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Artisanal fish processing remains the predominant and most important method of fish preservation in Africa. The principal methods are smoking, sun-drying, salting, fermentation, grilling and frying. These processes may either be used alone or combined in order to achieve the desired product. For instance, smoking is often accompanied by drying. Similarly, salting and sun-drying are often combined to get a well preserved product. Invariably, the final product is distinguished by peculiar qualities such as aroma, flavour and colour according to the consumer's preference.
The choice of a particular processing method is greatly influenced by the area's geographical location, socio-economic factors and the food habits of the local people. For instance, due to the availability of fuel wood and solar salt in Ghana, a lot of fish is smoked, fermented or salted and dried. These cured fishery products are the most popular form in which fish is generally consumed in Ghana. A Ghanaian housewife will normally use different types of cured fishery products to prepare the family meal in order to achieve a desirable flavour in the soup or stew which is eaten with the traditional starchy staples such as cassava, plantain, yam, rice, etc.
Fermentation is one method of fish curing in which the development of a distinctive flavour in the final product is the principal objective. Therefore, this product is mainly used as a condiment in the preparation of traditional sauces.
Fermentation alone as a curing process does not preserve fish because it results in the breakdown of fish muscle. For this reason, fermentation is often combined with salting and/or drying in order to reduce water activity and retard or eliminate the growth of proteolytical and putrefying bacteria. In Southeast Asia the fermentation process often lasts for several months and the final product is usually a paste, sauce or liquid. In Africa, however, fish fermentation lasts from a few hours to about two weeks. Under such conditions, fermentation is usually partial and the muscle structure is not broken down completely. Consequently, the fish retains its original form of whole or cut pieces after fermentation and can be eaten as food fish or used as a condiment.
Fish fermentation is generally accompanied by the development of a mild or strong odour which becomes associated with the final product. Fermented fishery products in Africa may either be soft with a high moisture content, semi-dry or very dry. Some products are also heavily salted and dried whilst others are dried without any salting. Some types of fermented products have a rancid taste.
The various types of fermented fishery products consumed in Africa have not been studied in any detail. This report describes the processing characteristics of fermented fish in Burundi, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, the Gambia, Ghana, Mali, Senegal, the Sudan and Uganda. It also evaluates the socioeconomic effects as well as consumer attitudes to fermented fish in these countries.
In this report, fermented fish includes salted and/or sun-dried fishery products in which some degree of desirable enzymatic or microbiological change has taken place in the fish muscle.
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