Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Codfish, olive oil, coriander and a seasoning of phosphates

No one knows anymore where Portugal is. Some don't even know what language the Portuguese herds speak. And some don't know that we have offered a lot to science in past times due to our explorers. For instance when...

Ferdinand Magellan did the first voyage around the world, Vasco da gama discovered an ocean route from Portugal to the East lands, Bartolomeu Dias was the first European to lead a 1487 voyage around the Cape of Good Hope on the southernmost tip of South Africa, Pedro Alvares Cabral was the first European to see Brazil in 1500, Gaspar and Miguel Corte Real explored Greenland and the coast of Newfoundland. There are so many things the Portuguese offered the world that when I hear people asking me "Where is Portugal?" I pity them for their absolute nationalistic narcissism and aggressive ignorance. If you, like the Finns, need to know what Portugal actually offered to the World NOT ONLY IN OLD TIMES, in less than 7 minutes, please just access HERE, or if you really want to learn about the most incredible kind people in the world in the words of a British writer, buy the book "The Portuguese - A Modern History" by Barry Hatton, HERE.

But what you definitely do not know is that the Portuguese invented the salted cod. Yep, that little dry animal all wrapped up in salt. And with that we are the proud owners of more than a thousand recipes where Codfish is the main ingredient, treasures of modern and ancient cuisine you can find HERE

Codfish, a national treasure so awkwardly loved in Portugal when we don't even have it in our vast national waters, has got to be preserved, right? However, some crazy people are now trying to come up with a possible toxic idea. Take a look at the email I just received from a very good friend of mine:

"The European Union is about to approve the use of phosphates in the process of salting and curing cod products, nevertheless these products have been salting and curing for ages in a traditional way that is 100% natural and additive free. The main reason for this is not for quality or safety issues, but merelly for a matter of aspect,i.e., just to look better for some consumers in some countries that like whiter and clear fish products. This does not seem reasonable, once it will introduce an unnecessary chemical in these kind of food, which for human safety reasons will have to be controlled and maximum residue limits will have to be established. Those who like whiter fish have plenty options available and do not need to adulterate this genuine and traditional 100% naturally salted and cured product. We already have too much chemicals in our daily products, do not need to add one more that is completelly unnecessary."

What are Polyphosphates?

"Polyphosphates are legally permitted additives that are widely used to aid processing or to improve eating quality of many foods, particularly meat and fish products. Phosphates are also used in making baking powder and cola drinks, and great quantities are used in fertilizers and detergents. Phosphates are present normally in all living things and are an essential component of our diet. A phosphate is a salt of phosphoric acid; when a number of simple phosphate units are linked to form a more complex structure, this is known as a polyphosphate" [1].

What are phosphates supposed to do for fish?

"The main value of polyphosphates lies in improving the retention of water by the protein in fish. The manner in which they do this is not clearly understood, but their effect is mainly on the surface of the fish. Other substances such as common salt give similar results but with undesirable flavour effects... Polyphosphate treatment of fish before freezing often reduces the amount of thaw drip, that is the liquid released when frozen fish is thawed. Good quality fish, properly frozen and cold stored, normally develops little thaw drip; therefore application of polyphosphate to such material is generally only of slight value. Poor quality fish when frozen and thawed may drip much more, and treatment will reduce the loss to some extent, but this is not sufficient reason for using polyphosphates; poor quality fish should not be frozen, since the product will be poor irrespective of treatment... Polyphosphate treatment of the fillets will reduce drip loss, but will have no appreciable action on the effects of spoilage on odor and flavour; treatment does not reduce the need for rapid handling or the need for keeping the fish chilled." [1].

Any advantages from using polyphosphates on fish?

"There are two instances where polyphosphate treatment of chilled fillets or portions may have a specific advantage. First, chilled fillets of good quality from thawed sea frozen fish often lose a high amount of drip during distribution; polyphosphating after filleting can substantially reduce this loss, and can also dramatically improve the appearance of the fillets by changing the dull, often brownish, surface that is typical of sea frozen material to a glossy bluish white. The dull surface of poor quality fillets from stale fish can also be given a gloss by treatment with polyphosphate, but it must be emphasized that the improvement is only in appearance; the poor quality remains unchanged. Secondly, polyphosphate treatment can improve the appearance of prepacked chilled fillets by preventing the accumulation of unsightly drip within the pack". [1]

Is the use of polyphosphates justified?

"The use of polyphosphates in laminated blocks cannot be justified on the grounds that drip is reduced; not only is thaw drip not a problem with products cut from laminated blocks, but the action of cutting a block greatly reduced the anti-drip effect of the polyphosphate on the surface of the fish". [2]

Health-wise, are we in trouble?

"Most polyphosphates added to food are broken down to single phosphate units in the stomach when the food is eaten; indeed, many are converted to single units in the food before it is eaten, for example in chill storage or during cooking. Thus it is clear that most phosphates added to food are nutritionally equivalent to the phosphates naturally present in food, and are likely to present little hazard to health. Nevertheless it is possible for essential food components to be harmful if taken in excess, and international medical authorities have recommended that the daily consumption of all phosphates should not exceed a certain level. It is believed that the amounts presently being eaten by the typical consumer are well below this limit". [1]

I always like to give both sides of the coin so people can make their own judgement. As a vegetarian this touches me merely in the toxicological part of it, but I'll definitely sign this petition as I personally see no value in the addition of polyphosphates to fish, i.e., yet another chemical unnecessarily added to our food chain. Obviously, if you do not agree with this idea please feel free to raise your voice against it by signing the petition available in the web HERE.

[1]. FAO Corporate Document Repository, Polyphosphates in fish processing, [], last accessed on the 10th of october 2012, last update unknown.

1st image taken from Nutricao em foco, [], last accessed on the 10th of October 2012.

2nd image taken from Facebook - Descobrir portugal, {], last accessed on the 10th of October 2012.

3rd image taken from Flor de Sal -  A arte de bem demolhar bacalhau, [], last accessed on the 10th of October 2012.

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