Fermented Fishtype Foods

Although fish and shrimp sauces and pastes are mostly unknown to Western consumers, they are staple items in much of Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines (from where such products were thought to have evolved). Although fresh fish has long been widely available throughout this region, refrigeration has not. Thus, fish would likely spoil before it could be consumed. In contrast, fish-type sauces and pastes not only have a long shelf-life, they also serve as an inexpensive source of high quality protein and other nutrients. In addition, these products significantly enhance the flavor of rice, noodles, and other bland-tasting foods. Per capita consumption ranges from 10 ml to 15 ml per day in Thailand to about 1 ml per day in the Philippines.

The manufacture of fish sauces in Southeast Asia is a major industry; over 40 million liters of fish sauce are produced annually in Thailand alone. The popularity of cuisines from those countries in the United States (in food service as well as in processed foods) has undoubtedly led to consumption of fish sauces by U.S. consumers, even if they aren't aware of what actually contributes to the unique flavors of those foods. In regions where these products are pro duced and consumed, they are considered indispensable flavoring agents, much like salt in the United States or shoyu in Japan.

There are many types of fermented fish products, ranging from light- or dark-colored pourable sauces to very thick pastes (Table 12-9). In some cases, the same manufacturing process is used to make both a liquid and a paste. For example, in the Philippines, a salted and fermented fish mixture, when allowed to settle, yields a supernatant liquid called patis and a sediment that, when dried, gives a paste called bagoong. Just as with soy sauce and other fermented foods from Asia and the Far East, there are countless versions of fish sauces and pastes, many of which are made in the home or on a very small cottage scale using traditional techniques. Thus, only rather generic descriptions will be given (see below).

Although fish sauces are considered to be fermented foods, this is true only in a rather broad sense. Microorganisms do, indeed, grow and produce end products during the manufacture of these products (see below). However, most of the reactions that are responsible for flavor and aroma development occur as a result of endogenous fish enzymes, released during autolysis of fish tissue, rather than from microbial activities.

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