Though science continues to back the wisdom that fish is brain food, there are times when you need to use your smarts to make it a healthy choice. While most varieties offer a range of disease-fighting perks, there are a few you don’t want to get your hooks into.
The problem is that sometimes you may have no idea what you’re eating and that it could make you feel quite ill.
Escolar is a perfect example. Have you ever seen it on a restaurant menu?
But it does lurk on many eateries list of options, particularly Japanese ones. You’ll often see it listed as butterfish or white tuna – butterfish due to its high fat content and smooth texture and white tuna due to its colour. It is not, though, related in any way to white albacore tuna.
This white firm fleshed fish is often described as being quite delicious but it can leave you with less than pleasing consequences not long after you eat it.
Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps and/ or headache – all of which can be pretty dramatic – can occur within a few hours of eating the fish and can last up to 24 to 48 hours. For healthy people, it’s simply an inconvenience but for those with underlying health problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome, it can be more serious.
How sick you may get depends on individual tolerances. And it’s all due to an indigestible oily substance called wax esters. This oily substance, named gempylotoxin after the family of fish, Gempylidae, escolar belongs to, is indigestible as it passes through the digestive tract. The consequences of eating the fish have nothing to do with freshness. It’s simply the fish itself.
At one point, back in the early 1990s, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommended against its import but then the regulations were relaxed leaving it up to fish eaters to fend for themselves. Other countries such as Japan and Italy have also banned its sale.
Here in Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) “works to ensure that escolar is not misidentified or mislabelled when it’s sold at the retail level.”
That’s why it’s on the menu as butterfish and white tuna. If you ask your server to check what these fish are, you may get the right information. It simply depends on who is in the kitchen that day.
So what does Health Canada say about allowing escolar to be sold?
On their website, it states, “Symptoms, in those who experience them, can include one or more of the following: the rectal passage of an oily yellow or orange substance (called keriorrhoea), diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and headache. Kerriorrhoea is not associated with a loss of bodily fluids and is not considered life threatening.”
As it does not cause dehydration and may not result in death, Health Canada allows it to be sold.
But all the above symptoms are OK? Give me a break.
I saw the effects a few years ago when my husband returned from a dinner meeting where he had a “fabulous tasting white tuna”. He then spent the entire night dealing with its laxative effects. To confirm my suspicions that he had eaten escolar, I called the restaurant to ask about the fish. They had never heard of escolar – so much for it not being misidentified- but they were happy to give me the name of their fish supplier. After asking what the other names of the fish might be and hearing butterfish or escolar, my hunch was confirmed.
While portions are likely much smaller at sushi restaurants, (which may save you from any symptoms), if you are a fan of the newer “all you can eat sushi” places, beware. Your tummy make thank you.
Have you unknowingly suffered from escolar’s effects? Have you ever seen escolar listed on a menu? Do you think there should be warnings posted on menus? Please share in the comment section below.
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