Turid Rustad, Professor at NTNU explains the development of convenient consumer products from pelagic fish, including the recent growth of European fish consumption
The lifestyle and dietary patterns of people are changing. In the western world, the more time-stressed lifestyle has led to an increased intake of processed and fast food. A significant global increase in fish consumption has enhanced people’s diets all over the world making them more nutritious. In 2017, fish accounted for about 19% of the global population’s intake of all animal protein consumed (FAO, 2018). Europeans are regular consumers of fish and seafood products. European fish consumption has been continuously growing during the last few decades and currently, 42% of European consumers eat fish and seafood products at least once a week.
However, the consumption of pelagic fish species is much lower compared to the consumption of other fish species, such as salmon or cod, although the total catch of these fish species has been gradually increasing during the last several years in European Union and Norway.
One of the aims of the Prohealth (JPI: Preserving positive health effects of pelagic fish) project was to develop model products with pelagic fish. Using pelagic fish and meeting the consumer expectation for healthy food, will increase the use of pelagic fish for human consumption and local processing which is important from a global nutritional and environmental perspective. To develop the right type of model products, a survey on consumer preferences for fish product purchasing decisions was carried out by NMFRI (National Marine Fisheries Research Institute) in Poland. The study was carried out in the four countries participating in the project. The consumers in all four countries understand that diet is important for health and is one of the man factors determining a healthy life.
Consumers also believe that we should eat less processed food and there is a negative perception of industrial food. Eating fish – especially fatty fish is widely recognised as being a significant factor affecting health, with 42% of the respondents saying that there is a need to increase their intake of fish, especially fatty fish. As to what type of fish products are preferred, there is a variation between countries – not frozen convenience products, such as fish burgers, fish cakes and fish dishes ready to heat in the microwave. Oriental products like sushi are much more popular in Norway and in Italy than in Ireland and Poland. On the other hand, canned fish is regularly bought in Ireland and Poland while it is less popular in Norway.
The reasons for buying fish are both that the consumers like the taste of fish (64%) and the pro-health effect of eating fish (61% of respondents). More than 50% of the respondents also say that they eat fish because it is a regular component of their diet and/or that they need to buy fish for their children.
The main parameters for selecting fish products was the species used, the price, the brand, the country of origin and the size of the package. This shows that to develop new fish products health or nutritional value is not the only parameter checked. Among the pelagic species, mackerel had a good reputation among the respondents while herring was less popular. There are also generational differences, the older consumer segment buys more fresh fish and is less convinced of the need for convenience products while the younger generation is much more interested in convenient products. The consumer study also shows that young consumers now have little interest in pelagic fish. The reason for this needs to be further studied but could it be because of the taste? There are many convenient products currently available, such as canned sprat and mackerel, brined herring and herring salads). What type of products should be developed to increase the consumption of pelagics among consumers?
One of the reasons for the low consumption of pelagic fish can be the lack of diversity when it comes to processed pelagic fish products. Traditionally, small pelagic commodity groups have been used in the manufacture of canned fish products, such as mackerel in oil or tomato sauce, salted herring, canned sardines, etc. To increase the consumption of pelagic fish, there is a need to increase the diversification of the fish products available. One of the solutions is to develop new consumer-friendly ready-to-eat products using pelagic fish in conventional fish product formulations and study consumer acceptance of the developed products. This could include Sous Vide products, fish cakes, fish ball, fish burgers, etc. with higher omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin content.
Fish cakes have traditionally been consumed in many European countries, including Norway and Poland. In Scandinavian countries, they are generally made by pan frying or frying in the oven from whitefish species, such as cod or haddock. At the same time, fish cakes made from fatty fish, such as salmon and shellfish have recently become popular in Norway and Asian countries. Fish cakes from pelagic fish have been a traditional product in Norway but pelagic fish is not commonly used for the production of fish cakes today. In the ProHealth project, fish cakes with up to 50% mackerel were tested. The results show that fish cakes with mackerel were well accepted by the consumers compared to fish cakes made from haddock. Sensory studies indicated that the increase in mackerel content positively affected the juiciness and aroma of fish cakes, however, the darker colour was perceived as negative.
Another possibility for ready to cook products is to develop Sous Vide products. Sous Vide combines low cooking temperatures with vacuum packaging and may delay the spoilage of fish through inactivation of endogenous proteases and lipases, at the same time preserving the sensory and nutritional quality of the product. Experiments have shown that Sous Vide treatment of both mackerel and herring is promising regarding microbial shelf life but that there is a need to add antioxidants to preserve the healthy fatty acids during storage.
In developing new products, both the nutritional value and the health beneficial components as well as the sensory quality (flavour, texture), are preserved throughout the whole processing chain.
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