Whale meat (鯨肉)
Whale meat is defined as the edible parts of cetaceans and of smaller-sized cetaceans called dolphins, which are used for food. In the narrow sense, those of dolphins are excluded. The meat includes muscles and internal organs of whales, and fat layers specific to whales.
Whales have been used by human beings in various ways throughout the world, including use of their oil, and use of whale meat is an important one of them. Various taste preferences, consequently the cooking methods for them, have been developed in combination with the meat tastes of various types of whales and of body portions of whales, having formed various food cultures depending on the nation or area. Nowadays, since commercial whaling is restricted considerably, the amount of whale meat produced has decreased. However, in Japan, demand for whale meat as food is decreasing more rapidly than the production, and therefore, it is said that anxiety regarding availability of whale meat doesn't exist. The meat price has risen considerably in comparison with that in the golden age of commercial whaling, and the steep rise has sometimes been disputed in relation to the problem of whaling. However, the main factor of the rise is due to structural changes in the industry.
Because whales have often been considered as big "fishes," the meat has been eaten as a type of fish meat, from old times. Therefore, in the article below, whales, actually in the mammal class, are sometimes described as fishes as well.
History of food cultures
History of food cultures in Europe and in the United States
It has been known from archeological studies that whale meat was eaten from old times in coastal areas of the world. In the medieval period of Europe, whales were hunt systematically, for example, in Bay of Biscay, and the meat was consumed as food widely by people living along the costal areas, especially whale tongue was highly valued. Dolphin meat in particular was favored for puddings, pies or spit-roasted dishes. As an unusual cooking method example, the fried brains of dolphins were eaten on whaling ships on rare occasions. While use of Large-sized whales as food had become unpopular, dolphin was considered as food until recently. Dolphin meat cooking methods appeared on home-cooking books in England in the 15th century. Dolphin meat was served in the Imperial court of England until around the 17th century. In Herman Melville's "Moby Dick" published in the 19 century, dolphin meat was described as well-known delicacy. In "Moby Dick" there is also a scene which describes particular taste of a sailor on a whaling ship, and the sailor eat a steak of a large-whale. Regarding the eating habit of sailors, a Japanese sailor rescued by a whaling ship of the US in the 19th century recorded that American sailors on the ship did not eat the meat of large-sized whales because they considered the meat is bad for them, but ate dolphin meat on rare occasions.
It appears that, when eating meat was prohibited for a religious reason, for example, in holy abstinence in the Catholic Church, whale meat was often eaten as fishes that was not considered as taboo.
However, as whale resources along the coasts became depleted and sites of whaling changed to off the coasts or in remote sea areas, it became difficult to bring back caught whales in the ages when no cold storage nor freezing technology was available, making it gradually impossible to eat the meat. The reason why whales were hunt even after their meat became less and less used as food was that whale oil and whalebone were useful as industrial materials. Then in the process in which whales became to be hunted in the sea areas increasingly remoter from coasts, whales were no more considered as food. Even on whaling ships where fresh whale meat was available and fresh food materials were needed as well, large-sized whales except dolphins were not eaten by almost all of the sailors, with rare exceptions. Even when whale oil became to be used for producing margarine later, it was a secret that margarine was made from whales, because whales were not considered food. However, exceptionally, in Norway and Iceland where whaling activities in their coastal areas remain, whale meat has still been eaten. In some regions, for example, in the England during World WarⅡ, where food was not available sufficiently, use of whale meet as substitute food was recommended, but such practice didn't become established. In around 1950s as well, it was investigated to sell whale meat commercially as a measure against declining whale oil price, but the measure also failed and the meat was sold as food for pets instead. In recent years, except the case of margarine above, there are not so many examples about the use of whale bodies as food but there is a case that whale extract which produced in Norway was used as substitute for beef extract as ingredient of consomme (a clear soup).
History of food culture in Japan
It seems that whale meat was eaten even before a systematic whaling industry was established in Japan as well. Remains of whales, centered on small-sized odontoceti, were unearthed from shell mounds originated in the Paleolithic period, including the Jomon period and from remains originated in the Yayoi period. In Japan, meat-eating was a taboo or was officially prohibited in many eras throughout the history, for example, for a religious reason. However, it seems that whale meat was eaten as "fish meat" in Japan like in Europe and the United States.
Records of whale meat being used as a gift in the era from the Nara period to the Muromachi period
In Kojiki (The Records of Ancient Matters), it is described that whale meat was presented to Emperor Jimmu in 712.
The historical document concerned: Kojiki
In 1570, Nobunaga ODA presented whale meat to the Imperial court. Tokitsugu YAMASHINA received from the Imperial court the whale meat Nobunaga ODA presented.
