sound appetizing?

It’s the fatal poison found in the liver, intestines and ovaries of the fugu, or pufferfish. An incredible delicacy, fugu is our feature in this month’s Acquired Taste of Japan, and we’re excited to (virtually) explore the ins-and-outs of this fish.

Fugu are bony fish, ranging from pygmy sizes weighing a few grams, to medium five-pound fish to large ones weighing as much as 20 pounds. These fish are part of the Tetraodontidae and Diodontidae family of fish, known for their ability to intake a large quantity of water and “blow up” in order to deter predators. They eat starfish, mollusks, snails and other sea creatures that contain vibrio bacteria, which creates tetrodotoxin, and poison from these creatures becomes concentrated and stored in the liver, reproductive organs, intestines and skin of the fish.

The concentrated poison found in fugu is called tetrodotoxin and is 1,000 times more toxic than cyanide. It is flavorless, odorless, heat stable and deadly in incredibly small amounts. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that “the consumption of toxic amounts of tetrodotoxin results primarily in neurologic and gastrointestinal signs and symptoms. In severe poisoning, dysrhythmia, hypotension, and even death might occur. If a rapid onset of one of the following neurologic and gastrointestinal signs or symptoms occurs, the clinical description for tetrodotoxin poisoning has been met: 1) oral paresthesias (might progress to include the arms and legs), 2) cranial nerve dysfunction, 3) weakness (might progress to paralysis), or 4) nausea or vomiting.”

A small fugu

And there is no antidote.

Thankfully, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in Japan along with trained and licensed chefs know how to prepare fugu’s many delicious parts. The Ministry publishes regulations governing the sale and preparation of 22 of the hundreds of species of fugu for all of Japan, and even controls the export of fugu to other countries like the United States. Shimonoseki in Yamaguchi Prefecture is the main distribution center for fugu as it is shipped throughout Japan and the world.

Fugu is typically enjoyed in winter, when the fish have fattened up to brave the cold waters surrounding Japan. Torafugu, the most commonly enjoyed variety of the fish, is generally served as paper-thin, translucent slices of sashimi, arranged in the shape of a chrysanthemum and garnished with daikon and negi onions and dipped in ponzu sauce. Because it is a delicacy served in winter time, hearty, moist chunks of fugu are also served in hotpot dishes called nabe. Fried fugu is eaten along with the fish’s milt, the shirako we wrote about last month. And the tail fin and mouth parts are often roasted and added to hot sake, imparting a light ocean-like flavor. New dishes like fugu burgers are even on the market!

Fugu hot pot nabe

Fugu has been traditionally eaten in Japan for over 2,000 years. Archaeological excavations from the Jomon culture (10,500 – 300 BC) have unearthed fugu teeth fossils from midden heaps. The first restrictions on fugu consumption arose during the Sengoku period (1467-1603 AD), when the warlord Hideyoshi Toyotomi prohibited eating the fish in order to prevent his troops from being poisoned. During subsequent periods in Japan’s history, the fish was either enjoyed publicly or banned and eaten in secret. Fugu is one of the few foods the Emperor of Japan is strictly prohibited from eating. Today, aquaculturists have begun experimental farming to develop potentially toxin-free species of fugu, in order to enable more people to enjoy it, without worrying about the poisonous livers and eggs, parts said to be especially delicious.

Today, gourmet torafugu is enjoyed at restaurants at the cost of around US$200 per entrée! Chefs are trained for three years and must pass an exam in order to be allowed to prepare fugu. More reasonably priced mafugu can be purchased at fish markets by licensed buyers, who then sell it to the general public in supermarkets.

Would you eat fugu? Are you brave enough to try it? Have you already had it? Share your experience with us!

Product Inspirations – Micom Water Boiler & Warmer (CD-WHC40)

Our Product of the Month is our new Zojirushi Micom Water Boiler & Warmer (CD-WHC40)–perfect for home or office!

