Francis Clark of the Scottish Pelagic Processors Association outlines the remarkable innovation behind developing new mackerel products for consumers
Imagine if Scotland had a most incredible natural food resource that was sustainable, affordable to buy, highly nutritious, tasted delicious and was in great demand around the world.
Well, imagine no more, for it is a reality, and the food in question is mackerel; an abundant and sustainably caught fish in our waters, and one which is helping to fly the flag for Scottish food exports, as well as being in good demand in the domestic market.
The importance of mackerel to our food sector is significant and growing all the time, and it is Scotland’s most valuable catch, with UK landings worth more than half a billion pounds annually and supporting many jobs, especially in the processing and support sectors.
This really is a fish that has gone from zero to hero, given that only as recently as the mid-1970s the consumption of mackerel in the UK was miniscule, but today there is a wide range of smoked and canned mackerel in retailers, as well fresh fish in season.
Mackerel is a wonderful protein that tick so many boxes, most notably in being extremely healthy to eat. The fillets are packed full of heart-healthy Omega 3 fatty acids (much more so than tuna), and is a great source of essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamins B12 and D. Current health advice is that everyone should be eating fish twice a week, one of which should be an oil-rich species, such as mackerel.
Mackerel also represents great value for money and is much cheaper than most other types of fish and meat. With the world population expected to reach 9.8 billion people by 2050, there has never been a greater need for sustainable, nutritious and affordable protein.
While much of the mackerel export market is for frozen product, it is also a fish that lends itself well to value-added processing, with the taste and texture ideal for smoking, as well as canning. Such is the versatility of mackerel, Scottish fish processors are leading the way in the developing a whole range of innovative mackerel products that is catching the imagination of consumers both at home and abroad – including canned ‘Gin and Tonic’ mackerel. Yes, that’s right – you heard it here first; mackerel in a gin and tonic flavoured sauce, which was specially developed for a Canadian retailer, and which underlines the sheer diversity of opportunities available for developing exciting new mackerel products.
Two Scottish mackerel processing companies – International Fish Canners (Scotland) and Nor-Sea Foods – have been investing heavily in new product development for both canned and smoked fish. It is hard to imagine a more multi-faceted foodstuff when it comes to the range and combination of flavours that work so well with mackerel. This has resulted in exciting new products such as canned mackerel in a range of different flavours, including Korma Curry Sauce, Thai Green Sauce, Sriracha Hot Sauce, Spicy Tomato Sauce, and Hot Smoked Mackerel with Red Pepper and Chipotle Chilli.
The impetus behind much of this development has been to further expand mackerel’s market reach from the traditional brine or oil canned accompaniments typically used for sandwiches, salads or for spreading on toast, to actual meal options that can be served warm and partnered with rice or noodles. Such blue sky thinking in product development is essential as we maximise the potential of this fantastic natural resource.
The appeal of Scottish mackerel is also being recognised in overseas markets with exports growing all the time to areas such as North America, Scandinavia and Australia. Indeed, 3 kilo cans of Scottish mackerel in tomato sauce are currently exported to Denmark, where it is a great favourite lunchtime treat for school children, and where it is recognised as being a highly nutritious ‘brain food’. We also believe there is great potential in Asia and other parts of the world for future growth. A positive advantage of canned mackerel is that it is an ambient product that is 100% bacteria free.
The story of how mackerel has gone from a humble fish caught by holiday makers from the end of a pier to become one of Scotland’s great food success stories is truly remarkable. Just as how Scottish whisky and salmon have become iconic, then so too does mackerel have its own important role to play in developing Scotland’s position as a centre of excellence for world food and drink production.
Mackerel, whether fresh, canned or smoked should be part of everyone’s weekly shopping basket for health and affordability reasons, as well as for its great taste. Anyone for gin and tonic mackerel?