The historical document concerned: "Tokitsugu Kyoki" (Dairy of Tokitsugu YAMASHINA)
In 1577, Kenmotsu MIZUNO presented whale meat to Nobunaga ODA, and for this, Nobunaga ODA returned a message including the following description, thanking Mizuno for the present: "I received a pack of whale meat. I am delighted with your kindness. We'll talk more when you visit me. By Nobunaga ODA, on February 13, 1577."
The historical document concerned: "Kokuin-jo (a letter with a black seal; an official letter by a Daimyo) to Kenmotsu MIZUNO from Nobunaga ODA"
This is not about whale meat but in 1582, two "wooden whale buckets" (wooden buckets specialized for carrying whale meat) were presented by the Ise province to Emperor Ogimachi, with a "wooden whale bucket" to each of Imperial Prince Sanehito and Haretoyo KAJUJI as well at the same time.
The historical document concerned: "Harutoyo-ki" (a diary by Hakutoyo)
In 1612, Tadayoshi SATOMI presented to Ise Jingu Shrine a skin of a whale tail via Chobei ENOKURA. "1. A ship in my territory captured a whale, since that was the first whale this year, I would like to present an approximately 54.5 cm-long skin. On March 9, 1612, from Tadayoshi to Mr. Chobei ENOKURA."
The historical document concerned: "Old documents of the Daigo family in Kyonan-cho Chiba Prefecture"
Books concerned with whale-based dishes written in the era from the Muromachi period to the Edo period
In a cooking book titled "Shijoryu Hocho-gaki" written towards the end of the Muromachi period, whale meat is ranked number one of the fish foodstuffs, with the carp second, and followed by other fishes.
In a cooking book titled "Okusa-ke Ryori-sho" (the date of the book is unknown), whale meat-based dishes are described.
"MIYOSHI Chikuzen-no-kami Yoshinaga-tei e Onari-no-ki" includes the description that, in 1561, Yoshinaga MIYOSHI entertained Yoshiteru ASHIKAGA with whale meat-based dishes in his residence.
In a cooking book titled "Ryori Monogatari" (a tale of food) written in 1643, ten whale meat-based dishes were introduced.
In a cooking book titled "Ryori shokudo-ki" written in 1669, whale meat production area in Japan (to be described later in details) are described.
In a cooking book titled "Ryori chinmi-shu" written in 1763, a whale meat-based dish called "kujira sobakiri" is described.
In 1832, "Geiniku chomi-kata," a book specialized in whale meat-based dishes, was published as an attachment to an illustrated story book in which whale-hunting scenes are depicted. In the book, cooking methods of approx. 70 parts of a whale are described, including a grilled meat-like dish called "Sukiyaki (鋤焼き)," nabemono (a dish served in a pot at the table) resembling sukiyaki (すき焼き) (thin slices of beef, cooked with various vegetables in a table-top cast-iron pan), and fried dishes. It is also said that the book was for promoting the sale of whale meat.
In a home-cooking book titled "Nichiyo kenyaku ryori shikata sumo banzuke" published in the Tenpo era, a whale meat-based dish was ranked at the 16th of maegashira (sumo wrestlers in the makuuchi [senior-grade] division who rank below the komusubi) in a ranking of summer dishes.
Whale-based dishes in various parts of Japan in the era from the Edo period to the Meiji period.
Entering the Edo period, whaling became more systematically, and whale meat was eaten almost daily by people in the fishing villages around whaling bases. However, in some parts of Kyushu, whales were only for producing oil and were not eaten in the hand-harpooning whaling era, and the record remains that the whale meat except subcutaneous fat were carried off the coasts and were dumped there. However, even in Kyushu, eating of whale meat became popular by around the time when net-using whaling started. For example, at the end of Edo Period, Philipp Franz von Siebold visited Nagasaki Prefecture, where a whaling base existed and recorded that he was often served whale-based dishes, in particular a unique menu of "whalebone salad." Berardius was eaten from old times in the areas where the whales of this type were hunt, for example, in the coast of the Pacific ocean in the Boso peninsular of Chiba Prefecture, and cooking methods for the taste specific to these whales were invented (for example, processed (dried) whale meat called "kujira no tare").