This water boiler looks great on a kitchen counter or conference table. It has a stylish, clear-coated stainless body, with an easy-to-read water level gauge, a swivel base and sturdy handle.

It’s also packed with convenience and safety features. It comes in a generous 4-liter capacity and has a rust-resistant stainless steel interior that is not-coated, unique among all of Zojirushi’s other water boilers. For those wishing to avoid nonstick coating, this stainless steel interior offers a durable and easy-to-clean alternative. To make storing the product more convenient, the Power Cord is detachable. All surfaces that come into contact with your hot water are BPA-free.

The water boiler is innovatively designed with a microcomputer chip that controls the way water is heated and kept warm. It heats water to one of four selectable keep warm temperatures—208°F, 195°F, 175°F and 160°F. Delicate teas are best brewed at 160°F, while 175°F is the ideal brewing temperature for green teas. Oolong tea is best brewed at 195°F, and at 208°, the hot water is great for brewing black teas and herbal teas. At 208°F, water is also at the ideal temperature to make coffee, instant noodles or oatmeal and to blanch vegetables.

This water boiler also comes with the optional Quick Temp mode, one of Zojirushi’s signature features. Using this feature, water is quickly heated to either 195°F, 175°F or 160°F without first bringing it to a boil, saving energy and a significant amount of time. The easy-to-read LCD panel shows the actual water temperature at all times, and the control panel allows you to easily dispense hot water by first pressing the UNLOCK button, then the DISPENSE button.

Brewing classic Japanese Sencha tea is easy using this water boiler when set to 175°F Keep Warm. At a slightly higher temperature of 195°F, Fresh Fruit Tea is perfectly brewed. And at the highest temperature, Houjicha, or roasted green tea, brews perfectly at 208°F. This water boiler lets you blanch vegetables for delicious salads, too. Try out our Okra, Asparagus and Cherry Tomato Salad, with veggies blanched at 208°F.

The CD-WHC40 has multiple safety features including an easily detachable lid, which makes disposing water safe, an automatic dispense lock and auto shut-off.

We love this new water boiler and are sure you will, too. Let us know how you use it in the comments below!

The Voices of Zojirushi – Manny!

We hope you’ve enjoyed the past few posts about our team members. This month, we get an inside view into Manuel, one of our Repair Technicians. Manual, who goes by Manny, is one of the newer members of the Zojirushi family, having been with the company for two years.

We caught up with Manny and learned more about his experiences with Zojirushi.

Manny, tell us what inspired you to work at Zojirushi?

I had previously worked for a Japanese company and I really enjoyed learning so much from a new culture. Being a Latino, I felt an affinity for Japanese culture, and knew that I wanted to continue in a Japanese environment.

Miso ramen with tender pork chashu

Since you find Japanese culture so interesting, tell us a bit about your experience with Japan. Have you ever been to Japan? What’s your favorite part of the culture and food? 

I’ve never been to Japan but it’s definitely a place I would like to visit in the near future. My favorite Japanese food is miso ramen with a combination of chashu. The most interesting experience I have encountered is leaning the culture, the food, and the language.

How do you find Zojirushi’s Japanese heritage and your position at the company embodies the company’s mission–Creating a Quality of Life–for customers?

As a technician I represent the company, so I take my repairs very seriously, making sure that the quality of my work meets Zojirushi’s high standards. [That attention to detail is a really important part of Zojirushi’s heritage.] We try to create a good quality of life with our products and I believe our vacuum bottles inspire customers to take care of the environment, because not every plastic bottle gets recycled. Global warming is happening and we have to take care of our planet because we only have one.

A cache of rice cooker pans from current and discontinued models, used when performing testing on customers’ rice cookers

Much of our product design focuses on practicality, quality, craftsmanship, sustainability and stylishness. Do you have a favorite product? And what would you like to see as the next great Zojirushi product?

I would have to say the bread machine is one of my favorite products. It has evolved from a practical product to this amazing multifunctional bread machine. Also, consumers are really liking pressurized multicookers because it reduces a lot of the cooking time, so I would have to say a ‘ZojiPOT’ would be awesome to have in our lineup.

