Some seafood aficionados swear that you just have to try pufferfish sushi – unfortunately, though, if it isn't prepared correctly, it'll kill you. Scientists from China and the UK have developed a safer alternative, by replicating the flavor of the fish without any of the poison.

Commonly known as fugu, the Takifugu obscurus pufferfish that's most commonly used for sushi is found mainly in the East and South China Seas. And while its flesh is supposedly delectable, its liver, ovaries, eyes and skin contain a potent neurotoxin known as tetrodotoxin. Specially-trained chefs generally know how to avoid these areas, but … mistakes can be made, often with fatal results.

With this in mind, scientists from Shanghai Jiaotong University, Shanghai Ocean University and the University of Nottingham recently set about identifying what combination of compounds are responsible for the fugu flavor. Their thinking was that this mix could then be packaged and added to other, non-lethal foods.

The researchers started by grinding, cooking, filtering and centrifuging pufferfish muscle tissue, creating a liquid extract. Upon analyzing that extract, they identified 28 potential taste compounds – these included various free amino acids, nucleotides and inorganic ions.

Subsequent taste tests indicated that a combination of 12 of those compounds best simulated the taste of fugu, when added to water. By later adding two flavor peptides that had been identified in an earlier study, the team got even closer to matching the genuine article.

A paper on the research, which was led by Shanghai Jiaotong's Yuan Liu, was recently published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. There's currently no word on when – or if – a commercial product may reach the market.