Whale meat, as well as other goods, tends to be consumed around the area where it is produced, but traditional whale meat-based dishes, invented in this era, also exist in the nearby economic regions, such as Osaka, near to a production site. In one of his books, Saikaku IHARA described that "kujira no suimono" (whale meat soup) was eaten in Kyoto. In Tokai dochu hizakurige (Shanks' Pony along the Tokaido), Ikku JUPPENSHA also described kujira no nituke (whale meat boiled hard with soy sauce) at Yodo-gawa River in Osaka. In Kochi Prefecture, the cooking methods for a variety of whale-based dishes have been handed down centered on the area around the Kochi castle of the Tosa domain. In particular, "harihari nabe" (a dish served in a pot) is a typical one of them. In the area around the Edo castle, "kujira nabe" (a dish served in a pot), "miso soup," and "clear soup," all of which were based on whale meat, were eaten, and a delicacy that was made from the cartilages of whale heads and was called "horihori" or "Kujira-noshi" was also sold. Generally, subcutaneous fat called "shirodemono" and oba (tail fins) were favored, and meat of the tail was valued as a luxury foodstuff. However, it seems that the red meat was not much favored except in some parts of the Boso peninsular.
Whale-based dishes related to events were also invented. The habit of eating Kujira-jiru (whale or blubber soup) after the end-of-year house cleaning on December 13 spread to various parts of Japan, including Edo. Such scenes were depicted in many senryu (humorous or ironical haiku poems) and it is also recorded that there were peddlers selling whale meat. In Akita Prefecture, shottsuru-nabe of whale meat called "kujirakayaki," a rare nabemono in the summer season, has been eaten since the Edo period, and it is recorded that a group of around five ships went to sea to hunt whales. In various areas on the Japan Sea side of Hokkaido, Kujira-jiru has been eaten as New Year's dishes since the era when Hokkaido started being developed in the Meiji period, and it is said that this habit originated in the people who moved there from the Tohoku region, centered on the Akita domain. It is said that the Ainu in Hokkaido ate whale meat even before the Edo period. Similarly, whale meat was eaten on the day of Doyo of summer in various parts of Japan, and in some villages in Kyushu, each household preserved a barrel of whale skin in salt. Salted whale meat lasted better during long-time transportation than salted fishes, and for this feature, small amounts of such meat were transported to various areas. In some mountain villages where sea fishes were not available, such whale meat was served as a dish on celebratory occasions, for example, on New Year's holidays.
Demand, supply, and distribution of whale meat before the Showa period
In the fish market at Nihonbashi (present Chuo Ward, Tokyo) in the Edo period, the following was said, showing that whale meat was available widely in the areas around the Edo castle: "If you want big fishes, there are whales, if you want small fishes, there are sardines, if you want precious fishes, there are sea breams and flounders, but skipjack tunas are excellent inshore fishes, and people always eat skipjack tunas as a traditional custom at the first fair of selling them on April 8, even if they have to pawn their clothes or to sell their collars." According to another historical document, it is said that, from the Tosa whaling base, lots of whale meat was supplied to the Osaka area, a big consuming region, in addition to the central part of Tosa located near to the base, and whale meat vendors there competed with each other to deliver first whale in the season as early as possible to the region. In the whale business, which was centered on the winter, it has been said from old times that "whale meat is eatable for 99 days," showing that whale meat can be kept for a long time. Actually, it is recorded that the meat of whales captured at Kumano-nada Sea, Kishu (the present Wakayama prefecture), was distributed in Edo. "Edo Sanpu Kiko" written by Siebold and published in 1832 in the Netherlands includes the following description: After whales were captured, their eatable parts were bought by fish-mongers, and were carried to various ports in Japan while the meat was still fresh.
In the "Ryori shokudo-ki" (published in 1669) described above, the Ise province, the Kii province and the Hizen province were listed as whale meat-producing areas, and in addition, roast whale meat in the Matsumae domain (products by the Ainu in Hokkaido) and Kabura-bone (cartridges of whale heads) in the Izumo province were also described.
In addition, in the areas where whales have been hunted traditionally in whaling Japan, such as present Iwate Prefecture, Shizuoka Prefecture, Wakayama Prefecture, and some parts of Shikoku, Tohoku and Hokuriku region, dolphin meat has also been distributed since old times. Dolphin meat-based dishes, compared with those based on large-sized whales, were strongly dependent on the area where they were eaten, and it can be said that they constituted an important position in the dishes in those areas. In Yamanashi Prefecture, dolphin meat from adjacent Shizuoka Prefecture was distributed.
(In Okinawa, "pito" was used for expressing whales and the like as a whole, without differentiating dolphins from whales, and it is not certain whether dolphin meat was handled separated from whale meat.)
