Is there a way to check if barracuda is toxic?

| 08/12/2016 | 15 Comments

I’ve heard barracuda is poisonous but you can eat it if it is tested on ants first. Is that true?


Auntie’s answer: I will do my best to answer your question, with full expectations that others will weigh in with their own ideas. Barracuda has that effect on people.

I have been too afraid to try barracuda myself, despite hearing how delicious and sweet that fish is, because I do know people who have ended up in hospital with ciguatera poisoning, which is what you can get from eating any large reef fish. I will spare readers the details of how that particular toxin gets concentrated in the fish, but the one important fact is that the risk of getting poisoned is higher in larger creatures, so if you are determined to try some barracuda — and my strong advice is don’t — stick to fish smaller than, say, 10 lbs.

Symptoms of ciguatera poisoning generally begin six to eight hours after eating the contaminated fish, and include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain, numbness, tingling, abdominal pain, dizziness and vertigo. Hot and cold sensation may be reversed. Severe cases of ciguatera poisoning may result in tearing of the eyes, chills, skin rash, itching, shortness of breath, drooling, and paralysis. And yes, in very rare cases people can die from it.

Still want to risk it?

I also want to add that despite being hospitalised and very ill, one of my friends still ate barracuda again, which was, not surprisingly, against medical advice. I guess that attests to how good that fish tastes – or how foolish my friend was.

As to testing if a barracuda is poisonous, in addition to the “see if an ant eats it” method, two other popular beliefs are flies will not land on contaminated fish and a silver coin will turn black if placed under the scales of a toxic barracuda.

Unfortunately, these and other non-scientific tests are basically bunk. I am sure that I will get people strenuously disagreeing with that statement, but I feel a lot more comfortable erring on the side of science here.

Of course, many have eaten barracuda, and will continue to do so, without suffering any ill effects, so it just depends if you are willing to take that risk. Personally, I have made my peace with never tasting barracuda, and sticking to the many other non-poisonous fish choices in our waters.

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Comments (15)

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  1. Fearocious says:

    Eat barracuda and enjoy, its a safe fish to eat as you would a big grouper, because of the high mercury content it is recommend that the safest way of preparation for consumption, is frying, this allows heat right through the meat.

  2. George Nowak says:

    I just read this article and thought I’d share something with the readers. I had always given 1/2 of my Bara to a good friend and then a few days later I would call him to tell him how good my half was….. if he agreed and wasn’t yet in the hospital … I then would actually eat my half. However there is another more humane way to test for ciguatera poisoning. On a trip to Hawaii some years back I was informed of a Fish-Poisoning- Kit by a local fisherman on Molokai Island, before returning home I purchased such a kit for I am a big fan of Barracuda. I used the kit several times and then got tired of it because it was such a process … it included test tubes , dip sticks and chemicals. The way it works is much like a pregnancy test kit…. You slice off some raw fish meat – drop it in several tubes , mix in a few drops of “this and that” and when the water or the dip stick turns a certain color that will indicate a positive or negative poison indication. I was never poisoned when doing the tests – however the problem I found was all this takes about an hour and you need to make sure the amount of drops used at the different stages of the test match up to the color codes , times and amount of fish used for testing. OK for a pharmacist, but not for me – Anyway to make a long story short… I went back to the simple test of sharing my fish with friends and checking their health a few days later. Now you may have more patience and a kinder heart than I – here is some info on how to obtain such a kit. contact Oceanit Test Systems. 1100 Alakea Street, Honolulu, Hawaii 96813, USA. Tel (808) 531-3017,
    fax (808) 531-3177, E-mail oceanit@oceanit.com

    G Nowak

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  3. Anonymous says:

    I never been poisoned. We know it as BadMindFish. Anyone with bad mind will get lick down

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  4. Anonymous says:

    Barracuda is an excellent meal option to feed to mothers in law.

  5. Anonymous says:

    That is what friends are for. Share first……. then enjoy.

  6. Anonymous says:

    A barra that is small is always good eating. I fondly remember eating it on the Brac years ago. Delicious tasting fish.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I used to feed some to my neighbours cat. If he ate it, then I did

  8. Anonymous says:

    The best test is to fry up a nice big chunk in coconut oil along with some flitters, and then give me a call. Alcohol will hasten the onset of the symptoms of barracuda poisoning, so you should purchase a six-pack of Red Stripe for me to drink at the same time. If I feel fine after the six-pack is gone then it is safe for you to eat the rest of it.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Not to disrespect any time honoured local myths on ciguatera poisoning, but the silver coin test to check for Mercury is somewhat flawed, as Mercury has ‘Absolutely Squat’ to do with the toxin in barracuda and other large species of reef dwelling fish , if we are discussing ciguatera. The toxin is caused by dinoflagellates, which work their way up the food chain from small fish to larger predatory fish. I attach information courtesy of Wikipedia for those interested. Local marine experts at D.O.E marine division are another good source, if you seek a scientific explanation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ciguatera

  10. Anonymous says:

    I’ve eaten barracuda all my life and to date, thank God, have never been poisoned. While many people swear by trying a piece of the raw fish with ants, I prefer a more accurate method of testing, which I learned from my mother, who learned from her mother, etc., etc. After all, ants have survived all manners of human devastations over time.

    My mother’s test is chemical, scientific if you will. Take a piece of the raw barracuda flesh
    (I recommend pieces from different parts, especially near the backbone), wrap and tie it (with thread) around a piece of sterling silver (a coin, jewelry, etc – it must be sterling), boil it in water until it’s cooked. Then check the silver object. If there is any black on the silver which was not there previously, throw the fish away. The silver reacts to any mercury in the fish, which will cause the black.

    I’ve used this test all my life with success and yes, I’ve found poisonous barra with this test.

    Enjoy the sweetest fish in the sea!

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  11. Anonymous says:

    I know of some people who got poisoned where others who ate the same fish did not get poisoned. As such, I believe the ant/flies test is not accurate as there seems to be the possibility that the poison can perhaps be concentrated in one part of the fish and is not equally distributed throughout the whole fish.

    Also, I have heard many stories where people who got poisoned remained ill for a long time past the hospital visits, mainly with intense body aches etc.

    I tried Barracuda about 20 years ago but I wouldn’t do it again now. It’s just not worth it.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I have eaten barracuda many times and have never been poisoned. It to me is definitely the best tasting fish there is. There are tales such as the ants and if the fish are caught on a certain side of the island they won’t be poisonous but I think you have to accept that if you eat it you are taking a risk. The only true test is to give someone to someone else first and see if they get poisoned :P, just kidding.

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