Wendyl Wants To Know: Fish tastes like it's smoked, but it isn't
I have had several emails requesting that I look at this product, which is a very common staple for families who love fish pie. Smoked fish is an essential ingredient and one can of this will give you a very cheap pie indeed. One reader agrees: "The fillets do make a yummy fish pie. When living in France and the Netherlands I always used smoked mackerel (fresh or tinned) but it doesn't seem to be readily available here. So, what type of fish is it? And why made in Vietnam?" In answer to her questions the fish is, in fact, jack mackerel - read more below - and despite this product being made in Vietnam it is fish caught in New Zealand waters. Sealord has many companies throughout the world, including Asia, so canning the fish there is perhaps a matter of economy as they also export to many countries. They are also half-owned by a Japanese company, Nissui.
Sealord Chunky Style Fish Fillets Smoked Flavour - $4.23 for 310g
Fish Fillets (90 per cent minimum) Sealord told me the fish in here is jack mackerel. This is a very common species of fish worldwide. In Britain celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is trying to get mackerel put back on the menus at fish and chip shops in an effort to use the under-resourced and very plentiful fish. But here jack mackerel is on the New Zealand Forest and Bird's best fish guide as a code red for worst fish you can buy. The reason for this is mainly ecological, thanks to the unknown sustainability of recent catch levels, especially for western New Zealand. There are also concerns about dolphins, fur seals and seabirds being caught with the mackerel and the impact to bottom trawling on the seabed. On the dolphin front, the label assures us that this product is dolphin-friendly and the Sealord website says the company does have a quota for jack mackerel fishing, which is 16.7 per cent of the total allowable commercial catch as set by the Ministry of Fisheries. They also fish using demersal trawling, which is towing a net just above the bottom of the ocean. And they say they have introduced innovations such as a line setting tunnel at the back of a vessel which means the line is dropped directly into the water to ensure marine birds are not caught in lines. Commercial fishing for jack mackerel developed only in the late 1970s after catches of more preferred species such as trevally declined. Despite the product being prepared in Vietnam, this fish is caught in New Zealand. To download the best fish guide go to www.bestfishguide.org.nz. You'll also find that we shouldn't really be eating snapper.
Water Salt Mineral Salt (452) This is potassium polymetaphosphate which will be in here as a preservative.
Annatto Colour This is an orange/yellow colour which gives the fish the colour it would usually achieve if it was naturally smoked. The colour is annatto extract, a natural dye made from the seed coat of the tropical Annatto tree. There are studies which have found it can cause allergic reactions, headaches and irritability. People with food intolerance avoid this colouring, but the New Zealand Food Standards Authority allows it. Its website says a survey is being carried out on annatto levels in our food but I was unable to access any results. Often food products labelled with "natural colouring" can include annatto extracts.
Natural Smoke Flavour This ingredient and the added colour tell us that these fish fillets are not smoked as you would expect of smoked fish but are flavoured to taste like smoked fish would, thus the words "smoked flavour" on the label. Smoke flavour is achieved by burning wood chips or sawdust which produces smoke which is condensed into solids or liquids. The flavouring is safe for human consumption, but the European Food Safety Authority is testing some smoke flavours after animal testing showed that it can damage DNA, the genetic material in cells.
It really comes down to a matter of economy. I would prefer to eat fish which has been smoked naturally, which means there is no need to add flavour or colour. However, at my local fish market 1kg of smoked mackerel will set you back $29.99. This canned fish works out at about $13 a kg. Luckily in this country we can often buy smoked trevally or kahawai which taste just as good, are cheaper and also get a green code on the NZ Forest and Bird best fish guide, so if you can get it, nutritionally it is a better choice. We all know eating fish is great for growing kids because it is a good source of protein, and oily fish like this is high in omega 3. So keep an eye out for real rather than flavoured smoked fish if you can.