The food service industry
Some of the Dojo-nabe restaurants (restaurants serving loach-based nabemono) that have been operated in Tokyo since the Edo period have continued serving "Kujira-jiru" for more than 160 years. In the area around the Edo castle in the Edo period, it was ordinary for Dojo-nabe (also called Yanagawa nabe) restaurants to serve Kujira-jiru as well. According to a theory, it is said that, in contrast to the Dojo-nabe based on the smallest fish, Kujira-jiru based on the biggest fish was served for amusement. In almost all restaurants, Do-jiru and Kujira-jiru was priced at the same 16 mon. Towards the end of the Meiji period, Dojo-jiru was priced at 1 sen and 5 rin and Kujira-jiru at 2 sen and 5 rin.
Demand, supply, and distribution of whale meat in the Showa period and after
Although use of whale meat was dependent on areas, the situations remained basically unchanged until the end of World War II. The Russian whaling ships that operated at the sea near to the coasts of Japan sold whale meat to Japan profitably, and therefore, it is considered that a certain amount of demand for whale meat existed. Whale meat was transported to Osaka, an area consuming lots of such meat, from as far as Hokkaido. On the other hand, some of the restaurants specialized in whale meat-based dishes under the sponsorship of a whaling company were unable to be prosperous and became bankrupt. However, generally, it seems that whale meat became to be eaten more widely. According to existing statistical data, the amount of whale meat produced was 10,000 tons in 1924, increased to 30,000 tons in 1930 and further increased to 45,000 tons in 1939. Aiming at the areas where whale meat had not been eaten, it was attempted to increase use of whale meat as a measure to promote the whaling industry.
In 1934, Japan also entered whaling in the Antarctic ocean. However, initially, the amount of whale-related products to be brought back to Japan was restricted due to the fear of affecting the price of the whale meat produced from whales caught in coastal whaling. In addition, because refrigeration facilities were not developed well in Japan, most of the red whale meat was not used and dumped. When the Sino-Japanese war became intensified, the amount of whale meat to be brought back to Japan was increased due to the request of increasing the amount of food available, and a large-scaled refrigerator ship was introduced for the first time in Japan.
However, whaling in the Antarctic ocean itself was forced to stop due to the start of the Pacific War
On the other hand, whale meat from coastal whaling continued being supplied even during the war.
During and after the food shortage era after World War II, whale meat became to be eaten throughout Japan, helped by development of meat preservation technique on distribution route as well, beyond the boundaries of former limited distribution areas. Whale meat in most of the whale meat dishes, such as whale meat cutlet, stake of whale meat, and whale meat curry, was used as a substitute of animal meat in the era when beef and pork were unavailable. For a while after the war, whale meat and boiled fish-paste products were typically used as inexpensive substitutes of animal meat and occupied an important position as supplying the protein important for Japanese dietary lives. In particular, tatsuta age (fish (meat, etc.) flavored with soy sauce and cooking sake, coated with dogtooth violet starch and then deep fried) of whale meat has been famous as a typical menu of the school lunch after the war. The production of the meat increased significantly to 138,000 tons in 1958, and the peak amount of production of the meat reached 226, 000 tons in 1962. Some of the people who survived the post war period have prejudice or hatred against whale meat as "whale meat is just substitute and cheap food" but the meat is also a foodstuff evoking nostalgia for that era.
As quick freezing technology has been developed in recent years, whale meat is often served as "sashimi" (fresh slices of raw meat).
The ways of distributing and consuming fishes/shells and animal meat in Japan have changed significantly since the Meiji period. When considering the history of whale meat consumption, it is essential to understand how the ways of distributing and consuming fishes/shells and animal meat as a whole have changed. The theories regarding food culture concerned with whale meat include the following: "In the Edo period, there were many areas where the culture of eating whale meat was deep-rooted," "It was after World War II that whale meat became to be eaten generally throughout Japan and the meat was positioned as a substitute of animal meat." It is also said that the following theories are not true: "Whale meat-eating culture did not exist," "Whale meat-eating culture existed throughout Japan."
In the past, the areas where fresh fishes and shells were available were not many even in Japan surrounded by sea. Even in Osaka facing the sea, most of the sea food available was products processed with salt or sake lees. In Kyoto, only dried products, such as dried cods and dried herrings, were available. However, fresh fishes and live fishes were craved in Kyoto as well as in Edo. It is said that sea eel-based dishes flourished in Kyoto, because the sea eel, completely neglected in Osaka at that time, was only fish that could be brought alive to Kyoto. (Freshwater fishes were available, but the amount was small and those fishes were unsuitable for eating raw.
Fishes from Lake Biwa were mostly processed for eating as well, for example as nare-zushi (fermented sushi).)
There is a remake that only small amount of fresh fishes was distributed and whales and fishes were used mainly for other purposes but not for eating.
