Can octopus heads be hazardous to your health?
How many octopus heads is it safe to eat on a daily basis?
The government says two is the maximum, because of heavy cadmium levels found in local and imported octopuses. But that has infuriated restaurateurs and fishermen in South Jeolla, who say the government’s warning has cost them a bundle in lost sales.
The octopus head war began in September, when the Seoul Metropolitan Government announced that it discovered heavy concentration of cadmium in octopus heads sold in Seoul.
According to the city government, of three Korean and six Chinese octopuses purchased at local fish markets, supermarkets and department stores, up to 29.3 milligrams of cadmium per kilogram was found in the heads, 14 times higher than the permitted level of 2.0 milligrams. Cadmium is a carcinogen that also poisons the liver and kidneys.
The government advised consumers to completely remove any internal organs, ink and intestinal matter before eating octopus heads - which restaurants rarely do because it takes away most of their taste.
Octopus heads are a favorite dish in Korea because of their nutritional benefits and reputation for building sexual stamina. Nakji-bokkeum, a stir-fried octopus dish, is known for going well with soju.
As concerns grew, the Korea Food and Drug Administration on Sept. 30 released its own research results on 67 local and imported octopuses. Its conclusion: “It’s okay to eat two octopuses per day without removing the internal organs of the heads.”
Then came the backlash. A group of 30 fishermen from Muan in South Jeolla met Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon on Oct. 8 and threatened to sue the city government if it didn’t offer an official apology and compensation for business losses. Muan and Sinan, both in South Jeolla, are the two main octopus producers in Korea, with over 2,000 households engaged in the business. Over 12 million octopuses worth 40 billion won ($35.4 million) are produced every year.
Mayor Oh apologized for causing losses but explained, “The intent of the research was to inform people of the health risks of eating internal organs of octopus heads, and it didn’t mean people shouldn’t eat octopus.”"
It is reassuring that one can still eat octopus as long as you are willing to eat cadmium.
As much as I enjoy eating octopus, both as nakji bokkeum and simply raw with salt and sesame oil, I must admit that recently I have been troubled by eating octopus because they have consciousness and may even dream.