JAWI, PENANG: Eating fish scales to great health? Recently, the fishing port of Sungai Udang has been thriving with "fish scale therapy."
Fish scales are said to be rich in calcium, phosphorus, collagen and a host of other nutrients which help prevent osteoporosis. Many elders have since rushed to the fishery cold storage in town to get the scales for making "fish scale jelly."
Fish scales are normally discarded by fishmongers, but residents in this tiny fishing village has been treating the fishy scrap as a valuable commodity that can be made into some kind of tasty health dessert.
Small fish scales not suitable
About three months ago, a lot of people from Tanjung Piandang travelled to Sungai Udang just for fish scales. Owner of Hai Ming Fishery, Zhou Yongming was amazed and tried to find out from the avid hunters, only to learn that fish scales made a perfect ingredient in food therapy.
Zhou told Guang Ming Daily that fish scales were said to contain a lot of minerals needed by our body, including calcium that strengthens our bones. Many old people are keen to give it a try knowing this.
"Not only people from Tanjuang Piandang, even those from Kuala Kurau come here for the fish scales. People from these two places are actually consuming more fish scales than the local residents."
Bigger fish scales are better, as small fish scales are not suitable for food therapy. Big fish are hard to come by nowadays. Although people at Tanjung Piandang and Kuala Kurau live near the sea, big fish scales are a rare commodity there. They have to travel all the way to Sungai Udang, which boasts the biggest marine agriculture industry in northern Malaysia, for the fish scales!
Zhou said fish scales had a foul-smelling fishy stench, and had to be thoroughly washed to remove the smell before cooking.
They are then put into a pot, and cooked with some pandan leaves and rock sugar for one to three hours until the scales melt into a thick gel.
"After cooling, the thick fish-scale mix will gelatinise. It can then be put in a refrigerator to make a tasty dessert."
Calcium-rich "fish scale jelly"
The proprietress of Qiuyu seafood trading, Yang Yuemei said she made "fish scale jelly" once a week either for her family or to be given away to her relatives and friends. Yang said her mother-in-law and husband would feel the gruelling pain at some parts of the body with ailments upon taking the "fish scale jelly."
"My mother-in-law has been suffering from backache while my husband with rheumatism all these years. After taking the fish scale jelly, they feel the pain on the back and knees. Nothing will happen if your body does not have any problem."
In her opinion, fish scales have the effect of helping our body replenish calcium. As a result, the effects will be shown at the painful parts of the body. However, to avoid intensified pain, the jelly should be taken only once a week.
She also explained that healthy people could take "fish scale jelly" as a healthy dessert.
"Sometimes I will add in some medlars and red dates to enhance the taste."
Making "fish scale jelly"
Clean the fish scales with tap water and drip to dry. Then put into a pot, add in some pandan leaves to remove the fishy stench.
The ratio of water to fish scales should be three to one. Cook the mix for several hours until the fish scales turn white and curly, and the mix becomes a thick starchy soup. Filter the liquid into a container and let it cool down and gelatinise. Then put it in a fridge.
Fish scales themselves are odourless, and the chewy fish scale jelly tastes just like any jelly after pandan leaves and rock sugar have been added.
Extraction of nutrients
Yang Yuemei said she once asked a nutritionist from East Malaysia about the effectiveness of fish scales in replenishing collagen and calcium. The nutritionist agreed that fish scales were rich in nutrients, but said they needed to be extracted first.
"The nutritionist said fish scales consist of three different layers. The first layer is totally useless while nutrients are found mainly on the second layer. As a result, the nutrients must be extracted first."
The nutritionist's statement happens to coincide with that of traditional Chinese physician Mr Feng Huanfeng.
In Feng's opinion, the nutrients in plants and sea shells must first be extracted before they can be absorbed by the human body. Seafood and shellfish boast rich mineral contents; and while fish scales are rich in collagen and calcium, they have to be extracted first.
He said fish scale jelly was a recipe among the folks, and it was therefore hard to conclude whether it really had therapeutic effects.
"From the perspectives of traditional Chinese medicine, fish scales have not been gazetted as a medicine. Traditional Chinese medicine involves principally medicinal herbs, and most of the medicines that benefit our kidneys are rich in their calcium content."
Did you know?
The seemingly useless fish scales are actually a special kind of healthy food. Nutritional studies show that fish scales are rich in various kinds of unsaturated fatty acids which could reduce cholesterol deposits on blood vessel wall while promoting blood circulation, preventing hypertension and heart diseases.
Fish scales are also rich in trace minerals as well as proteins, fats and an array of vitamins, in particular calcium and phosphorus which help prevent rickets in children and osteoporosis or bone fracture in older people.
It is hard to remove fish scales that stick onto our body mainly because of collagen found in fish scales.
Collagen can rejuvenate our skin, and a Taiwanese businessman is known to have been extracting collagen from fish scales to make into high quality skincare products. (Translated by YOU HSUEH LIN/Guang Ming Daily)