On the other hand, when an area is located remote from the sea, marine foods were more valuable there, and it is considered that, if a family could serve sea food, even though it was a processed one, on a celebratory occasion, it showed a great social status of the family. However, eating a valuable food which is not to be served ordinarily, on a special occasion like an event was not only simply luxurious but meant an opportunity of supplying necessary nutritious. The traditional positioning of eating pork in Okinawa Prefecture was the same (from recent period, pork became common foodstuff). It was also difficult to process and preserve whale meat, and therefore, the meat was not distributed widely. Therefore, it is said that whale meat was mostly consumed in the area where the meat was produced, while whale oil was supplied to various parts of Japan as lamp oil or insect-resistant materials. In some mountain villages extremely far from sea, the whale meat preserved in salt was highly valued and the custom of using the meat for dishes on event occasions has been handed down. Regarding sardines, after cotton growing became popular in the Edo period, sardines were mostly distributed as the fertilizer made from them (the raw materials was remains of the sardines whose oil was extracted). In the Meiji period and later, preservation technology advanced so that more and more fresh fishes were distributed and consumed, this brought big profits to fishing villages.
There is a remark that lots of fresh fishes were distributed and also lots of whales and fishes were used as food stuffs
It seems that, even before the Meiji period, rivers were improved in the areas from Tohoku to Kyushu to provide better water transportation routes, corresponding to economic development in the Edo period, and the amount of goods distributed throughout the nation increased greatly. According to water transport records, it was true that lots of fresh fishes as well as dried fishes were distributed widely in the areas from Tohoku to Kyushu, and they were mostly transported from coastal areas to inner parts of the nation. In particular, the government was so conscious of fresh foodstuffs (including fresh fishes) that government-controlled gates were opened even in the midnight for them, and therefore, personnel at these gates often worked throughout the night. A ship carried seafood when going towards upstream areas, and carried back foods available in mountain areas when coming back to the downstream area. Therefore, goods were distributed rather evenly throughout Japan. For example, according to records of transporting sardines, fresh fishes were clearly differentiated from dried fishes and from sardines for fertilizer.
There is a remark that food culture should not be measured by the amount of distributed goods and the profit obtained.
For example, although sea breams and Ise-ebi (lobsters) are not eaten daily even today, it cannot be said that "they are not important in food culture." As described above, whale meat was used as a gift among busho (Japanese military commanders) in the Sengoku period, was ranked number one of the fishes in a rating of foodstuffs, and was positioned as an item to be used on auspicious occasions, such as the New Year and the ends of seasons. When considering these points, it can also be said that whale meat is important in food culture.
From the producers to the ordinary retail shops
As of 2007, approx. 3,500 tons of minke whales, approx. 1,200 tons of balaenoptera borealis, and approx. 400 tons of balaenoptera brydei were produced in Japan, constituting the major part of the whale meat distributed throughout Japan. Certain amounts of fin whales (approx. 250 tons in 2006 and approx. 70 tons in 2007) and of berardius (approx. 400 tons, mostly consumed in the eastern Japan) are also distributed. They are caught and supplied mainly as byproducts of the whaling carried out as scientific whaling, and berardius was captured in the small-scale whaling of certain types of whales including dolphins. Some of these whales are captured in fixed fishing nets, together with other fishes. No whale meat has been imported since 1992, but it is discussed to import the meat from Norway and/or Iceland where whales have still been hunt. There are opinions insisting that the meat of poached whales and smuggled whale meat exist. However, nobody has been arrested for such a crime since 1998, and it is also pointed out that, as the total supply of whale meat has increased, committing such a crime is not worth the risk.
The wholesaler of the byproducts of scientific whaling is The Institute of Cetacean Research that is the main body of conducting scientific whaling actually. The whale meat from the byproducts is divided into the meat for commercial use and that for public interest, with more than 80% of the meat produced being distributed in ordinary routes as commercial meat. Formerly, the whale meat for commercial use was sold at the central wholesale market of each prefecture through Nihon-kyodo-senpaku-kabushikikaidha (literally, Japan joint ship Co., Ltd.) where the actual jobs related to the scientific whaling was entrusted. Since 2006, development of new markets has been investigated together with Whale Labo, LLC that was newly established for developing markets for whale meat. However, even the meat for commercial use is not entrusted with completely free distribution. The allotment to each wholesale market is determined through investigations by the Fisheries Agency and experts concerned, based on past consumption data, and even actual transactions, after the allotment, are made under guidance of Commerce and Marketing Division Ministry of Agriculture, General Food Policy Bureau, Forestry and Fisheries. It is said that the guidance should be given to make the transactions as impartially as possible and to make the price as low as possible. The price of whale meat is determined for each category of whale meat for which a name is given, and in addition to whale meat for sashimi, the meat is distributed as a material for whale bacon and canned yamatoni (whale meat cooked in soy sauce). On the distribution routes, almost all of the meat is kept and managed in the frozen state as ordinary marine products from deep-sea fishing. However, some of the byproducts of coastal scientific whaling (slightly less than 100 tons) are distributed as fresh products as well.
