Eels are those sea creatures that are slimy and somewhat resemble a snake. They’re kind of freaky when you really think about it. These interesting creatures range from only two inches in length to over 12 feet. Seafood is popular throughout the world, from baked and grilled dishes to raw seafood like sushi.
We eat plenty of meat from the sea, so do people eat eel?
Yes! People can and do eat eel. Eating eel has been part of human civilization since ancient Egypt. Historians have found carvings and drawings of eel on Egyptian walls. Eel isn’t the most common seafood eaten compared to salmon or shrimp, and you likely won’t find it at your local grocery store, but it’s much more common than you may realize.
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Where Is Eating Eel Popular?
Eating eel is popular in several countries in the world. In European countries such as Germany, Poland, Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands, eating smoked eel is a delicacy. Eel is also regularly consumed in many Asian countries like China and Japan. In Japan, eating eel is most popular in the summer months.
Even in the United States, you’ll see eel on the menu for many Asian restaurants. Specifically Japanese restaurants.
You’ll notice that when people eat eel, all the dishes are served cooked. Unlike some fish, you do not want to eat eel raw. You may be wondering why you shouldn’t eat eel raw. The reason is that raw eels have a toxin in their blood that is poisonous to humans.
When a human eats raw eel, this toxin causes muscles in our body to cramp, including our heart. This can lead to death, so it’s best to just stick with eating cooked eel.
What Kinds of Eel Do People Eat?
One of the most popular eel species to eat is the freshwater eel. If you’ve ever eaten at a Japanese restaurant or been to Japan, you may have heard the term unagi. Unagi is the Japanese word for freshwater eel.
According to people who eat unagi regularly, the best unagi is caught in the wild and not purchased from freshwater eel farms. People also consume saltwater eels. The two eels that people eat from the sea are conger and anago eels.
What Does Eel Taste Like?
Many people enjoy the taste of eel. It may sound like a weird thing to eat, but it’s popular worldwide. If you’ve never tried eel or want to know what it tastes like before you order it at a restaurant, I can help. According to most people, eel tastes great.
The texture is what throws most people. If you enjoy eating seafood, you probably won’t mind the texture of the eel. Eel meat is firm but still soft. The firmness gives the meat a little chew, which people either love or hate. The best way to describe the taste of eel meat is that it resembles the taste of squid.
They both have a light flavor that still packs a punch in a good way.
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Popular Eel Dishes
You can eat eel in a variety of ways, just like many other sea species. One way that people enjoy eating eel is by frying it and serving it with rice. Another option is to barbecue eel with white wine and serve with a side dish.
In France, you’ll find eel on the menu at upscale restaurants. They tend to serve eel broiled, baked, smoked, and sautéed. Some restaurants give patrons the choice of their eel being on or off the bone.
A popular eel dish in Spain is to eat baby eels. The Spanish enjoy eating baby eels that have been sautéed in a garlic sauce. The baby eels are about two inches in length, making them almost seem like noodles.
You May Not Be Able to Eat Traditional Unagi For Much Longer
I don’t think it comes as a surprise that the foods we eat as humans are dwindling. Populations of certain animals that are farmed or hunted for meat are reducing as the years go on. The same thing is happening for unagi.
Unagi is also known as a Japanese eel. In the last decade, the population of the eels that we use for unagi is drastically reducing. In fact, the three species of eel that are used for unagi are considered endangered and at risk for extinction.
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How Many Species of Eel Are There?
Electric Eels Are Not Eels
Most people have heard of an electric eel before. But electric eels are not eels. These water creatures are kite fish. Kite fish are more related to catfish and carp than they are eels.
Trafficking Eel is a Huge Issue
Eating eel is not illegal, but trafficking the species is illegal in many parts of the world. This doesn’t surprise most because there’s an underground trade for almost everything. Because many species of eel are threatened or on the verge of extinction, there are many regulations and laws in place to prevent illegal trafficking.
European eel smuggling brings in over two billion dollars a year. Moving the endangered European eel outside of Europe has been illegal for over ten years, but that hasn’t stopped smugglers.
Many of the smugglers who traffic the European eel are shipping to countries in Asia where eating eel is the most popular. There are eel smuggler hunters who have been working hard to stop trafficking, but it’s still happening.
Smugglers have tried to breed these eels in captivity to produce larger eel counts to give them a higher profit. Their efforts to breed these eels in captivity have failed. Therefore the eel you eat at a restaurant is still coming from the wild and vulnerable populations.
Trafficking eel isn’t only illegal in Europe. In Florida, it is against the law to illegally harvest and sell eel. For each count of illegal harvesting and sale, a person faces up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000.