by Martin Murmel
Many human settlements started in coastal areas or along lakes and rivers.
Besides an easy transport option, it was the availability of an easily exploitable source of nutritious food that fueled the growth of communities, cities and countries.
Seafood was eaten fresh or made durable by drying and salting.
Especially stock fish (dried cod) and bacalao (salted cod) were highly sought after commodities throughout Northern Europe, the Mediterranean, West Africa, the Caribbean and Brazil.
What is Seafood?
Broadly speaking, everything that lives in water and is fit for human consumption is called seafood.
There are two main categories: fish and shellfish.
The term shellfish is slightly misleading since it doesn't contain fish but mollusks (mussels, squid, scallop) and crustaceans (shrimp, lobster, crab).
Outside the main categories, there are other aquatic animals and plants considered food in some parts of the world. Whales, dolphins and sea turtles as well as all types of seaweed which are particularly popular in Asian countries.
The biggest portion of seafood is all the various types of fish.
Most fish live either in freshwater or saltwater with the exception of a few which survive in both environments (for example, migrating salmon).
From the tiny anchovies to the meaty tuna, some are oily others dry and flaky, some round or flat. Fish comes in all shapes, sizes and flavors.
How To Cook Seafood
Freshness and simplicity are the best ingredients for any type of seafood.
You cannot beat quality raw products with just a few complementary ingredients cooked for a short period to maintain freshness, aroma and nutritional values.
Traditional cooking methods are grilling, frying, steaming, baking, smoking, marinating or curing.
Each region and tradition has its particular way to prepare fresh products and pair them with other indigenous ingredients (mussels in wine, fish and chips, stews and soups with local seafood, etc.).
Some seafood dishes became famous and a trademark of a region or country.
A good example is a Spanish paella, the French bouillabaisse, the Italian-American cioppino, chowders of all types, the Peruvian ceviche, the Japanese sushi/sashimi or Indian fish curries.
What they all have in common is that they require the best fresh ingredients and that they are easy to make.
Benefits and Risks
Health organization recommend at least two portions of seafood per week. It is high in protein, minerals, vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), "over one billion people rely on seafood as their primary source of animal protein".
The nutritional benefits of seafood are immense and cannot be overstated. It is part of a balanced diet or, in some countries the sole source of basic nutrition.
As healthy as the consumption of seafood is, there are also some risks involved.
People with a shellfish allergy should avoid any products containing even traces of prawns or mussels.
Food poisoning due to incorrect handling of seafood products harms thousands of people every year. Freshness is a must and unsuitable storing or misleading labeling should be reported.
A relatively new and man made problem - contaminated products. The pollution caused by modern civilization enters the food chain in the water. Smaller organism filter out and digest bacteria, virus and other harmful substances (especially mercury). In turn, they are eaten by bigger fish which accumulate the poison in their bodies. We catch those fish, return them into the human food chain and ironically poison us with the same substances we carelessly released into the lakes, rivers and oceans in the first place.
Overall, the benefits of consuming seafood outweigh the risks by far.
If handled properly and responsively it is a delicious way to a healthy and balanced diet.
Although the oceans seem vast and deep over fishing has become a global problem.
The international treaties try to control fishing by imposing quotas and seasonal restrictions but we still fish more than the oceans and lakes can naturally reproduce at the same time.
It means that at some stage in the not so distant future commercial fishing will not be feasible anymore. There will simply not enough seafood left in the oceans to feed an ever-increasing world population.
The per capital consumption has decreased due to the fact that the same amount of seafood is available to a bigger number of people.
There are ways to sustainability:
Farming and cultivation is already the fastest-growing branch of seafood production. More and more fish and mussels are cultivated offshore to keep up with the demand but without depleting the natural stock levels.
The use of alternative options, for example, replacing over fished cod and haddock with the (still) abundant tilapia and pangasius. The danger of exhausting the alternative fish supply needs to be monitored and managed responsively.
Enforced restrictions on over fished animals until they have sufficiently recovered (cod, tuna, herring, oysters for example)
More of the caught seafood needs to be made available to human consumption rather than producing food for livestock.
It is a constant struggle between the demand for seafood and the sustainability of the marine stock.
We can contribute our share by selecting sustainable fished products and support the local or regional fishing business rather than the big multinationals.
Did you know that October is National Seafood Month in the United States?