Ultimately, most of the meat is sold at shops, for example, at supermarkets, but there also exists retailers who sell the meat using communication means, for example, through the Internet. Whale Labo, LLC described above also conducts the business of directly selling whale meat through the Internet. Some whale meat-based foods, for example, Kujira-notare, a traditional whale-based food on the Boso peninsular, Chiba Prefecture, are sold as souvenirs.
Small-sized whales except berardius, and products based on dolphins that are hunt even today in Iwate Prefecture, in Shizuoka Prefecture and in Wakayama Prefecture, are mostly consumed in the areas where they are caught. The total amount of products from such whales and dolphins is slightly more than 300 tons of Gondo-kujira whales (pilot whale in English, whales with big heads) and slightly less than 1,000 tons of dolphins. However, such meat is sometimes distributed to faraway places. For example, in addition to Yamanashi Prefecture to where distribution routes from Shizuoka Prefecture have been established traditionally, such meat is also sold at the fish meat corners of supermarkets in Tokyo Prefecture. Ishi-iruka dolphins (Phocoena dalli) are used comparatively well in the Kyushu area. It is considered that some dolphin meat is consumed without being aware of eating dolphin meat, because such meat is often simply displayed as "whale meat." However, such a display is nowadays inappropriate according to Law Concerning Standardization and Proper Labelling of Agricultural and Forestry Products.
In the small-scale whaling business, it has been traditional custom that whale meat is allotted to each worker engaged in hunting whales as a kind of material compensation, and use of the meat through such custom is still existing in some areas.
The food service industry and others
There are Restaurants specialized in whale-meat-based dishes in various areas including well-established restaurants and also there are some restaurants where whale-meat-based dishes are included in their menu items. In "Lucky Pierrot," a chain of fast food shops located in the suburb of Hakodate City, Hokkaido, kujira misokatsu burger (burger with whale cutlet with miso) is offered as a regular burger menu item.
Whale Labo, LLC described above is investigating use of whale meat in the cooked meal delivery industry and in hospital meals
Considering whale meat in hospital meals, it is said that the low fat red meat may be effective for dietary cures. Whale meat is provided with an advantage that the meat is less likely to cause the food allergies caused by animal meat.
In addition, the whale meat from the byproducts of the scientific whaling, distributed for non-profit use, have been used in school lunches, and such use of the meat is beginning to increase, reflecting oversupplies of whale meat ("Use of whale meat in school lunches is increasing: Such use of whale meat has been "restored" in more than 100 schools," February 14, 2006, the Sankei Shimbun).
It is pointed out that whale meat is oversupplied. In the first half of 2006, it was reported on many newspapers that whale meat was oversupplied in Japan.
- The Sankei Shimbun: "The amount of "whale" stock has doubled in ten years; Whale meat is oversupplied due to the expansion of scientific whaling."
- The Asahi Shimbun: "The amount of whale stock has increased due to the expansion of scientific whaling; The Fisheries Agency inclines towards increasing the consumption of whale meat."
- The Yomiuri Shimbun: "The whale meat, "the taste that has been forgotten," is oversupplied unexpectedly; Increase the sales of whale meat rapidly."
However, attention must be paid to the fact that the term of "double" in the above articles is used for "the dealer stock" totaling the amount of stock on the distribution routes and etc. A simple comparison is impossible, because the amount of stock on the distribution routes increases corresponding to an increase in the total amount of distribution. This situation sometimes become a point of dispute in relation to the whaling problems.
Whale types and their tastes
It is said that the meat of each type of whales has its own taste. Frequently the meat of various types of whales is handled equally as "whale meat." However, considering that the term of whale is used for indicating every type of whales belonging to Cetacea biologically, it can be said that the situation would be near to handling tunas and mackerels equally as "fishes of scombroidei." The judgment of whether a food is tasty or not tasty is largely dependent on each person's subjectivity, culture or the environment. Therefore, what is described below is basically a generalization (furthermore, the taste of whale meat is differ from a part of whale to another, and for this matter, refer to the name of whale meat to be described later). There is an opinion that, considering that the evaluation of taste is affected by the evaluator, it would be meaningless to evaluate food culture based on taste.
The taste of whale meat from odontoceti (including sperm whales, berardius, and dolphins) is largely different from that from baleen whales (including blue whales, fin whales, balaenoptera borealis, and minke whales), with further differences existing among whales within each of the groups.
