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Stockfish takes time

NORWAY - Drying fish is demanding food production. Several months under the open sky. In all kinds of weather. This is the second article in a series about Norway's oldest export product.

The quality of stockfish is the topic in the Ventriglia Agostino plant in Genoa. Scientist Ingebrigt Bjørkevoll (on the right), who is central in Fiskeriforskning’s work within stockfish quality, listens to Italian points of view.

Stockfish is perhaps Norway's most special food. The characteristic taste develops through the several-month long drying process.

But the quality can vary greatly from year to year. This is why work is being done to improve the production - and this pleases the Italians.

The topic is quality

When Fiskeriforskning visits the Ventriglia Agostino plant for soaking stockfish in Genoa, Italy, quality is the topic.

This day, they're discussing how to avoid mucoso, a quality defect that causes the fish flesh to dissolve and take on a gelatinous and slimy texture on rehydration of the stockfish. The result is that larger or smaller parts of the fish must be discarded.

Some years, 30-40 % of the stockfish has been downgraded from a first-class product because of mucoso.

In recent years, much research has been done to improve the quality of stockfish.

Amongst other things, Fiskeriforskning has done extensive studies documenting that the quality of raw materials, handling and storage of the fish before hanging are very important for the quality of the stockfish.

There is a large selection of foods at this market in Genoa. Several fish shops have rehydrated stockfish, such as here.

Different gutting method?

Scientist Ingebrigt Bjørkevoll has been central in this work. He's interested in how production can be organised to get the best possible quality.

In the plant in Genoa, the Italians suggest that the fish be gutted slightly differently than is done today.

By slicing up the belly another couple of centimetres further back, the fish will be opened up more and dry better, thus preventing mucoso around the fish's anal orifice.

"This could be a good idea", says Bjørkevoll, who would be happy to test whether the Italians' suggestion can improve the quality.

New study

"A long drying time increases the risk for damages. That's why it's important to have the best possible control of the drying process", says Bjørkevoll.

A preliminary study has shown that the quality can be increased significantly by removing the swim bladder before hanging up the fish. Because the swim bladder covers the abdominal cavity, it will retain moisture on the inside.

"The bigger the fish, the longer it will take to dry. Thus, the potential for improvement is greatest on big fish."

This study will now be continued with more thorough tests.

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