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Sushi FAQ: What Does Fresh Fish Smell Like?

Fresh fish does NOT smell fishy.

Yes, you’ve read it right.

To me, it smells like a fresh ocean breeze, seaweed, algae, mineral and salt all mixed in.

According to Harold McGee, the author of On Food and Cooking (affiliate link), “Fresh fish smells like grass and fresh cut leaf. Some fish produce fragments similar to mushrooms, melons and cucumbers.”

“Very fresh fish is also said to have a smell resembling that released by the leaves of plants when they are crushed. This is due to Fat being oxidized, algae eaten,” McGee adds.

Another author, Ole G. Molestein describes like it:“Fresh fish and shellfish smell just like a pleasant sea breeze — subtle, cool, and with a whiff of salt water and iodine.” (Sushi:Food for the Eye, the Body & the Soul)

So where does that fishy smell come from?

Molestein explains the process: “Bacteria and other microorganisms living on the skin and in the digestive system will break down a dead fish.”

Because the flesh of fish is soft and attack from its own enzymes, a dead fish starts to get deteriorated a lot quicker than the land animal. This is especially the case with the digestive system, which is why most whole fish are gutted before they are sold.

The flesh of fish also contains more water, which is causes faster deterioration than the land animal.

How can we the fish smell?

Acid live lemon, lime juice, or wine vinegar can coat the smell. Washing the fish in the water can eliminate some fishy odor.

“Fish odour on the hands is due to chemicals called amines. But if reacted with citric acid in lemon juice, they form salts that do not become airborne.”

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