Beware of escolar

THE next time my son refuses to eat the food I tell him to, I will undoubtedly respect his wish. In fact, from now on, I’ll take my cue from him.

It appears that my eight-year-old son has a talent for detecting food that is not good for him (and apparently, for me too). I started noticing it when he began refusing prawns and crabs. However, it took me a while to figure out that he didn’t want to eat the crustaceans because he was allergic to them. Every time he ate them (after I made him), he’d end up with itchy throat.

Then there was the butterfish, well at least I thought it was. About three months ago my husband bought what was labelled as butterfish from a reputable frozen food distributor. The butterfish he brought home looked just like any ordinary fish fillet. White, firm and flaky. There was no indication that it was something I should consume with caution.

I love butterfish. It is one of my favourite fish in the whole universe. To me, it is extremely tasty. I just love the succulent and buttery flavour of the flesh. I have never before thought twice about eating butterfish as the few times I had had it at, I did not encounter any problems.

Looking back, I realise that what I had was probably real butterfish. I found out the hard  way, that in some parts of the world (I guess, including Malaysia), stores, restaurants and markets (mis)label escolar as butterfish.

Looking back, it makes me wonder if sellers do this out of ignorance or with the intention of misleading customers. I think vendors who sell escolar, which is also sometimes labelled as white tuna, should only be allowed to sell them with warning labels. This is because the fish should only be consumed in six ounces or less. If you consume more, it can cause prolonged oily orange anal leakage and gastrointestinal problems.

I discovered this the hard way. On the day I made clear “butterfish” soup for lunch, no less. As the soup was so divine I had a few helpings. I even ate my son’s share because he was adamant about not having any and I didn’t want it to go to waste.

About an hour after lunch, I started feeling dizzy and nauseous. The next thing I knew I couldn’t stand up. Every time I got up, I felt like the whole room was spinning around. To make matters worse, my stomach felt like a washing machine in spin mode. That afternoon, I thought I was going to die!

Minutes later, I came down with keriorrhea (the orange oily rectal discharge I mentioned earlier). Up until then, I was not aware of keriorrhea. In Greek it means flow of wax. I suffered it for two days. During that period I had to regularly change my soiled underwear. The discharge had a rich mineral oil smell. It was such a gross experience as I couldn’t control the leakage.

All I could do for the next 48 hours was to lie in bed. As I couldn’t stand up, I had to crawl to the bathroom to use it.

I remember wondering what made me sick that day. At first I thought it was the red velvet cupcake I had after lunch. Then my thoughts went to yoga which I figured may have made my body have the “fancy discharge”. I couldn’t eat anything for the rest of that day.

The next day as my stomach continued to experience gastrointestinal distress, my hands started scrambling for answers from the Internet. To my surprise I discovered a lot of writeups on escolar, how it is being mislabeled and its side effects.

Escolar is actually snake mackerel, found in deep tropical and temperate waters. It’s diet consists of high content of wax exter which it can’t metabolise. Because of that, escolar has a high oil content in its flesh. This is why when we consume a large amount, we can get keriorrhea.

One of the things I found out was it was better to grill or pan fry escolar so the excess oil comes out.

I also discovered from a few writeups, one of it, on, that the Japanese and Italian governments have banned the importation and sale of escolar due to its side effects. Other governments like Canada, Sweden and Denmark require that all escolar come with warning labels.

The worst part about overdosing on escolar is, there was nothing you can do to get rid of it’s side effects but to let it takes its course.

So the next time you eat or buy butterfish make sure it’s not escolar.

> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.
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Food safety , escolar , family


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