The History of Fish Sticks — Quartz

Fish fingers, or fish sticks as they are known outside the United States, are a nostalgic comfort food for many people around the world, especially during the pandemic. These crispy breaded oblongs filled with nondescript white fish have an unlikely origin story that begins with an overabundance of seafood and 1950s “future of food” ingenuity.

After World War II, the fishing industry in the United States grew at a rapid pace. Larger vessels with onboard refrigeration and processing have enabled fleets to catch a lot more fish. Unfortunately, few people wanted to buy it. When wartime rationing ended, meat sales soared and, as today, fish had a reputation for being smelly and difficult to prepare. A major seafood company, Gorton’s, suffered its first loss in 20 years in 1953.

A novel product which the fishing companies hoped would excite consumers were “fishbricks”: layers of frozen fish fillets packaged in tubs, like ice cream, which allowed housewives to scoop out the amount they needed. needed for each meal. Needless to say, the fishbricks were a flop.

How are fish sticks made?

The industry-winning innovation came from Birds Eye of Massachusetts, the frozen food company founded by Clarence Birdseye, who developed his method for rapid freezing of food after observing Inuit preservation techniques. After three years of developmentBirds Eye’s parent company, General Foods Corporation, has requested a patent for its “production of fish products” in 1952, describing

“A process…which includes freezing pieces of fish into a relatively large unit, subdividing said unit into smaller consumer-sized units, applying batter and breading material, frying said units to at least partially cook them, and packaging and freezing said product.

(Fish sticks are still made almost the same way today.)

Birds Eye Fish Sticks hit the market in 1953. According to a reviewer New York Times article announcing their debut, one executive called it “the most remarkable event in this field of food since the development of the quick freezing process by his company in the early thirties”.

Fish fingers are gaining popularity in the United States

Competing products from other Massachusetts companies, Gorton’s and Fulham Brothers, followed closely behind. The former eventually won the title of America’s No. 1 fish stick brand, thanks in part to nationwide ad campaigns targeting busy housewives looking for an easy, nutritious meal. Gorton’s has also been successful in convincing major supermarket chains like A&P and Food Fair to increase their freezer space to carry more frozen seafood, and the company has pushed for fish fingers to be part of the U.S. school meals.

Manufacturers quickly discovered that fish sticks had global appeal. Birds Eye introduced the new food product to the UK in 1955—rename them fish sticks based on a survey of female factory workers – and within 10 years they accounted for 10% of fish consumption in the UK.

Fish sticks arrived in australia in 1956 and were the first sold in Germany in 1959. Today, Germans eat 2 billion fish sticks a year.

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