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).