Sushi, sushi, sushi, I love me some sushi. It’s a staple of some people’s diet. It’s healthy (ish), it’s fresh, no preservatives, what’s not to like? What if you weren’t sure what kind of fish was on your plate, how would that effect your love of sushi? Most people react to this by saying “I trust my sushi guy, he wouldn’t sell me any of the fake stuff”. Weeeellllllll, not so fast. It seems that maybe the sushi you’re eating isn’t always what your sushi guy is telling you. I’m not saying he’s purposely deceiving you, he probably doesn’t know himself. For that matter, the fish you buy at the grocery store, or the fish market isn’t always what it’s labeled. It’s scary and sobering to read the results of a study conducted in 2012 by the non-profit organization Oce
ana (Oceana.org). According to the study, your chances of getting properly labeled fish at a sushi restaurant is not so good. As a matter of fact, the seafood industry as a whole is enveloped with fraud. According to the studies findings, ” Everywhere seafood is tested, fraud has been found”. Below are some of the key findings, you can read the who study at (Widespread Seafood fraud found in New York):
- 58 percent of the 81 retail outlets sampled sold mislabeled fish (three in five).
- Small markets had significantly higher fraud (40 percent) than national chain grocery stores (12 percent).
- 100 percent of the 16 sushi bars tested sold mislabeled fish.
- Tilefish, on the FDA’s do-not-eat list because of its high mercury content,
was substituted for red snapper and halibut in a small market.
- 94 percent of the “white tuna” was not tuna at all, but escolar, a snake mackerel that has a toxin with purgative effects for people who eat more than a small amount of the fish.
- Thirteen different types of fish were sold as “red snapper,” including tilapia, white bass, goldbanded, jobfish, tilefish, porgy/seabream, ocean perch and other less valuable snappers.
So what’s a sushi lover to do? Personally, much to my family’s consternation, I haven’t been to a sushi restaurant since I read this study. There’s just no way to know what your’re actually eating. Based on their findings, it didn’t matter whether you went to the most expensive sushi place, or the corner sushi guy, your chance of getting mislabeled fish was the same. If you must have your sushi fix, be careful when ordering. Stay away from red snapper, and white tuna as they are the most frequently mislabeled fish.
So what about getting the seafood special at your favorite restaurant? This again is a tough one. According to well know food author, Larry Olmstead, the seafood industry is “so rife with fakery — both legal and illegal — that it boggles the mind”. A good rule of thumb is to buy what you know can be caught locally. It will give you a better chance of getting what it’s labeled as. When looking to buy seafood to cook at home, follow the Olmstead’s advice from his book, “Real food, fake food”:
- Whenever possible, buy your fish at a local fish market and buy the whole fish, that way you know what you’re getting.
- Whole foods has a decent handle on their logistics chain, so their record on mislabeling is better than most.
- Big box chains such as Costco, Sam’s, and BJ’s command large enough buying power that they can dictated standards for their suppliers, so they have better quality fish than your local grocery store.
Sorry if this is depressing to hear. The amount of fakery in the food world is scandalous at best, but the more you know the better you will be able to get a handle on what you’re putting in your body.