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Beware a Fish Laxative Counterfeit Food Warns Dr. Oz Show

Tim Boyer's picture
Fish food safety advice by Dr. Oz

On today’s The Dr. Oz Show, Dr. Oz will be warning viewers about fake foods sold at grocery stores and served in restaurants. In a sneak preview of the show, Dr. Oz appears to be warning viewers of a fish called “escolar” that is sometimes (or not) mistakenly sold and served as white tuna. In spite of previous bans on this fish, this counterfeit food is still legally sold today and could be the reason why your dinner at a fish restaurant or sushi bar led to a gastrointestinal discomfort known colloquially as “the fish laxative” effect.

Escolar, also known as “snake mackerel,” is a species of fish that research has shown is among one of the most fraudulently or mistakenly marketed “fake fish” for what was otherwise believed to “white tuna,” “albacore,” or “butterfish.”

Escolar is an oily fish that possesses a very high content (14-25%) of wax esters known as gempylotoxin that the human body is not able to digest and metabolize because of a lack of the type of enzymes needed to break the large waxy ester into smaller, absorbable molecules. Some individuals who consume this wax ester find themselves experiencing severe gastrointestinal comfort that includes headaches, nausea, cramping, vomiting, diarrhea and a special type of anal leakage that alarms many because of its sudden, uncontrollable explosive onset and unusual orange color.

Based on the nature of the physical reactions many people have with eating escolar, countries like Japan and Italy had banned it as a toxic fish, but an investigation by the U.S. FDA determined that escolar does not qualify as a toxic fish and that consumers should be warned of its potential side effects rather than impose a ban.

In fact, escolar in some restaurants is served as a type of delicacy known for its rich flavorful flesh that has a texture suitable for eating with a spoon. While some restaurants will serve escolar, others do not to avoid complaints from unhappy customers afterward who may not have been aware of its after-effects that can hit the next day while at work or in public.

Unfortunately, due to its succulent flavor, escolar is “slipped in” as white tuna in some sushi restaurants in small enough quantities that may prevent a customer from experiencing an alarming reaction that would cause them to trace the cause to a quick after-work tryst of sushi and sake before going home for dinner.

More alarming, however, is that escolar is a fish species that if improperly handled can lead to scombroid poisoning.

Scombroid poisoning is the ingestion of scombroid toxin that is released by a certain type of bacteria in some species of fish such as albacore, anchovy, Australian salmon, herring, mackerel, mahi-mahi, yellow fin tuna…and escolar that have been inadequately preserved at some point before reaching your dinner plate. The scombroid toxin is a histamine-like chemical that results in a severe allergic reaction in some people. The toxin cannot be removed or neutralized by cooking.

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Symptoms of scombroid poisoning generally begins within one hour after eating and can range from abdominal cramps, nausea, headache, vomiting, to more severe reactions such as itching and hives, a heart-pounding sensation and possible difficulty breathing with wheezing that requires immediate medical attention.

While you cannot distinguish by appearance whether a white-fleshed fish dish or sushi you were served is escolar rather than tuna, what you can do is inquire during ordering whether escolar is served showing the chef that you are aware of this practice and a patron to be reckoned with in case of a gastrointestinal disturbance. The customer who cries “food poisoning” is one all seafood restaurants fear the most.

However, if a new culinary experience is what you are looking for and worth the risks involved to you personally, sources state that you should not try more than 3 ounces of escolar at a meal…and then plan your evening and following day accordingly.

For additional articles about eating fish, follow the link to an article titled, “Which Fish Should I Eat?”

Image Source: Courtesy of Wikipedia


The Dr. Oz Show— “Counterfeit Foods: Buyer Beware!”

The New York Times: EATING WELL--A Fish Puts Chefs in a Quandary

PLoS-One “The Real maccoyii: Identifying Tuna Sushi with DNA Barcodes – Contrasting Characteristic Attributes and Genetic Distances”; published 18 Nov 2009; Jacob H. Lowenstein et al.