What would you expect the ingredients to be in a bag of plain frozen fish or seafood? I don’t mean fillets stuffed with crab meat and cheese, or breaded shrimp, or “marinated” anything. I mean just plain ordinary frozen fish, shrimp, scallops, etc. Just like the fresh kind, but frozen. I think if you’re an average shopper you probably expect the ingredients to be….fish….just fish….frozen.

But believe it or not, something happened in our quest to put fish on the Western table cheaply and more often, ostensibly for its health benefits (low fat, Omega-3’s, etc.). Third-world countries saw an opportunity to develop fish and seafood farms to supply the emerging demand for this simultaneously declining wild resource. But these same countries have, for the most part, notoriously unhygienic water systems, often combining sewage with their fresh and salt-water environments. There’s an old joke about what does the average Asian fish-farm fish see when it raises its head and looks up? Answer: Someone’s rear end.

The result is that just about all frozen non-organic fish coming from Vietnam, Thailand, and other Asian countries, must be frozen in a variety of antibiotic media, the most common being tripolyphosphates, sodium erythrobate, and potassium erythrobate, among others. Some of these, like the tripolyphosphates, also cause the fish to uptake more water, increasing its sale weight.

Sodium and potassium erythrobate, are also found in preserved meats such as bacon and pepperoni, but these aren’t frozen products. Freezing, by definition, should eliminate the need for such additives, and in fact you won’t find them in organic frozen fish and seafood coming from Canada, the US, Europe, or even Ecuador (which has grasped the opportunity and developed quite a thriving and growing organic fish and seafood industry).

I saw Pacific wild salmon fillets advertised today at our local Maxi chain grocery for $4.99/lb. I should have been suspicious, but figured, hey, all stores use lost leaders, so maybe that’s what this is. And I prefer frozen salmon fillets for making my gravlax because I would have to freeze the fresh product anyway to kill  the small worms that infect some salmon these days. But it was not to be. The fillets looked good, but the label told the story: Salt, and sodium and potassium erythrobate. I walked away. I could see the ass hovering over that particular pond.

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