Eating catfish is looked down upon by many people in Japan who regularly enjoy a plethora of ocean-raised fish. Even though the Japanese diet is no stranger to aggressively aromatic food such as natto, diners here simply cannot get past the stink of these bottom feeders.

Eel on the other hand is a much-loved freshwater fish that is a summer hit across Japan served on top of rice with a sweet sauce. But with this popularity comes a threat of overfishing and depletion of the species. Faced with this problem, Associate Professor Masahiko Ariji of Kinki University has found a way to raise catfish which taste like eel.

Since its announcement earlier this year, there has been a lot of curiosity over this flavor-modified fish. Now, attendees to the Catfish Festival in Hashima City, Gifu Prefecture will get to try a very limited supply before it gets released for public consumption.

Simply hearing the words “Eel-flavored catfish” triggers all these images of dubious chemical trickery or mysterious genetic manipulation. But actually these catfish are flavored by the old adage: You are what you eat.

Catfish in Japan tends to smell like garbage mixed with crap, because that’s what they tend to ingest day-in-day-out. Simply cleaning up their environment, such as by farming catfish in a controlled quality of water, goes a long way to improving the smell and taste.

One environmentalist’s tragedy is another catfish farmer’s lucrative business opportunity

But that was only half of the battle for Professor Ariji. His ultimate goal was not only making catfish palatable but to make it taste just like eel. To do that he painstakingly gave them different kinds of food to adjust their fattiness and flavor. Again, he did not develop any chemically synthesized type of food, but just used different combinations of existing fish feed.

The reason for this wasn’t so much ethical or ecological, but that it was cheaper to use regular fish food pellets. After exhausting trials with about 300 different combinations, Prof. Ariji’s team believes they have struck just the right balance for that taste of eel.

Eel-flavored catfish is expected to go on sale by the end of this year. But first Kinki University will be offering a limit of 100 rice bowls topped with eel-catfish per day at the Catfish Festival this October 24 and 25.

The Catfish Festival is an annual event celebrating Hashima City’s long tradition of eating river fish with a parade, three-legged race, KISS cover band, and some Halloween- themed events. However, in recent years the notorious stench of catfish has led to a decrease in its consumption by more picky modern eaters threatening the culture of the region.

With the advent of Kinki University’s new method, Hashima’s love of catfish and Japan’s love of eel may give that rural area a much-needed economic and cultural boost.

Event information
Catfish Festival 2015 / なまず祭り 2015
Pedestrian street near Gifu-Hashima Shinkansen Station
October 24-25, 2015

Source: Catfish Festival, Netlab, IT Media News
Top Image: PR Times
Inset Images: PR Times, Catfish Festival