New technology turns whole fish into nutr

image: Food researchers at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, are introducing new sorting technology which means we get five good cuts of fish and not just the fillet. A herring processing plant on the west coast of Sweden is already implementing the new method.
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Credit: Chalmers University of Technology | Ingrid Undeland

In the meat industry, it is common to turn the whole animal in foodstuffs. In the fish industry, more than half the weight of fish ends up in side streams that never reach our plates. This harms the environment and does not fit in with Swedish food and fishing strategies. Now food researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden are introducing new sorting technology that means we get five good cuts of fish and not just the fillet. A herring processing plant on the west coast of Sweden is already implementing the new method.

When the fillet itself is removed from a fish, valuable side streams remain, which can be turned into products such as nuggets, ground meat, protein isolates or omega-3 rich oils. Despite such potential, these products leave the food chain to become animal feed or, in the worst case, to be thrown away. To harness valuable nutrients and shift to more sustainable procedures, the way we process fish must change.

All cuts are treated with care
“With our new sorting method, the whole fish is treated with the same care as the fillet. The focus is on preserving quality throughout the value chain. Instead of putting the various secondary streams in one bin to become by-products, they are processed separately, like in the meat industry,” says research director Ingrid Undeland, professor of food science in the Department of Biology and Bioengineering at Chalmers.

The research was conducted as part of an international project called Waseabi. The Chalmers researchers recently published their findings in the scientific journal Food Chemistry.

“Our study shows that this type of sorting technology is important, especially since it helps prevent highly perishable side cuts from mixing with more stable cuts. This new method offers new opportunities to produce high-quality food,” says Chalmers Haizhou Researcher Wu, first author of the scientific paper.

“The interest is there”
The new sorting method to separate the five different cuts is being introduced in one of the partner companies of the research project. The Swedish fish processing company Pelagic in Ellös on the island of Orust already uses parts of the method in its production and has achieved good results.

“Sorting technology gives us many more opportunities to develop healthy, new and tasty foods and expand our product range. This year we estimate that we will produce around 200-300 tonnes of minced meat from one of the new cuts and we aim to increase this figure year on year. The interest is there, in the food industry and public meal production segments like school catering,” says Martin Kuhlin, CEO of Sweden Pelagic.

About the study and opportunities for the fish industry

  • New sorting technology means the fillet, backbones, caudal fin, head, ventral flap and viscera can all be separated. The backbone and head are the richest in muscle and therefore well suited to become minced fish or protein ingredients. As the belly and intestines are rich in marine omega-3s, they can be used for oil production. The caudal fin has lots of skin, bone and connective tissue and is therefore well suited for things like the production of marine collagen, a highly sought after ingredient on the market right now. In addition to food, marine collagen is also used in cosmetics and “nutraceuticals”, with documented good effects on the health of our joints and skin.
  • The European fish processing industry is large, generating an annual turnover of nearly €28 billion while employing over 122,000 people. However, the industry faces several challenges. For example, it is estimated that 1.5 million tonnes of secondary seafood products are produced in Europe, based on a production of 5.1 million tonnes of fish caught. In Sweden, it is estimated that 30,000 to 60,000 tonnes of secondary seafood flows are generated each year; some 35 to 70 times more than the Swedish cod catches. This means that the current use of aquatic biomass for food is far too low. During the production of nets, up to 70% of aquatic resources end up as side streams, which are either used for low-value products such as animal feed, or discarded, with adverse consequences for the environment and sometimes also on the companies concerned.

For more information please contact:

Ingrid Undeland, Professor of Food Science, Department of Biology and Bioengineering, Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden
+46 73 708 08 64, [email protected]

Martin Kuhlin, CEO of Sweden Pelagic,
+46 70 966 65 68, [email protected]

More about that of the EU Wasabi Project
wasabi is a four-year interdisciplinary project aiming to better valorize the secondary products of the seafood industry by stabilizing them and developing new methods of food production. The project includes thirteen partners from five European countries. Alongside Chalmers, two Swedish companies are participating; Sweden Pelagic and Alfa Laval. International partners are the Technical University of Denmark (DTU), Food & Bio Cluster, Denmark, AZTI, EIT Food, Royal Greenland, Pescados Marcelino, Jeka Fish, Barna, Nutrition Sciences and Ghent University.

The project is funded by the Bio Based Industries (JU) Joint Undertaking of the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under grant agreement no. 837726. JU is supported by the Horizon 2020 research and innovation program and the Bio Based Industries Consortium.

Read about a previous research breakthrough of the project: New dipping solution turns whole fish into valuable food

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