6. Consumer attitudes to fishery products

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6.1 Fish consumption patterns
6.2 Substitutes for fermented fish
6.3 Nutritional evaluation of fermented fishery products


All types of fermented fish together with other ingredients are boiled or stir-fried and eaten with the starchy staple food. The fermented fish imparts flavour to the dish. Truly fermented products are therefore used as a condiment. Other non-fermented fish or meat may be added. Slightly fermented cured products are used without addition of a condiment.

6.1 Fish consumption patterns

Fish consumption patterns in many African countries show relatively higher levels in the coastal countries than in the hinterland. The average annual fish consumption in the West African coastal region for example is approximately 20 kg per capita. In the Sahel countries of Chad, Mali and the Sudan, per capita fish consumption is low, ranging from 2 to 9 kg per annum (Table 8). Here; the main source of animal protein is meat due to the large number of herds of cattle in these countries.

In eastern and central Africa, per capita fish consumption varies within each country depending on proximity to the source of fish. In Burundi for instance, the per capita fish consumption is about 17 kg in the capital city and in the villages along the Lake Tanganyika. However, in the hinterland per capita fish consumption is below 4 kg.

In Uganda, fish is consumed on a large scale in the cities (e.g. Kampala), the northern and northwestern districts, especially among people residing in districts bordering Lakes Victoria, Kyoga, Edward, George and Albert. In the north-eastern districts where the people are traditionally cattle herdsman, fish consumption is very low. Indeed, there are people who are complete non-fish eaters by custom and so avoid fish. Ugandans also consume milk on a large scale throughout the country.

Table 8. Fish Consumption Patterns

Country Fresh/Frozen % Smoked % Fried %

Fermented Dried

Per Capita Consumption kg/annum
Salted % Unsalted %
Burundi 25 5 negligible negligible 70 6.0
Chad 10 45 negligible 0 45 8.5
Côte d'Ivoire 35 50 5 10 0 17.7
The Gambia 30 55 5 10 0 16.4
Ghana 20 60 5 10 5 20.0
Mali 10 60 negligible 0 30 7.1
Senegal 70 20 negligible 10 0 20.7
The Sudan 70 5 negligible 10 15 2.0
Uganda 45 40 2 3 10 13.0

It is therefore clear that ecological factors, animal husbandry practices and traditional beliefs as well as urbanization, income levels and the type of animal protein available in a community are the major factors which influence fish consumption patterns in many African countries. In the Savanna and the semiarid regions of West Africa, Chad and the Sudan where fishery resources are low or underdeveloped, and also among the pastoral communities in East and Central Africa, preference for fish is low and the people are meat consumers by habit.

6.1.1 Pattern of fresh fish consumption

Many Africans have a strong preference for fresh fish when it is available. Fresh fish consumption in Senegal has increased in the last few years as a result of the establishment of cold stores and the availability of distribution vans which have facilitated the marketing of frozen fish throughout the country. For these reasons, nearly 70 percent of the local fish supply is distributed in the fresh/frozen form.

Fish consumption is generally low in the Sudan. However, consumers have a high preference for fresh fish especially in the cities and urban areas which are accessible to fresh fish supply. About 70 percent of the total fish supply is consumed in the fresh or frozen form. Fresh fish consumption in Uganda has been estimated at 46 percent of total fish supply. This level may be even higher in the cities and the urban centres which are located near the major fish landing centres along Lake Victoria. The establishment of filleting plants in Uganda has resulted in a significant improvement in the quality of fresh fish supply and a resultant increase in the volume of fish distributed in the fresh state, even though the bulk of the fillets from the processing plants are exported to Europe.

In Burundi, Chad, the Gambia and Ghana, fresh fish constitutes 20-30 percent of the total annual fish supply. In Mali, only 10 percent of domestic fish supply is consumed fresh. The main reason for this low level of fresh fish consumption is lack of ice and inadequate freezing and cold storage facilities. Poor road networks in these countries hamper efficient storage and distribution of fresh or frozen fish from the main landing centres to the consuming markets farther away.

6.1.2 Pattern of cured fish consumption

Cured fishery products are widely used in Africa in the preparation of traditional staple foods as a source of animal protein and also as an essential ingredient which enhances the flavour of the meal. The predominant and popular cured fishery products are smoked, salted dried, wet-salted, sundried and fermented.

Burundi: Sun-dried Limnothrissa spp. and Stolothrissa spp. (ndagala) is the most important cured fishery product consumed in Burundi. Fresh ndagala is preserved mainly by sun-drying. Fermentation is not an intended step in the processing of dried ndagala. However, in the course of sun-drying partial fermentation occurs because of the degradation of organic compounds and this gives the product a mild fermented flavour. This is particularly evident from the odour of the fish during drying. Nearly 70 percent of the landed catch is consumed as sun-dried fish especially in the rural areas and among the low-income sectors of the population. In recent years, the consumption of fried ndagala has increased, particularly in Bujumbura where it is sold in restaurants as a snack food and it is well patronized by middle-income earners. Some ndagala is smoked but due to the scarcity of fuelwood this is not an important product. Salted and fermented fishery products are not popular among the indigenous people of Burundi, although small quantities may be found on sale at the market in the Bujumbura. Burundi actually imports salted dried fish from Tanzania and re-exports to Zaire; some of this is patronized locally by foreigners from Zaire and West Africa (e.g. Mali).

Chad: Fish consumption in Chad is relatively low because of the availability and high preference for beef. The main product is smoked dried fish which constitutes about 25 percent of total fish supply.

The main type of cured fish consumed locally is fermented sun-dried fish which constitutes nearly 50 percent of total fish consumption.

Nearly 60 percent of all cured fish in Chad, smoked or sun-dried, is exported to Nigeria.

