Seafood is more popular than ever. The global fish and seafood market is valued at over US$580 billion, and expected to grow annually by 5.27%.
What’s behind the momentum? Consumer concerns around nutrition and sustainability are driving increased interest in seafood.
Seafood is not only an excellent source of protein, but it’s rich with vital nutrients including omega-3 essential oils. The FDA recommends that people eat more seafood for their brain, heart and immune health.
The home-working and hybrid-working trend means more people are looking for healthy meals to prepare at home for their households. Ready-to-cook seafood products that offer a convenient and tasty centrepiece for family dinners fit the bill nicely.
Fish is also seen as a “greener” protein to cook with. With more awareness of climate change, many consumers are replacing meat with sustainable seafood.
Another big part of seafood’s appeal is its versatility. There’s a type of fish for nearly every recipe and application. From meaty swordfish steaks to tender salmon and delicate shellfish – seafood works in a wide range of cooked and chilled dishes.
So seafood has a lot to offer, from brain-boosting essential oils to lean protein with a relatively small carbon footprint. And, despite it’s salty image, fish is naturally low in sodium. But, unfortunately, the high levels of salt commonly added to seafood products can sabotage its naturally healthy profile.
Shrimp & prawns
The tiny shrimp is a giant in the seafood industry. Shrimp tops the list of the most-consumed seafood in both China and the US, where the shrimp market is estimated to reach $54.6 billion by 2027.
Shrimp, and its close cousin the prawn, are sold in a variety of fresh and frozen formats. Shrimp cocktail, once a staple of dinner parties, is alive and well – it’s a great fit for the current high-protein, ready-to-eat snack trend.
The WHO sets a target of 360mg of sodium per 100g for shellfish and seafood salads.
One supermarket prawn cocktail for sale as a grab-and-go snack has 448mg of sodium per 100g. Another “seafood snack pack” containing prawns in sauce has 584mg of sodium per 100g. These two products both exceed the WHO sodium guidance.
The FDA guidance on all non-breaded seafood, including shrimp and prawns, is 490mg per 100g. Even though this is a higher allowance, it’s easy to find products that exceed it. One premium brand of cooked organic Tiger prawns has 600mg of sodium per 100g, 6 times the WHO benchmark value.
Salmon & tuna
It’s hard to beat salmon for taste and nutrients. It’s one of the top selling and most-loved fish varieties in Europe, North America, Brazil, Japan and China. Along with tuna, these two are the most popular fish in the world.
Both fish are commonly sold as canned products. The WHO sets its sodium benchmark for canned fish at 360mg per 100g. The FDA’s sodium target is 410mg per 100g for all shelf-stable seafood.
Although canned fish is considered a healthy choice for use in salads and pasta dishes, many of these products have added salt that pushes their sodium past recommended levels. Both canned tuna and salmon can have high added salt, for example, a premium Italian tuna in olive oil has 520mg of sodium per 100g.
Other ready-to-eat formats can be just as salty. A pack of marinated salmon fillets with peri peri seasoning has 656mg of sodium per 100g, and a salmon teriyaki rice salad sold as part of a supermarket “meal deal” in a single-serving pack has 780mg of sodium per 100g. That’s 40% of the WHO’s daily sodium RDI before other snacks and sides are added.
Smoked salmon is a very popular variety, often used in sandwiches, scrambled eggs, pâté and canapés. It has a high sodium content due to the salt added during brining and curing. This is one of the few categories where the WHO sets a higher sodium benchmark than the FDA. The WHO recommends 800mg of sodium per 100g for smoked and dried fish, while the FDA target for shelf-stable seafood of 410mg per 100g applies.
A typical unseasoned smoked salmon product has 612mg of sodium, while some flavoured varieties can have more. One lemon-infused smoked salmon product has 644mg of sodium per 100g, and a ready-to-eat smoked salmon filled blini has 732mg of sodium per 100g.
Another common smoked fish is smoked herring – known as “kippers” in the UK. These have 840mg of sodium per 100g, exceeding the WHO’s smoked fish sodium target.
Fish cakes, sticks and breaded bites
Restructured seafood formats, both fresh and frozen, are a hit with consumers for their healthy profile and convenience.
Battered and breaded seafood products are given their own category in the FDA sodium guidance. The FDA recommends 600mg of sodium per 100g for breaded fish and other seafood. The WHO sets a target of 270mg of sodium per 100g.
Fish sticks (also called “fish fingers”) are a favourite food of many children in North America and the UK, often served with peas and sauce. Although many of these products were at benchmark sodium levels, we did find one with 336mg of sodium per 100g. Considering that they are commonly consumed with salty condiments like mayo and ketchup, the total sodium of the meal is likely to be much higher.
Fish cakes are produced with a variety of fish, and different seasonings. Typical fish cakes are made from salmon, tuna, cod, and haddock. Flavours have evolved from the traditional blend of herbs to trendier tastes like katsu and spicy red thai. Although many have a healthy nutritional profile, several were high in sodium. One supermarket brand smoked haddock cake has 472mg of sodium per 100g – nearly double the WHO recommendation.
Breaded scampi, both whole and formed, is a best selling seafood product. Both types of scampi can have excessive levels of sodium. We found a frozen formed scampi with 480mg of sodium per 100g, and a breaded chilled whole scampi product with 552mg of sodium per 100g.
Surimi, or seafood sticks, are a formed seafood product made from a mixture of white fish and other ingredients. These tasty and economical products are grouped in the same category as breaded seafood by the WHO with a benchmark of 270mg of sodium per 100g. One chilled, crab-flavoured seafood stick product has 760mg of sodium per 100g, and a frozen Japanese-style surimi has 732mg of sodium per 100mg. Both nearly 200% over the WHO benchmark.
How can such a small fish have so much salt? Anchovies are the saltiest seafood product – so much so that the FDA puts them in their own category with an eye-watering sodium target of 5,990mg per 100g. The WHO takes a more cautious approach, with a sodium benchmark of 800mg per 100g.
Even with these big benchmarks, the saltiness of anchovy products can be bigger. We found anchovy fillets in oil with 6008mg of sodium per 100g.
Looking at a variety of anchovy products, from tinned to marinated – every single one we checked had more sodium than the WHO benchmark.
Healthier seafood without compromise
Processed seafood has a salty problem with many products exceeding recommended sodium guidelines. But how can producers dial down the sodium without affecting flavour?
The simple answer is SALTWELL®. It’s an all-natural sea salt with a unique composition that makes it 35% lower in sodium than normal salt.
A recent study compared three salmon pâtés – each seasoned with different salts. The first was made with normal salt (sodium chloride), the second one contained 40% SALTWELL® blend, and the third had an 80% SALTWELL® blend. In both chemical and sensory analyses, the products with SALTWELL® had a very similar flavour and texture to the normal salt product.
The only significant difference in the pâtés tested was that in products containing SALTWELL®, sodium content was reduced by 22%. The study concluded: “Saltwell® represents a viable alternative to sodium chloride in the formulation of salmon pâtés, and can be used to reduce sodium content without compromising quality and safety.”
For any kind of processed, canned, smoked, cured or dried fish product, SALTWELL® will allow you to easily achieve significant sodium reduction. A simple 1:1 replacement in your formulation is all it takes.