Farmers Have Bred Pufferfish That Probably Won’t Kill You

Chinese diners with a taste for Japan's famously freaky fugu can now go risk-free with poison-less pufferfish.
Bettina Makalintal
Brooklyn, US
pufferfish on a cutting board next to a knife

The movies of our childhood might actually have been bad, but maybe, just maybe, we learned something from them. For instance, for kids of a certain era, a scene in the the direct-to-video classic Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves is why many of us know that bananas have potassium.

And if a few years later, those same kids watched the campy, action-comedy reboot of Charlie’s Angels, they learned from what’s otherwise a pretty dumb movie that pufferfish can be poisonous, but is considered a delicacy anyway.


As a refresher: Bosley (Bill Murray) attends a Japan-themed party hosted by the villainous Roger Corwin (Tim Curry), where women dressed as geishas walk around serving pufferfish. “It’s a rare delicacy… for the man with no fear of an excruciating death,” Corwin says. Dylan (Drew Barrymore), one of Charlie’s “angels,” tells Bosley through an earpiece that one in 60 pufferfish is fatal, before a daring Bosley stuffs the fish in his mouth. (Spoiler: He lives. Disclaimer: Not sure where they got that number.)

If Charlie’s Angels put you off the idea of pufferfish forever, good news: Eating it no longer has to mean risking your life. Pufferfish—which is also referred to as fugu in Japanese cuisine—used to be banned in China because of its potentially lethal toxins—but according to the South China Morning Post, the ban has been lifted because Chinese farmers have now bred generations of fish that don’t produce any poison at all.

Most species of pufferfish carry a toxin that can cause numbness, paralysis, and then death. It can technically be avoided by skilled chefs who steer clear of the fish’s poisonous parts, but even then, it’s dicey. According to the BBC, badly prepped pufferfish killed at least 20 people in Japan between 2000 and 2012.

As the chairman of April Puffer, a company that runs pufferfish restaurants and fishing operations, told the SCMP, two species are no longer dangerous because the fish never encounter the algae that their body processes into these terrifying toxins. Those two pufferfish species are now the only ones allowed to be eaten in China. With one such species in its seventh generation and another in its tenth, he told the SCMP, “Fish with poison-generating DNA are bred out generation after generation. So the pufferfish produced in China’s fisheries cannot generate poison any more.”

If you’re bummed that your sushi dinner might no longer come with a side of Russian roulette, there are plenty of ways to still eat on the edge, like the Scottish desserts spot that serves ice cream that can literally burn you, and all those axe-throwing bars that are just a Normal Thing now. And because death comes for us all, remember: Even drinking water can be dangerous.