When it comes to eating fish, most people tend to focus on the meaty, juicy parts of the fish, leaving the bones behind. However, did you know that fish bones are actually edible and can be a great source of calcium and other nutrients?
While it may seem strange to eat something as hard and sharp as a fish bone, many cultures around the world incorporate them into their cuisine in creative and delicious ways. But can you eat fish bones safely?
We’ll get the answer after we explore the nutritional benefits and potential risks of consuming fish bones, as well as some tasty and innovative ways to include them in your cooking.
Whether you’re a seafood connoisseur or just curious about trying something new, read on to discover the fascinating world of fishbone cuisine.
Can You Eat Fish Bones?
Many of us have experienced finding fish bones in our meal, even after the fish was supposedly cleaned. While we often remove the bones and continue eating, it may leave us wondering whether fish bones are safe to eat.
Surprisingly, the answer goes against what we have been taught, which is to remove all bones from fish prior to cooking. Contrary to popular belief, fish bones are perfectly safe to eat. Let’s dive into some details about this common misconception.
How Can You Eat Fish Bones?
Grinding fish bones into a fine powder and consuming them safely is possible. Fish bones are known to contain high levels of essential nutrients such as vitamin A, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, and calcium.
If grinding the bones is not feasible, cutting them into small pieces is another option to ensure they pass safely through the esophagus.
Is Eating Fish Bones Healthy?
The answer is yes, you can eat fish bones for health reasons. Your diet will be rich in calcium if you consume fish bones. However, the fish bones must be soft enough to be safe to eat to benefit from their goodness.
Typical canned fish that accomplish this are sardines, anchovies, herring, and mackerel. Fish bones are safe and nutritious when pressure cooked at high temperatures in the canning process.
Many North Americans and Europeans choose to eat only clean, boneless filets rather than fish heads. Most of the heads, tails, and carcasses of fish are either thrown back into the sea or used as livestock feed for livestock or farm fertilizer.
Do People Eat Fish Bones?
Typically, people avoid eating fish bones, especially those from large fish, as they can pose a choking hazard.
Usually, deboning large fish occurs before cooking, and if the bones remain, most consumers will remove them when eating. Occasionally, fish bones are boiled with the flesh to make soup, but even then, they are usually avoided when eating.
The main reason for not consuming fish bones is the risk of choking, as they can easily become lodged in the throat. Additionally, if swallowed, they can break and puncture organs, leading to abscess formation as the body tries to expel the bone.
Despite these risks, if a fish bone is accidentally swallowed, it typically passes harmlessly to the stomach, where it is broken down by stomach acid.
Intentionally Eating Fish Bones
Fish bones are a source of essential nutrients, including iron and calcium, which are beneficial to the body.
Some people who are sensitive to dairy products or other calcium-rich foods may choose to consume fish bones as a substitute to meet their calcium requirements.
Although there is no widely researched evidence on the safety of eating fish bones, emergency rooms worldwide report incidents of people getting injured by fish bones.
Therefore, the safety of consuming fish bones depends on their size and preparation. For instance, small fish bones like sardines are commonly eaten without any issues.
Taste of Fish Bones
Fish bones naturally absorb the flavor of the fish they came from, which means some will have a stronger fish taste than others.
One way to enjoy fish bones is by deep-frying them, which is a popular snack in Japan and can be found in many bars. If you leave some fish meat on the bones before frying, they will become crispy like potato chips.
When eating fish with bones, such as sardines, the bones are not usually tasted separately from the fish. You may notice a slight crunch, indicating that you have eaten the bones.
However, it is still recommended to soften the bones of small fish by using a pressure cooker to ensure they are easy to eat.
Should We Waste The Fish Bones?
Recently, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization pointed out the absurdity of this waste, suggesting people eat more fish heads. As FAO’s head of products, trade and marketing, Audun Lem said in a statement, “We must not waste these byproducts.”
In 2011, Norwegian fishermen dumped an estimated 220,000 tons of wild fish parts at sea after processing their catch on the water, according to a report published in Trends in Food Science and Technology in February.
National Marine Fisheries Service reports that filleting fish and dumping the scraps is extremely wasteful, producing two to three pounds of boneless, skinless meat for every pound of head and scraps.
As a scientist with the FAO in Rome, Jogeir Toppe studies fish byproducts in terms of economics and logistics. According to him, many incentives exist for the mass market development of fish heads and bones.
In addition to being rich in omega-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, calcium, and vitamin A, fish bones, brains, cartilage, and fat are nutrient-dense. Furthermore, processing scraps for human food could reduce pollution from processing facilities, benefiting the environment as well.
Toppe tells The Salt that using all parts of the fish makes economic, environmental, and nutritional sense. Sharks, orange roughies, swordfish, and some tuna heads are exceptions, as they may contain high levels of mercury.
It isn’t unusual for many cultures around the world to eat fish heads. Southeast Asia is known for its fish head curry. In his study of African diets, Toppe notes that people living around Lake Victoria fillet and ship fish meat to Europe. As a result, they get to enjoy their heads and other remains at home.
What To Do If You Swallow A Fishbone
Even though nobody wants to swallow a fishbone, it happens because small, sharp fishbones are easy to overlook when preparing and eating fish.
A person who swallows one of these bones may wonder if they need medical attention because they look dangerous and can indeed cause injury. Fishbones rarely cause problems when swallowed, and in most cases, no special action is required.
It is not necessary to see a doctor if you have swallowed a fishbone and feel fine. Unless the bone scratched your throat on its way down, you shouldn’t have any further problems. Eventually, it will be digested by your body and eliminated.
When Feeling Pain
However, if you feel pain in your throat, you may have been scratched. There is no need to be concerned about this.
As Dr. Troy Madsen of the University of Utah, Health put it: “For many people, when they swallow a bone, it scratches the back of their throat, and then they just hack and try to get something out. It feels like something is stuck in there.”.
The sensation of something being stuck there is not uncommon, but it’s just a feeling that nothing is stuck. The spot heals in a couple of days, and they feel better in a few.”
When To See The Doctor
There is no need to see a doctor for a normal scratch. You need to see a doctor only when you get scratched, and that scratch gets infected.
Rarely, the uvula becomes inflamed and red after the bone scratches it. An antibiotic course should quickly resolve the problem if this is the case.
While it may seem unusual or even dangerous to eat fish bones, they are a nutritious and versatile ingredient that can be enjoyed in various culinary applications.
Whether you’re using them to make a flavorful broth or grinding them up into a calcium-rich powder, fish bones are a valuable and often overlooked part of the fish that should not be wasted.
However, as with any food, it is important to take proper precautions when consuming fish bones and ensure they are thoroughly cooked and properly prepared.
So, can you eat fish bones? With the right knowledge and care, the answer is yes! So why not incorporate this unique and nutritious ingredient into your cooking repertoire? Whether you’re a seasoned chef or just starting out, the world of fishbone cuisine is waiting to be explored.