Chem­i­cal-free fish

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FOOD -

BEN­JAMIN Quek has been in the food sup­ply busi­ness for some 18 years. And he knows a few tricks. “Peo­ple think that chilled seafood is bet­ter than the frozen type,” he shares.

“But what they don’t know is that this so­called fresh seafood of­ten has preser­va­tives like formalde­hyde, boric acid and mala­chite green.

“Formalde­hyde is also used to em­balm dead bod­ies and it can cause can­cer plus kid­ney and breath­ing prob­lems.”

He adds an­other in­sider tip-off: Traders also use car­bon monox­ide to pre­vent fish from be­ing dis­coloured and main­tain a so­called “fresh” red colour.

In­deed, a sur­vey by Euro­pean Union in­spec­tors in 2008 found that two-thirds of Malaysian ves­sels and es­tab­lish­ments they vis­ited didn’t com­ply with the EU’s strict hy­giene and safety reg­u­la­tions, lead­ing to threats to bar seafood im­ports from Malaysia.

Quek re­calls: “Some years ago, about 20 or so of my friends started ask­ing me to source for chem­i­cal-free seafood. That’s how my busi­ness be­gan.”

His busi­ness grew as word got round about the safety of his prod­ucts, and the nat­u­ral “sweet­ness” and springy tex­ture of the seafood, some­thing that this writer per­son­ally sam­pled as well.

Quek went on to es­tab­lish his Eco-Sakana (ecosakana.com) brand in 2009 ( sakana is Ja­panese for fish).

He gets sup­plies from fish­er­men with smaller boats be­cause they use drift gill nets that min­imise fish dam­age.

“Whereas a trawler will drag their nets in the sea for three hours at a speed of three knots,” ex­plains Quek. “Can you imag­ine the dam­age done to a fish af­ter that? The tex­ture

Ben­jamin Quek’s EcoSakana fish are free from chem­i­cal preser­va­tives and flash frozen to pre­serve the nat­u­ral ‘sweet­ness’ and springy tex­ture of the flesh. of the flesh will be loose. For in­stance, you can see how ikan kem­bong of­ten look shat­tered by this.”

In con­trast, a tra­di­tional drift net is like a fence in the sea, which fish swim into and get tangled. “They are not dragged through the sea,” he quips.

A drift net is also more eco-friendly as smaller fish can swim through whereas trawlers (af­ter their nets are cov­ered with an ini­tial layer of caught fish) will scoop up ev­ery­thing, even baby fish, and thus jeop­ar­dise the fu­ture of our fish­eries.

“This is why we end up hav­ing to im­port fish. Lo­cal wa­ters are al­ready over-fished,” points out Quek.

Once the fish are brought ashore, they are im­me­di­ately sent to a “flash freezer” to “lock in” the fresh­ness.

“It stays frozen through to the shop un­til it reaches the fridge in your home,” he says.

“Peo­ple think that chilled fish is bet­ter than frozen fish, but I was sur­prised when I went to Kuala Se­lan­gor and some traders were sell­ing thawed frozen fish from Thai­land as ‘fresh’ lo­cally-caught fish,” re­calls Quek.

Prices are higher than in nor­mal mar­kets. For ex­am­ple, he sells bawal hitam or black pom­fret at RM29 per kg, com­pared to the nor­mal mar­ket price of be­tween RM15 and RM25.

“I am sell­ing only wild-caught fish. Much of the cheaper fish you find else­where are bred in cages and fed with man-made fish pel­lets. It’s like how when you go to a res­tau­rant, wild river patin is sweet and will cost 10 times more than muddy-tast­ing patin bred in ponds.” – n For more in­for­ma­tion, check ecosakana.com or call Ben­jamin Quek (% 012-291 2500).

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