Shellfish. A dish regarded by many as an acquired taste, was an acquired taste I once had. Despite this, I’ve spent the better part of 20 years trying to avoid them. Why you might ask? Well following the enjoyment of sharing mussels with my dad, prawn cocktails at various restaurants, sea snails with my granda, and who can forget the pickled cockles from the local co-op, I went on to have quite a bad reaction on a holiday in Scotland. The first came when, doing as usual, I shared a mussel starter with my dad. The meal was incredible. We were there for a good few hours. Then, en route back to the caravan, I had to ask him to pull over – I was going to throw up. Then followed a night in which I was as sick as I’d ever been. Following recovery (I was entirely fine the following day) we decided it could just have been a dodgy mussel. A week later I shared a tiny shellfish platter with my parents. I have to say, I avoided the mussels. But the exact same reaction occurred. I was violently sick, and while getting rather upset, I remember saying to my mum… “but I didn’t eat the mussels.” The following day, I was so hungry I ate a full cooked breakfast. However, needless to say, the combination of these 2 events put me off trying shellfish again as I thought I’d perhaps developed an allergy. I have made mistakes though. I have eaten prawn crackers naively not realising that they are actually made with prawns. A buffet had a salmon lasagne which looked rather nice. Part way through I realised there was more than just salmon in it. I’ve also had shrimp and oyster extract in sauces, none of which resulted in a reaction. So this got me wondering, what if I actually wasn’t allergic to shellfish. Being a scientist, I did what we do best, and carried out a little research. I discovered that squid, and octopus, both which I love to eat, are in the same family as mussels, and also, many people can be allergic to one type of shellfish and not another. So what did I decide was the best path? To carry out an investigation.
Cooking and eating of prawn paella.
The food was really good. Despite it being many years since eating them, I could remember the taste of the prawns, and I really enjoyed them. However, I was a little nervous, so I only ate 6-8 of the king prawns, leaving the rest. I figured if I was OK, I could eat more next time. The first few hours when by fine. I watched a film with my flatmate. Then I went and chatted with my brother. 4 hours passed. I still felt fine. Then I got into bed and a sharp pain developed in my stomach. It felt a little like indigestion, and with it I got a little wind, so took some gaviscon. I do occasionally suffer with indigestion, but the gaviscon usually clears it up after about 20 mins. However, following the 20min Mark, the pain was still there. In fact, it got worse. I started to worry, my stomach started to churn. What an idiot I was. Anxiety is an awful thing, but I knew what I was doing. I knew the possible outcomes whether good or bad. However, the pain got too much… until… the same reaction as 20 years ago. However, it didn’t last quite as long, and after a short time (about 30 mins), I was able to sleep.
Inconclusive. Despite the obvious illness than was brought on, due to unforseen variables I am unable to determine whether this was caused by the prawns. Although the evidence points towards them as the culprit, the state I managed to get myself into my have cause the sickness. Although, I have to admit, I’ve never thrown up with worry before. If I was being true to the science I love, I would have to conduct this test at least another 2 times. Or alternatively think of a way to do this blind… e.g. not knowing I was eating the shellfish in the first place. However, I have decided that it’s probably best not to continue with the experiment. I do not enjoy being sick and I would rather not do it again. I will continue to enjoy my calamari as I have done. I will continue to eat other fish. And the rest of the shellfish will probably not be consumed again (unless by accident).