The Great White Tuna

Unsolved Fish Mysteries

So why not call escolar by its colloquial name, or even by its Latin one (Lepidocybium flavobrunneum)? Why market it as white tuna, a title only albacore has actually earned by virtue of its DNA? Conspiracy theorists will agree that the answer reeks of a subterfuge that begins with the fishermen and ends with the customer getting sick. See, escolar is what used to be called a "by-catch," which means it was accidentally hooked when fisherman set long lines for tuna. For decades escolar was considered garbage fish. In the Eighties, though, when chefs began looking for new food products, escolar became a craze. Velvety fleshed with a buttery richness but not a lot of actual fat, the fish became increasingly popular until the early Nineties.

Alerted by a significant number of escolar fans, the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning that the fish seemed to act like a laxative. Escolar carries wax esters, slippery fatty substances (the same components found in fat-substitute Olestra) that humans can't digest because we lack the proper enzymes. In small three-to-four-ounce portions, escolar may not have any effect. Larger portions could cause some trouble, but not all folks who consume it experience diarrhea, hot flashes, and headaches. You don't know if you number among the fish intolerant until you sample the goods.

Following the example of the Japanese government, which believes escolar is toxic and banned the fish in 1977 (this from the country that claims the poisonous blowfish as one its national dishes), the Food and Drug Administration recommended taking it off the market. But escolar made a comeback in 1998, when the FDA concluded its research and decided the fish wasn't poisonous, just a tastier form of Ex-Lax. It's not any more dangerous than a scoop of ice cream is to someone who's lactose intolerant.

Jeremy Eaton
Jeremy Eaton

Location Info

Map

Shibui

10141 Sunset Drive
Kendale Lakes, FL 33173

Category: Restaurant > Japanese

Region: East Kendall/Pinecrest

Sushi Rock Cafe

1351 Collins Ave.
Miami Beach, FL 33139

Category: Restaurant > Japanese

Region: South Beach

Sushi Siam Morningside

5582 NE 4th Court
Miami, FL 33137

Category: Restaurant > Japanese

Region: Midtown/Wynwood/Design District

But by categorizing escolar under the broader definition of white tuna, purveyors and sushi chefs are denying the dining public the right to know. Eating escolar could have more serious consequences for sufferers of intestinal disorders. Recovered bulimics might find themselves tempted. Others might simply want to retain what they paid for, on average, about two bucks per piece.

Of course that won't matter to some die-hard proponents of white tuna, be it escolar or albacore. If maguro, or red tuna, is gateway raw fish (the one that Americans find the least threatening), then white tuna is the heroin of the sushi world. Once you've had it, you have to have it again. It could be pure poison to your particular system, but you'll down it with moans of delight.

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