Manny, thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us. We have to know, since you love food and Zojirushi products. Do you have a favorite Zojirushi recipe? How did it turn out?

The lemon pound cake is my favorite recipe. I would like to see if a customer can make a great Mexican rice recipe. I would definitely try that!


Thanks to Manny for sharing with us, and we hope you enjoyed meeting him! Stay tuned for next month’s Voice of Zojirushi.

Eat With Your Eyes

“Your eyes are bigger than your stomach,” my Mom used to say; whenever us kids thought we could eat more than we could actually handle. Years later, that hasn’t changed a bit. How many of you are like that? When you think about it, our eyes are probably the most important organ when we eat—more than our palates or sense of taste. More of our brain’s cortex is used to process sight than to process taste, apparently.

If we eat with our eyes, then how important is color to our food? Super important. Did you know that the USDA grades orange juice according to a strict color standard? Don’t you look at the bottle for color at the supermarket before you buy? Of course! What else do you have to go by—usually you can’t sample it. Your vision is the first sense we use to verify what we’re about to eat or drink. In a color study conducted by the Journal of Food Science, the majority of subjects failed to identify the flavor of what they were drinking when blindfolded and given orange juice. When they were able to see what they were drinking, they all identified it correctly. That’s obvious, right? But when they were given a lime flavored drink that was colored orange, half of them mistakenly identified it as orange juice. Woah! See what our eyes did to us there?

Ever hear of the Munsell® Color company? These guys help businesses understand color and how to achieve what is perceived to be the ideal color for their product, or to match government regulations—like orange juice. So if you want to know what the best color is for tomatoes, honey, French fries or bacon, you use their color guide and it gives you the exact visual reference. Better looking fruit fetches higher prices. This is like Pantone® for food!

Everyone knows (or at least believes) that the color red stimulates a lot of emotions in us, including our appetities. There is a reason most fast-food companies use red in their logos and corporate coloring. Look around you and see. The color blue, on the other hand, suppresses our appetite and is virtually non-existent in naturally occurring food. In fact, color experts have measured this with devices like spectrophotometers and concluded that what we think is blue, tends to actually be more purple. So how come no blue?

A popular theory is that natural evolution plays a part in why blue is so rare. Plants absorb energy from light to grow efficiently, and blue has one of the highest energy wavelengths in the color spectrum. So instead of reflecting it back so that we can see it, the color is absorbed so the energy can be used–which means there’s not much blue to see. Pure blue is a rare pigment in nature anyway, because the chemistry has to be just right in plants for blue to occur, and it just doesn’t happen that often.

I guess we know why chefs put so much emphasis on their plating. It’s gotta look good!

Here’s a brilliant sushi assortment made with rice cookers from Zojirushi. The rice is plain white, but the colors are so bright and so inviting!

Here’s an interesting take on the classic Soboro Donburi, a tri-colored dish that uses color as much as flavor to make this a kid’s favorite!

If you want to make your own Soboro you can find a more traditional version by Zojirushi here.

And finally, check out this mouth watering spread of brilliant colors. All fake plastic! At most restaurants in Japan, plastic food models are displayed outside to lure customers in. What better way to whet your appetite than food porn in 3-D? I’m sure the colors are a wee bit exaggerated on purpose, but it works! For more on this subject, read my archived post here.

So you see? Next time you sit down to eat something delicious, eat with your eyes first and appreciate its beauty!


Food color science from The Colors We Eat by Tom Vanderbilt
Peppers by Andrew Malone, Blueberries by U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Orange Juice by Britta Frahm, Color Chips by John Fischer
Above used with permission by Creative Commons license
Salmon Soboro by @IronChefMom, used with permission
Plastic Food Replicas by Bert Tanimoto from Bert-san Blog
Sushi by Amy Barnum of Zojirushi USA, used with permission