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Practices -- Cooking

What does muscle structure and cooking have to do with the texture of fish?

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Muscle structure is directly related to the environmental conditions associated with the location of fish. Ocean fish generally have a more firm texture than near shore or fresh water species. There are protein differences in these fish that related to habitat, diets, and environmental conditions that contribute to eating qualities like texture. A large tuna, for example, swims great distances at tremendous speed and strength. Therefore, the muscle structure and energy pathways that supply the muscle are highly developed to support these animals under the stresses of their environment. You know all fish differ from soft to firm in texture and that cooking can either increase or decrease texture, depending upon species. Cooking can accentuate these compositional differences. For instance, we tell consumers to cook fish fillets until it flakes easily from the backbone. What is actually happening when heat is applied to fish is that we are denaturing the connective tissues (elastin) found between the individual fish muscles (myotomes) resulting in the separation (flaking) characteristic of fish. There are numerous references in the literature that reviews fish muscle structure and composition. One of the best references was edited some time ago by George Borgstrom, "Fish as Food." It is a four-volume set published by Academic Press in 1961. It is written from a commercial point of view but has a wealth of information that can be used to help consumers develop an appreciation for the seafood products that they have become accustomed to eating.

PREPARED BY: Angela M. Fraser, Ph.D., Associate Professor/Food Safety Specialist, NC State University in July 2004

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