Guess what’s for dinner? Healthy, nutritious fish byproduct powder...and pulses!

These Mukene fish powders are healthy and nutritious, with high levels of calcium, alongside zinc, iron, phosphorus and selenium.

Admittedly, when you’re planning tonight’s dinner menu, it’s not the first answer that springs to mind. But fish byproducts – the commonly ‘wasted’ parts of fish, like the head, viscera and backbone – are often particularly high in micronutrients.

And, as we address the need to sustainably increase fish production to meet a growing demand, while at the same time tackling the large portion of fish and seafood that make up the over 1 billion tonnes of food that are wasted each year, we need to come up with creative ways to fully utilize our food products.

Fish byproducts offer one promising opportunity to mainstream sustainable approaches into our dietary choices. They have an added benefit of providing a nutritional boost to the most vulnerable populations.

As FAO Fishery Industry Officer and nutrition expert Jogeir Toppe notes, “When fish is processed, we separate the fillet, or the meat, from the rest of the fish. The fillet is the most valuable part of the fish – at least in economic terms.

The paradox is that, in terms of nutrition, the remaining parts are the most valuable nutritionally, since the micronutrients are mainly concentrated there. Minerals such as iron, zinc, calcium, phosphorus and vitamins, including vitamins A and B12 are found in significant amounts in the parts generally disposed of and never consumed.”

FAO Fisheries interns Eun An and Aisling McGough with the Ugandan fish powder stews they prepared, alongside FAO Fisheries staff colleagues Jogeir Toppe and Yvonne Davidsson.

“From a nutritional standpoint, this is a wasted opportunity since the levels of these micronutrients might be 10, 100 or even 1000 times higher in the remaining parts compared to the amounts in the fillet. At the same time, we know that hundreds of millions, or even billions of people are deficient in one or more of these micronutrients. This is why, in recent years, we have been increasingly working with countries to see how we can better use these fish byproducts as a nutritional boost in countries with vulnerable populations.”

Some powders include byproducts alongside small, whole fish that are ground into powder. These small fish are nutrient-dense in the skin and bones, and the bones are also excellent sources of calcium.

Two FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture interns tested recipes with a Mukene fish powder used in some FAO school feeding programmes. The interns, Aisling McGough of Ireland and Eun An of the Republic of Korea tested a recipe in honour of the International Year of Pulses (#IYP2016) we’re celebrating this year. We at FAO Fisheries taste-tested their recipe and enjoyed it. At the end of this blog post, we’ve included for you the tasty recipe for Chickpea and Mukene Fish Powder Stew.

Nutritional benefits of Mukene fish powder

The Ugandan Mukene fish powder is an excellent source of calcium for preschool children. A 10g serving added to a traditional stew provides the children with 21% of their daily recommended needs for calcium, which is important for developing strong and healthy bones. The high calcium content is due to the fish powder being made by using the whole fish. This means that the high levels of calcium are coming directly from the bones of the fish.

Mukene (Rastrineobola argentea) is an underutilized fish species local to Lake Victoria. Use of such underutilized fish species can improve the overall fish supply for human consumption.

Furthermore, consumption of Mukene has good potential to improve overall food and nutrition security in the regions surrounding Lake Victoria, since it is a small fish, eaten whole, including the bones and organs which provide minerals iron, zinc, calcium, phosphorus and selenium.

Tiny fish can help develop big, healthy bones in kids

Globally there are 795 million malnourished people (FAO, 2015). Some 1.2 billion people worldwide are iron deficient, and in developing countries the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that every second pregnant woman and 40% of infants are anemic. 10 grams of Mukene powder can provide 10% of children’s daily needs for iron intake. In comparison, fortification of local foods with just 10 grams of Tuna backbone powder could provide 3.6mg of Iron, or 40% of the recommended daily iron need for children. Tuna backbone powder, derived solely from leftover bones of Tuna fish, should also result in better sensory acceptance of byproduct fish powders since it has a less ‘fishy’ taste compared to Mukene fish powder.

