Sunday, July 11, 2010

Eating Eel in Summer in Japan

Grilled unagi (eel) on offer.

In Japan, many people believe that eating eel in summer will help them tolerate the heat. Sales of eel always go up along with the rising mercury. Since there is no scientific evidence that eating eel will improve ones capacity to endure sweltering temperatures or battle heat fatigue, this may be classified as an old wives tale.

The origin of this belief dates back to the 8th century or earlier. Eel is rich in fat (21% fat) and was promoted as a food that would help consumers not lose weight during the summer months. Indeed, back in the days when food was harder to come by and people weren't surrounded by energy-dense foods, the extra fat in eel probably did help them gain stamina to keep working through the heat. However, any food rich in fat would offer the same benefits. That being said, eel does have other nutritional benefits including Vitamins A, B1, B2, D and E. It is also about 61% water, which would make it useful for hydration when one is sweating away in the sweltering summer heat.

In the 18th century, eel became even more popular because of a marketing ploy instigated by a Japanese naturalist named Gennai Hiraga. Mr. Hiraga told eel sellers to put up signs encouraging people to consume eel on Doyo no Ushi Day, a day which celebrates the end of seasons and occurs 18 days before the start of autumn. Though there is no proof that eating eel in very hot weather is better for you than other types of nutritious foods, eel sellers in Japan continue to benefit from the old wives tale that eel will help you beat the heat.




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