Of them, the sperm whales belonging to odontoceti were once used as a foodstuff in the areas where the whales were hunt for whale oil in Japan. However, it is said that, with a strong peculiar taste, the meat is basically not fit for a foodstuff (throughout the world, the meat is not eaten except in some areas in Indonesia). However, "Aburakasu" (a food), which is the remains of whale skin after oil has been extracted from it, has been eaten customarily in Japan. As a component included in the oil (a kind of wax) cannot be digested easily, diarrhea may be caused by eating lots of the whale skin at a time without extracting oil from it.
Furthermore, berardius and dolphins belonging to odontoceti are also provided with peculiar tastes, though not so strong as that of sperm whales, and it is said that preference for such meat depends greatly on the individual as well as the area. For example, in Taiji of Wakayama Prefecture where baleen whales have mostly been hunt, black whales belonging to odontoceti have traditionally been liked as a foodstuff. In the Sotobo area in Chiba Prefecture known as the place where berardius has been hunt from old times, the peculiar taste of the meat has been emphasized using the expression of "taste blood" without extracting the blood. In Okinawa, there is a dish using the blood of whale meat actively, for example, by frying the meat together with the blood.
On the other hand, it is said that the meat of whales belonging to baleen whales is not provided with such a strong peculiar taste as that of odontoceti and tastes like beef. There is an evaluation that the red meat of whales tastes like horse meat, and it was reported that horse meat was actually sold as whale meat. However, even among the baleen whales, the taste of whale meat of a species is different from those of the others. Minke whales, having been an important target in small-scale whaling from the pre-war era in Japan, have also become a target in large-scale whaling since 1960s. There is a remark that the fibers of the meat is fine or that the meat includes less fat, because the whale is smaller. Balaenoptera borealis and balaenoptera brydei have been eaten since the Edo period, and the meat of these whales can be produced highly efficiently. The tail meat and saezuri (tongues) of the fin whale are fatty and are handled as high-class products.
The names of whale meat
Whale meat is available form various parts of a whale, and the cooking method as well as the taste depends on the portion.
In Japan, whale meat is traditionally classified into the following parts:
However, dialects are used for many of such names. As described above, the parts that can be used for meat depend on the species of the whale, and the taste of the same part may also depend on the species.
Called Saezuri as well. Said that the meat of this portion is in the high-class. The taste of the base portion is different from that of the tip, with the meat being fatty as a whole. This portion was sometimes processed into Koro (to be described later), and was used as a material for oden (a Japanese dish containing all kinds of ingredients cooked in a special broth of soy sauce, sugar, sake, etc.).
- Tail fin
It includes fat and gelatinous texture. It is also called "Oba-ke" (literally, the hair of the tail fin) or "Oba-ike." Salted, it is used for "Sarashi-kujira" to be described later.
- It is marbled meat at base of tail fin, and is considered the highest class portion today.
Meat of tail
Used as sashimi or steak. On minke whales, the meat of this portion is less markedly marbled, with no marbled portion existing in the strict sense.
Boiled for eating.
Boiled for eating.
- Small intestine
Boiled for eating.
Boiled for eating.
Boiled and seasoned for eating, or eaten fresh.
Not eaten ordinarily, and used for making kanyu drops (liver-oil drops)
- Outer layer of skin and subcutaneous fat layer
Eaten as sashimi, or as "Koro" or "salted whale meat" described later.
- Meat around joints from jaw to cheeks where muscles are spread among fat in a white-spotted pattern, making the meat look marbled. Although being marbling as Onomi, this meat is more tough to chew. Eaten as the harihari nabe or as sashimi.
- Portions, such as meat of back and meat of belly, where less fat are included
These portions constitute the largest part of the whale meat produced, occupying 30 % to 40%, and have been used in school lunches in the past. This is used for whale meat cutlet and tatsuta age, the meat is also eaten as sashimi nowadays.
- The opposite of Akaniku ("Shiro" indicates white, while "aka" red.). This term is used for indicating the subcutaneous fat portions, including Hongawa totally.
- Meat of striped uneven portion from lower jaw to belly of baleen whale. Used for bacon or boiled for eating as well.
- The instance that whalebone of young right whales was eaten existed in the past. Having been used as a material for soy sauce substitute.
- Gum portion
The meat is sometimes sliced for eating.
- Cartilage inside upper jaw bone
This is used for Matuura-zuke (a kind of pickles called Matsuura) and Genkai-zuke (a kind of pickles called Genkai), this was also processed into a delicacy called Kujira-noshi (or horihori) in the Edo period.
