With its suckered tentacles and pulpy texture, octopus can seem alien and exotic to some people, who may even wonder if it's safe to eat. But octopus has played a major role in the cuisine of many cultures for thousands of years and is perfectly safe as long as it's prepared correctly.
Like all seafood, octopus is best cooked from fresh. When you're buying octopus, make sure it smells fresh and that the eyes are clear and bright. The skin pigments should swirl when touched. If it is frozen, make sure it has been kept frozen and hasn't been thawed at any point. Freshness can be taken to extremes: in Korea, freshly killed or live octopus is a national delicacy. As with all food preparation, use clean hands, knives, cutting boards and cooking surfaces. Cook octopus, like other seafood, to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
Heavy Metal Hazards
One source of concern for octopus is that the animals may pick up contaminants from the water they live in. For example, mercury accumulating in the body of an octopus can be dangerous to pregnant women. Other harmful substances could also be in your octopus. For example, in 2010 Korean authorities caused controversy by trying to limit the consumption of octopus, which they claimed contained harmful levels of cadmium.
An Unusual Hazard
An unusual hazard involved in eating octopus comes from sannakji -- eating freshly killed octopus. Even though the octopus is -- usually -- dead, its tentacles may continue twitching for some time. Chewing and swallowing a thrashing octopus tentacle can be a challenge. Chewing poorly cooked octopus isn't easy, either, because it can be tough if it's not cooked properly.
Octopus can be considered a healthy food choice. Octopus and other mollusks are high in important nutrients such as B vitamins, iron, potassium, selenium and the amino acid, taurine. In addition, octopus is low in saturated fat.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Fresh and Frozen Seafood: Selecting and Serving It Safely
- Food Safety Net: Before You Buy Fish or Shellfish
- Los Angeles Times: South Korean Fishermen, Health Officials Tangle Over Octopus
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: What You Need to Know About Mercury in Fish and Shellfish
- The Independent: South Korean Warning on Eating Octopus Heads
- The New Yorker: Eating Live Octopus
- The New York Times: To Cook an Octopus: Forget the Cork, Add Science
- Daily Mail: Why it Pays to Shell Out on Seafood
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images