What happens when you eat an octopus

Diet: When the food bounces off the plate

The octopus wanders across the plate with its tentacles. The cook quickly grabs the slimy head, pushes a stick through it and wraps the tentacles around it - voilà, Sannakji, a Korean “treat”. Chilli sauce or salt-sesame-oil dip is served with it.

Sannakji means living octopus, explains Hwan Nam-Kong from the Korean restaurant Furusato in Berlin - and it's a dish that can be had anywhere in Korea.

That the octopus is still moving is not a problem. On the contrary: “If the animal is still alive when it is served, that is a sign of quality,” explains the Korean. If the octopus is very large, the tentacles are cut with scissors immediately before eating.

Live food can be dangerous

But even these individual pieces are still “alive”. They keep moving and wander away if not stopped. Andreas Nieder, professor at the Institute of Neurobiology at the University of Tübingen, explains how this can be done: "If parts of the animal's body are separated from the head and still move, smaller nerve clusters are still intact."

Such nerve cords could still be active for a while without a brain. However, simply sticking the “living” pieces in your mouth is not entirely harmless.

The tentacles could actually suck up in the pharynx. In the worst case, this can even lead to death by suffocation. That's why the dish should be chewed well, advises Hwan Nam-Kong. In her Berlin restaurant, however, there is no live octopus - because it is difficult to get the animals alive in this country, she explains.

She also heard that Germans consider eating living things to be cruelty to animals. However, this does not impress her: "Every country has its own food culture and this should also be accepted by other cultures."

Vertebrates can feel pain

In fact, the German Animal Welfare Act would allow such "treats". It just requires that vertebrates be killed painlessly. Because "we only assume with vertebrates that they perceive certain types of pain states, that is, that they can also suffer," explains scientist Nieder. But octopuses are not one of them.

Nevertheless, he admits: "Since pain perception is a subjective state, its evaluation will always be fraught with uncertainty."

Less problematic in terms of animal welfare law, but not necessarily more appetizing for German tastes, is the Sardinian cheese specialty Casu Marzu, also a living food. Translated it means “rotten cheese” and describes a maggot-infused specialty of the Italian island.

Maggots in the cheese for the strong taste

The production is simple: A pecorino is debarked and then left outside, explains Andrea L’Abbate from the Italian cheese factory of the same name in Frankfurt. This is where the Piophila Casei cheese fly lays its around 500 eggs.

The hatching maggots crawl into the cheese and feed on it. The maggots' metabolic products give the cheese a creamy consistency and a strong aroma - and the Sardinian delicacy is ready.

Bread and red wine are served with it. However, it is advisable to wear eye protection when eating, because the little maggots can jump. Stricter hygiene regulations have banned the production of Casu Marzu anyway, explains Andrea L’Abbate.

Nevertheless, it is still for sale on the sidelines - for twice the price of a normal Pecorino. Enjoying the dish can end in diarrhea and vomiting - but supposedly it is also supposed to increase sexual pleasure, says the Italian cheese producer.

Casanova is said to have eaten oysters

Similar myths surround another living food that is also widespread in Germany: the oyster mussel. Already in Greek mythology it is said that Aphrodite, the goddess of love, sprang from an oyster.

And it is said that Casanova also ate the fishy delicacy to support his loin strength, explains Guillaume Boullay from the Meerwein oyster restaurant in Hamburg.