Tuna is tuna is tuna, right? Wrong!
One of the ways in which we characterise other nationalities and define ourselves is with our national cuisines. For example, I would be ashamed of myself if I failed to tell the glaring differences between whether the jam was above or below the clotted cream on my scone. For our Japanese writers the equivalent object of national pride and affection is the king sitting on the sushi throne, the tuna. More precisely, the Pacific Bluefin Tuna (in Japanese, maguro マグロ), not to be confused with the Skipjack Tuna (tsuna ツナ) to be found in tins and in your tuna mayonnaise sandwiches.
In this, our latest taste test, the challenge was to detect the difference between normal supermarket-bought farmed tuna, frozen at the time of being caught and then later defrosted, and more luxurious wild tuna that had never suffered the indignity of freezing.
▼ Our seasoned team of nine epicureans gathered for the contest, to prove themselves as food writers and in the eyes of their fellow Japanese citizens.
Firstly, to explain the rules, instead of the usual method of trying each thing separately and pronouncing it cheap/expensive or delicious/foul, the competitors would be blindfolded and given a small portion of each type of tuna, after which they would have to decide which was the more expensive, freshly caught wild tuna, Tuna A or Tuna B. To test their mettle as food writers, this would repeat near ad infinitum, or at least a fair few times.
▼ On top is the Spanish-caught tuna, usually super-frozen at -60 °Celsius (-77 Fahrenheit) on its sedate cruise around the world, at 6.45 yen a gram (US$0.06 per 0.04 ounces). Below, we see Tuna B, the fresh-as-fresh-can-be tuna caught off the coast of Chiba Prefecture, at 8.62 yen a gram.
▼ Cut up and ready for the taste test.
1. First up, with a refined palate that has been entrusted with sampling Michelin-starred ramen noodles and tonkatsu pork cutlets, Ghost Sushi and Rare Cheese-flavour popsicles in the past, was K “The King” Nagahashi.
“Tuna A is the wild tuna, isn’t it? Yes. Tuna B smells more fishy, it’s got that fibrous texture peculiar to tuna that’s not so fresh, doesn’t it. A has a milder texture, so I don’t think it’s imported fish. Tuna A doesn’t smell and it has that special tuna aftertaste. I’m not completely confident but I think the wild tuna is Tuna A.”
2. Next up was P.K. Sanjun, whose culinary adventures are equally impressive, as eater of 15 pieces of KFC chicken in one sitting.
“It’s tricky… Tuna A has more of a simple tuna umami, but, just as you put it on your tongue, it’s a bit watery. Blood, I guess. Isn’t that proof it was frozen? Tuna B is meatier and doesn’t at all feel like it was ever frozen. Tuna A has a rich tuna umami but surely [the non-frozen fish] is B.”
3.Which would Seiji Nakazawa go for. Surely as someone who once scoffed down gold-coated sushi, this is a man who knows luxury.
“That’s hard! It’s the first time I’ve had no idea… Tuna A is firmer, but Tuna B has more flavour. Ah, there’s no difference! So, I’ll pick Tuna B as the wild tuna, I guess. It’s a little bit softer, but tastes better. I’m really not sure but, B?”
“Yeah… difficult. Tuna B is the wild one, maybe. Reason being Tuna A smelled fishier, and it kind of tastes like it’s come out of a freezer. Truthfully, Tuna A tastes good. I didn’t think B tasted that great but I didn’t get that fishiness. I’ll go with Tuna B.”
5. With Tuna B in the lead at 3 votes to 1. Daiichiro Tashiro was up next.
“Tuna A. Simply A has more umami taste. Compared to Tuna A, B is very simple, I didn’t feel any of that complexity. Tuna B isn’t as firm, and it has a slight frozen feeling. Also, Tuna A was properly firm. I’m fairly confident the wild tuna is A.”
6. A man prepared to weather embarrassment to get his food fix, Yuichiro Wasai stepped up to the slightly chilled plate.
“I think the wild tuna is B. Tuna A feels like it was frozen. You could say it’s kind of bloody? Tuna B was tastier, but A not so much. Recently I keep losing, but I’m reasonably confident this time. The answer is Tuna B.”
7. Yoshio, who once travelled half way around the world to San Diego and couldn’t keep himself away from the nearest sushi restaurant, donned the blindfold next.
“The answer is B. Expensive tuna doesn’t usually have any tendons, but Tuna B did. Despite that, Tuna A was a little fishier and more watery. Smelled like blood? It’s was really tasty though. The tendon thing has got me confused but I’ll go for the simpler deliciousness, Tuna B.”
8. Would Go Hatori, whose eyes aren’t so much bigger as they are stronger than his stomach, contribute further to Tuna B’s lead or add himself to the small group of dissenters.
“Ho ho. Tuna B is the farmed tuna, Tuna A is the wild. Truth is, from the taste I couldn’t tell. Tuna A was a bit hard, but with some give. B felt like it hadn’t moved around, a loose feel. If it was negitoro (minced tuna with spring onions) then Tuna B would be fine. The natural one must be Tuna A.”
9. Last to participate, although by then B was then the clear winner, was Mr. Sato.
“I think the wild tuna is Tuna A. Reason is the meat fibres are firm in A, in Tuna B they’re all over the place. That’s all I can come up with, really. The taste difference is harder, I don’t know. I’m not so confident, but maybe Tuna A?”
So, four votes that Tuna A was the wild, unfrozen fish, freshly caught off the coast of Chiba, and five votes for Tuna B. Which of our reporters would be proven right, which would be forced to hand back their passports? The taste testers waited with bated breath.
The correct answer was…. Tuna B!
The winners celebrated their achievement, and the losers steeled themselves for the whatever taste test, or feat of gluttony, they would face next.
[ Read in Japanese ]