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The advantages of smoking fish are manifold. Fish smoking prolongs shelf life, enhances flavor and increases utilization in soups and sauces. It reduces waste at times of bumper catches and permits storage for the lean season. It increases protein availability to people throughout the year and makes fish easier to pack, transport and market.
The art of fish smoking, said to be as old as civilization, combines three main processes:
Cooking - since the smoking is done at temperatures above 80°C, the flesh of the fish is cooked, the heat destroys bacteria resting on and inside the fish and enzymes in the guts and flesh are de-activated;
Drying - the fire which produces the smoke also generates heat, which dries the fish;
Smoking - the smoke is produced by burning wood containing a number of compounds, some of which kill bacteria; the process has a preservative value.
The smoking process can take the form of wet hot smoking or dry hot smoking. Both processes are carried out at temperatures high enough to cook the fish. Wet hot smoking usually takes about 1-2 hours and yields a moist, versatile product with about 40-55 percent moisture content but a limited shelf life of 1-3 days. Dry hot smoking, which is usually preceded by the former process, takes about 10- 18 hours, sometimes days; yielding fish with 10-15 percent moisture content, sometimes even below 10 percent. Fish smoked by this process have a shelf life of 6-9 months when stored properly.
Smoke drying is by far the commonest method, since the distribution process of the smoked fish may take a long time and producers often want to store it for months while waiting for a more favorable market.
The basic steps involved in fish smoking are:
Cleaning: The fishes are bled, gutted and gilled to remove the agent of deterioration using knife.
Brining: The cleaned fish are soaked in salt solution (30%)
Smoking: The fishes are smoked traditionally using either cylindrical drums, oven kilns
There are several problems associated with the traditional processing methods which predispose the artisanal catch to large scale post-harvest losses estimated at over 20% of the total landed weight.
• Poor quality product due to fish being damaged by difficult handling of the fish on wire nets used to support them over the fire
• Loss of smoke and heat, resulting in uneven smoking
• Limited capacity of smoking larger volumes of fish
• Time consuming in terms of amount of time needed to handle the fish in smoking.
• Constant attention to intensity of the flame and rotation of trays in order to achieve even drying of fish.
Smoking kiln developed by Federal Institutes Of Industrial Research Oshodi, (FIIRO)
Some of the irregularities associated with the local method of smoking has been taken care of with the development of a smoking kiln designed and fabricated in 2001 by Nigerian Institute for Oceanography and Marine Research (NIMOR) click here to see
It consists of a heating chamber which is filled with charcoal and charged by fire. The cleaned or treated fish is loaded into trays and fed into the kiln. Drying is considered adequate when the moisture content has reduced to about 25%.
Packaging: The smoked fish is packaged neatly in transparent cellophane nylon ready for sales.
Economic importance of smoked fish
The quantity of smoked fish from West Africa entering the United Kingdom is estimated to be in the region of 500 tonnes per year with a retail value of £5.8 to £9.35 million (Ward, 2003)[i]. Nigeria currently exports approximately 5 tonnes of smoked fish per month - 60 tonnes per annum[ii]. Combining this with the local demand of the product; clearly shows the economic potential of investment is guaranteed.
[i] Ward, A. A study of the trade in smoked-dried fish from West Africa to the United Kingdom. FAO Fisheries Circular. No. 981. Rome, FAO. 2003. 17p.
[ii] Ward, A. A study of the trade in smoked-dried fish from West Africa to the United Kingdom. FAO Fisheries Circular. No. 981. Rome, FAO. 2003. 17p.
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