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SMOKED FISH AND YOUR HEALTH
Adeleke Olusegun Olaoluwa
Smoking remains a popular food preservation method in this part of the world. Smoking develops a lot of flavours in fish that many people have forgotten that smoking should be for preservation, they just want to get that characteristic smoked fish flavour in their mouth.
In one of my previous articles about the dangers of eating Suya a few years back, I mentioned smoking and some of the other potential dangers.
What is Food Smoking?
Smoking can be simply defined as the process of flavouring, cooking, or preserving food by exposing it to smoke from burning materials. The material most commonly used is wood.
Wood contains three major components — cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin, that are broken down in the burning process to form smoke. Typical smoking of fish is either cold (28–32°C) or hots (70–80°C). Hot smoking is what is prevalent around here.
When I talk about smoking in this article, I mean the traditional, common smoking process using smokes from burning woods or wood shavings. Smoking was originally carried out on food (including fish) to preserve them. However, since the advent of freezing and other preservation methods, smoking is now mostly done to develop the unique taste and flavour imparted by the smoking process.
So, is the smoking of fish dangerous to human health?
Honestly, there is no straight answer to this caution and one has to tread the line of caution when advising people. One cannot just say smoked fish is dangerous to health. No.
The main potential danger associated with smoking of fish and other foods is PAH. When wood is burned, Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH)—a class of carcinogens—are formed. These are deposited on foods and are known to cause cancer.
However, when people talk about whether smoking food is dangerous or not, some forget to consider the dose. Yes, PAHs are dangerous, there is no doubt about that but the dose that we take in will determine if it will lead to the onset of cancer or not.
Generally, foods smoked commercially in a manufacturing facility have been found to contain lower levels of PAHs compared to those smoked in noncommercial settings. An example of the latter is those we buy in many open markets, displayed in the open and wrapped in nylons or papers when we purchase. There is no way to determine the level of PAHs in this unless the necessary tests are carried out.
Since we cannot test those fishes before buying them, we cannot determine if they contain low or the level of dose that is harmful to experimental animals.
If you ask me, I would say you should enjoy your smoked fish with caution. If you are someone that only enjoys an occasional smoked fish meal—and are not a daily consumer—then PAH from smoked fish and other foods is most likely not a health concern for you.
Adeleke Olusegun Olaoluwa