AMPLIFICATIONS: Something’s fishyMore Info
I recently read that much of the fish we buy is mislabeled and dyed to look like the fish we think we are buying. As it turns out, this was no fish story.
Apparently, all that “white tuna” being sold to us in Asian restaurants is very likely escolar. It has a buttery texture, and a pleasant mouth feel, but is not actually very good for the diner. Escolar is a kind of snake mackerel, which is a deep-sea bottom dweller, and contains a waxy ester that provides both a fatty texture and intestinal distress. Humans cannot properly digest the oil produced by this fish. If the menu says “white albacore,” you are probably getting exactly that. Otherwise, it is best to avoid. In fact, the fish is banned in both Italy and Japan; the Japanese consider it to be toxic.
Salmon is always an issue. My daughter and I had been buying farm-raised Chilean salmon until I recently educated myself. Now we refer to it as “sewer fish” and avoid it. Turns out Chilean farming practicing are, to put it mildly, disgusting.
According to an article in Oceana.org, Chilean salmon farmers probably use more antibiotics than any other producer of meat or fish.According to the article, “Densely packed fish swim in a snowstorm of antibiotics, uneaten feed, feces and de-lousing chemicals. It’s a perfect recipe for brewing up drug-resistant bacteria.” Even if this turned out to be only partially true, I do not want to feed it to my daughter.
In fact, after reading an article in the Tampa Bay Times, I would never recommend buying farm-raised salmon at all. Wild caught salmon is the way to go, as you get all of the benefits without the harm to the environment or taking the chance of ingesting harmful chemicals and loads of antibiotics.
Then there is the dye in salmon. We can only hope it goes the way of the red dye in those nasty, finger-staining pistachios most of us ate as kids. Wild salmon, which costs about three times as much as farm-raised salmon, is a much darker hue, so dyes are often added to fool us. According to Time magazine “wild salmon get their color by eating shrimp and krill, farm-raised salmon generally have carotenoids added to their feed, either through natural ingredients like ground-up crustaceans or synthetic forms created in a lab.”
Food fraud is not new. Honey is often adulterated, olive oil is blended with lesser oils to save money, and most of the “Kobe” beef sold in this country is regular old American beef. New to me, however, is the use of carbon monoxide to make tuna a darker red. Shrimp is also often dyed a darker color than nature intended and farm-raised shrimp is often, very often, passed off as wild caught.
Larry Olmstead, who wrote the book, “Real Food, Fake Food,” said he no longer eats shrimp in restaurants unless he’s on the coast of Mississippi, Maine, or South Carolina at a reputable restaurant. He said he only buys his seafood at Whole Foods, but that big box stores, like BJs, Costco, and Walmart “all have surprisingly elaborate certification requirements with third party verification by groups like MSC or The Sustainable Fishery Partnership.”
Personally, I can’t disagree with his approach to buying seafood, though I always trust the fishmongers at Guido’s. I also found a useful guide to buying seafood at thespruceeats.com. Some of the tips are obvious. Most people know not to buy fish that smells, well, fishy. I never knew, however, that you should press the flesh if the fishmonger will allow it, because fish that retains an indentation are not fresh.
I do not worry about ingesting too much mercury from seafood only because I think (hope) my daughter and I don’t eat enough of it to cause us problems. I do, however worry about the environmental damage of farm-raised seafood or by over-fishing. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch has a nifty guide that you can print out and carry with you when shopping. You can choose the guide recommended for your state. I have had one for years.