|Photo: Monterey Bay Aquarium|
So, why the craze? What makes bluefin tuna so popular, and so incredibly valuable? We all know that preparing sushi and sashimi is a form of high art in Japan, so there must be an intricate, quality-based reason for bluefin tuna’s supremacy, right? Well, maybe not… turns out for quite some time, tuna (and especially the fat belly-cut we know pay so much for) was considered disgusting and at one point even used for cat food.
|Photo: Flickr user Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig|
Until after World War II, tuna was considered foul-tasting compared to the prized white flounder and mackerel fish, and tuna was mainly served as a poor-man’s food on the street. This history is strikingly similar to that of a prized delicacy in the U.S; the lobster. The crustacean was once served to prison inmates, before popularity surged in upscale, cosmopolitan markets.
Once Japanese society began absorbing a considerable influx of American culture during the 1950s and 1960s, the Japanese began demanding fattier, American style proteins, but tuna still remained largely unwanted and sold for pennies per pound. However, as Japan’s export economy entered a golden age, “Japanese airline cargo executives began promoting Atlantic bluefin for sushi so they’d have something to fill their planes with on their return trip from Tokyo.” The craze only increased, until today’s current mayhem, in which reports show that the Mitsubishi Corporation is even stockpiling frozen bluefin in order to control the world’s inventory at inflated prices once the species cannot be found any longer. That, and other shocking truths about the current state of the bluefin market can be seen in the documentary The End of the Line.
Despite the popularity and the high prices at the dinner table, real sushi aficionados in Japan still think of bluefin as a fatty, metallic tasting fish much inferior in quality to more traditional fish used for sashimi and sushi. Ironically, it seems, popularity in this market follows advertising trends, rather than the actual refined tastes of the experts.
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