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Beware of food that leaves you tingling

Reuters / With a scoop of a net Tokyo chef, Naohito Hashimoto selects a poisonous blowfish, considered a delicacy in Japan, and with a few deft strokes of his gleaming knife starts the delicate process of preparing it for a customer.

In moments, Hashimoto has separated the edible parts of the fish from organs filled with a poison more deadly than cyanide.

For more than six decades, dicing blowfish in Tokyo has been the preserve of a small band of strictly regulated and licensed chefs, usually in exclusive restaurants.

But new laws coming into effect from October are opening the lucrative trade to restaurants without a licence.

“We have spent time and money in order to obtain and use the blowfish licence, but with these new rules anybody can handle blowfish even without a licence,” said Hashimoto, a blowfish chef for some 30 years.

The poison known as tetrododoxin is found in parts of the blowfish, including the liver, heart, intestines and eyes, and is so intense that a tiny amount will kill. Every year there are reports of people dying after preparing blowfish at home. Tokyo’s food control department says the relaxed rules should reduce prices and increase sales.

Thrill-seeking diners are reputed to seek out chefs who leave just enough of the poison to make the lips tingle, but blowfish professionals scoff at this as urban legend, noting that ingesting even that much of the poison would be hazardous.

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