Additionally, comparison of Tuna backbone powder with Mukene powder allows recognition of Tuna backbone powder as a richer source of micronutrients. It provides a higher level of calcium (1,200mg per 10g serving) than Mukene powder, which meets both the calcium needs of adults and children.
Levels of zinc remain almost identical between the two products, providing roughly 12% of daily zinc needs of children. Lack of zinc in the diet can result in diminished growth and a weak immune system in children and zinc deficiency is associated with a higher risk of both diarrhea and pneumonia, resulting in 800,000 deaths per year, according to World Food Program (WFP) estimates. Thus, fish byproduct powders could contribute to reducing zinc deficiency related deaths in regions where malnutrition is rampant.

School children in Ghana tasting fish powder products and recording their impressions.
In order for products fortified with nutritious fish powders to be accepted, they must appeal to local customs and dietary preferences. These evaluations by school children in Ghana help to determine which products are most widely accepted.
Fish powder produced in Ghana being sealed in non-vacuum package samples.

Taking culture into account: school feeding in Ghana

There is a potential for optimizing production of fish byproduct powders and testing both the nutrition composition and the acceptability of these powders. To ensure acceptance, it is important that the powders appeal to dietary preferences and flavors appreciated by the local populations.

In 2012, an FAO School Feeding Program in Ghana incorporated different fish powders into local school lunches. The powders were made from locally available raw materials; tuna frames, flying gurnard, woevi, and anchovies. An evaluation of the colour, aroma, texture, and taste of the lunches was conducted.

School children who were familiar with these local dishes were recruited to test the lunches, and it was found that there was a high acceptability of all the dishes prepared with the milled fish and fish by-products.

This case demonstrates the potential for integrating nutrient-rich fish byproducts into local cuisine to promote greater nutrition, particularly in areas where starchy staples result in decreased absorption of iron and zinc. The combination of low costs, high nutritional values, simple technology and acceptability demonstrates promise for the expansion of this practice to other schools and regions.

Developing fish byproduct powders in Uganda

Currently in Uganda, efforts are being made as part of an FAO project to create low cost nutrient dense fish products from byproducts and low value fish species. Skin, off cuts and carcasses form Nile Perch (Lates Niloticus) and whole Synodontis were dried, milled and processed to a fish powder before being used as a flour composite in local maize and cassava bread.

The maize and Synodontis bread was preferred in early acceptability tests and nutrition analysis indicates that fortification of local dishes with such powders could contribute to reducing malnutrition in Uganda. Further research is currently underway to determine safe processing methods, packaging and labelling methods and shelf life of fish and by-product powders. 

Ready to celebrate the International Year of Pulses?

And now, here’s a recipe for you to try that combines fish powder with chickpeas ... perfect for this year’s International Year of Pulses.

Chickpea and Mukene Fish Powder Stew

Serves Two


  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 eggplant finely chopped
  • 2 red chili peppers, crushed
  • 1 large can of tomatoes (800g)
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 4 teaspoons of Mukene powder (10 grams)
  • 1 Bay leaf

Tools and equipment

  • Pan
  • Knife
  • Chopping Board
  • Wooden Spoon
  • Stove


1. Heat the oil in the pan and add the yellow onion. Once the onion is browning, add the eggplant and chili.

2. Sautee the ingredients for two minutes, then add the can of tomatoes and can of chickpeas.

3. Add 4 teaspoons of Mukene fish powder and allow to boil for eight minutes.

4. Turn the heat down on the stove and allow the stew to simmer, add the bay leaf to give flavor to the dish.

5. Serve the stew with rice or bread. 

Nutrition Information:

Nutrition Facts Chickpeas; drained weight 230g; serving size 57.5g

Source: United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service.
Source: (Kabahenda et al., 2011)

Chances are that fish byproduct powders aren’t part of your dinner plans tonight. But as we’re searching for a more sustainable management of our natural resources in order to feed the 9.6 billion people we expect to populate our planet by 2050, maybe someday soon fish byproducts should be making their way into your favourite recipes...


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