Reputed in the Edo period that this part was effective as a medicine.
Boiled for eating.
The names of foods produced by processing the whale meat include the following:
Aburakasu (a food)
- Produced by drying remains after whale meat is fried and oil is squeezed out of it
Liked in Osaka, this food was originally produced for reuse of whale meat but has produced actively later. In addition to the general Koro (or Senpi) that is produced from Hongawa, this food also includes Saekoro from the tongues and Dabukasu from the internal organs. Aburakasu from sperm whales were liked by the general public. Called Sesikara in Kagoshima.
- The name for totally indicating what is produced by boiling various internal organs including Hyakuhiro.
- Produced by boiling Unesu: This name is mostly used in Nagasaki. This name is originated in the fact that this shape of product is Suehiro-gari (broadens towards the bottom). This food is eaten with soy sauce mixed with ginger.
- Produced by salting Hongawa
This food has been distributed even in mountain areas from old times, being used for Kujira-jiru or nimono (what is boiled and seasoned for eating).
- Produced by thinly slicing salted Oba-ke, pouring hot water and then dipping into cold water. Eaten with vinegared miso. This food is also called "Oba-ke," and is further called "Oba-yuki" (literally, Oba snow) or "Hana-kujira" (literally, flower whale) because it looks white and transparent externally. Shio-kujira from Hongawa can be cooked in the same way as well.
Kujira-bekon (whale bacon)
- Produced by salting Unesu and then smoking it
The edges are mostly colored red.
This food is mostly broiled slightly for eating
Due to a shortage of the material, Hongawa is often used as the substitute of Uesu.
The best seasons to eat whale meat
As in many cases of eating wild plants or animals, there are the best seasons to eat whale meat as well, and the taste of even the whale of the same species may be differ between seasons. For example, it is said that the baleen whales in the Antarctic ocean are lean and not fatty, when coming to the ocean to feed themselves, but become gradually fatty during their long stay there. Concerning dolphins, it is said that the best season to eat them is winter in Japan and the dolphin has become a kigo (season words).
Meat of each part of a whale is provided with different nutritious elements. Because it is a feature of the whale meat that most of fat is concentrated in subcutaneous fat, Akaniku is low-fatty and rich in protein as a food. Akaniku is also rich in iron. On the other hand, concerning fat, it is said that the fatty acids is good for human bodies, such as the docosahexaenoic acid and the docosapentaenoic acid, are included more richly in whale meat than in tunas and in animal meat.
Problems of polluted whale meat
It has been pointed out that whale meat has been polluted because heavy metal and polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) have been accumulated in whale bodies through bioaccumulation, and eating whale meat has been restricted in some nations. Concerning the odontoceti in which lots of mercury has been accumulated, guidelines for the eatable amount of the whale meat, together with those of other fishes and shells, including alfonsin, have been specified in Japan as well, targeting at pregnant women. On the other hand, concerning baleen whales, no specific restrictions are imposed, because relatively small amounts of harmful substances are accumulated in these whales and in particular, almost no harmful substances are accumulated in the whale caught in the Antarctic ocean. The restriction on odontoceti, concerned with the eatable amount of the meat, is targeted only at pregnant women, and concerning the eating of the meat by ordinary people, it is said that no problem exists even for infants and breast-feeding women. The quality of byproducts of scientific whaling has been checked as an investigation item, and the following measure based on the check result has been taken: When an amount of a harmful substance exceeding a certain safety standard is detected from a whale, the meat from the whale must not be distributed.
(For more information, refer to whaling problems and pollution problems.)
Use of whale meat for other than foods
In addition to foods, whale meat has also been used for industrial materials. Whale oil is a typical example of the industrial materials made from whales, and whale meat is no exception.
(Also refer to the use of whales in the article concerned with whales.)
In Japan, whale meat has been used as a material to produce a fertilizer called Geihi (literally, whale-based fertilizer). The fertilizer is produced by boiling whale meat, whale bones and whale skins, and then grinding them with a stone mill, and has been used as a marine fertilizer together with the sardine-based fertilizer. Since the Edo period, this fertilizer has been produced from the whale meat from which oil has been extracted. In Ayukawahama, Oshika Town, (present Ishinomaki City), Miyagi prefecture, used as a modern whaling base from the Meiji period, Geihi production flourished as a local industry. In Ayukawahama, sperm whales not fit for eating were caught mostly. Therefore, only a small portion of the whale meat was eaten, generating surplus whale meat. The surplus meat was dumped to the sea initially. However, as such an act was complained by local fishermen as polluting the sea surface around the dumping site, the meat became used as an industrial material successfully.