Sun-dried fermented fish is used in the preparation of local stews both as food fish and as condiment. N'Djamena is a major market for fish in Chad, hence large quantities of fresh and cured fish from Lake Chad and Rivers Shari and Logone arrive at the market every day. In the rural areas, fermented dried fish is consumed on a large scale.

The availability of fermented dried fish depends on the season. When fish is in abundance, large quantities are processed into fermented dried fish for local consumption or for export, but during the lean periods cured fish is scarce and expensive.

Côte d'Ivoire: The main cured fishery product widely consumed in Côte d'Ivoire is smoked fish. About 50 percent of the total fish supply is consumed in the smoked form. This product is dried to a low moisture level in order to preserve the fish and facilitate distribution to markets in the hinterland without spoilage. The high preference for smoked fish is due to its long shelf-life, low price and availability throughout the country.

Salted, dried and fermented fish constitute approximately 10 percent of the total volume of fish distributed locally and are preferred among the low-income subsistence farmers of the rural areas in the interior. Fermented dried fish are used by these consumers as food fish and also as a condiment in traditional soups. The total volume of fresh fish which is fried before consumption is only about 5 percent.

The Gambia: Smoked fish is the most widely consumed fishery product in the Gambia, constituting about 60 percent of total fish distribution. The most abundant and cheapest smoked fish in the Gambia is bonga (shad).

Various types of salted, fermented and sun-dried fishery products are used to prepare traditional sauces in the Gambia. These products include fermented and dried shark, ray, catfish, sea snails and other demersal species such as croakers, snappers and threadfins. Hard dried fermented fishery products are often used in large pieces as food fish, but the most widely consumed product is the semi-dried, fermented fishery product known locally as guedj which is added to stews and soups in small amounts as a condiment. Fermented dried fish in the Gambia represents about 10 percent of total fish consumption.

Ghana: About 80 percent of the total fish supply in Ghana is cured in various ways before consumption. The main cured fishery product is smoked fish and this is the most popular fishery product used in the preparation of traditional soups and stews. More than 60 percent of fish consumers rank smoked fish as the most preferred cured fishery product. Consequently, smoking is the main method of preserving fish and the product is therefore readily available in many markets throughout the country.

Low-value pelagic species, such as sardines, anchovies, bonga, bonito, etc., which constitute about 60 percent of Ghana's total fish production are usually smoked before distribution.

Smoked fish is mainly used to prepare "soups" (sauces eaten together with the starchy staple food) but small quantities are also used for stews. Reasons for the preference for smoked fish include flavour, availability and the possibility of storing it for a few days. Some consumers claim that smoked fish, unlike fresh fish, remains whole when used to prepare traditional soups and this is important because most Ghanaians prefer the piece of fish to remain intact. Freshwater fish such as tilapia, catfish, Nile perch, etc., are usually smoked to a very low moisture content. These are highly valued especially by the middle and upper-income groups and in the urban centres. They are relatively more expensive than smoked marine fish. The high preference for freshwater smoked fish is due to the characteristic flavour it imparts to soups. Some marine species are also highly valued when smoked and these include seabream, snappers, barracuda, cassava fish, grouper, mullet, etc. which are usually preferred as a soft or semi-dry smoked product. Smoked tuna which was not a popular product in the late 1960s and early 1970s is currently well-liked. The main reason for its relatively low popularity, especially in rural areas, is its high salt content. Due to the periodic scarcity of other fish species, there has been an increase in the preference for smoked tuna.

Fried fish is an important fishery product especially in southern Ghana. Nearly 5 percent of the total annual fish supply is fried before consumption.

Salted, fermented and sun-dried fish constitute another important fishery product widely consumed in southern Ghana. Semi-dried fermented fish, known locally as momone, which is processed from highvalue fish species is normally used in small quantities as a condiment. This product has a characteristic strong pungent odour, but the flavour it imparts to the meal is relished by consumers. Momone means stinking fish, hence the term "stinkfish" used earlier in publications on Ghanaian fishery products.

Partially fermented salted and hard dried fish such as kako are usually processed from larger demersal species such as sharks, skates, rays and squids. These products are used both as food and as a condiment in the preparation of traditional soups, stews and vegetable sauces. They constitute the second most important cured fishery product.

All types of fermented fishery products are either boiled in the soup or stew, or grilled and mashed with the starchy staple (cassava, yam, plantain, cocoyam, etc.). During cooking, the fermented fish imparts a desirable flavour to the meal. Although fermented fishery products are used by a broad section of the Ghanaian population, it has been observed that people with a high level of formal education tend to substitute fermented fish with manufactured flavour enhancers to achieve the desired taste.

The consumption of fermented fish is relatively high in southern Ghana especially among the Akan tribe which uses it as a delicacy and flavouring agent in traditional vegetable sauces. On the other hand, consumption is low in northern Ghana among the indigenous tribes. As a result of the popularity of this product in Ghana, considerable quantities of fermented fish are imported from Côte d'Ivoire, the Gambia and Senegal to supplement local production. It is interesting to note that the bulk of fermented fish exported to Ghana from Côte d'Ivoire and the Gambia are processed by Ghanaian settlers living in those countries.

During periods of fish scarcity, salted dried and fermented fish, such as koobi, kako, ewule, etc., constitute the main source of food fish used in the preparation of traditional soups in rural communities. Over the past two decades when the importation of kako - salted dried cod (stock fish) - from Norway declined, koobi (wet salted fermented tilapia) became a more acceptable substitute and a delicacy in many Ghanaian homes.

Salted, fermented and dried triggerfish (ewule) is another cheap cured fishery product that has been on the Ghanaian market since the early 1970s. It is widely patronized by the subsistence farmers living in the rural communities of the forest regions. Although annual catches have declined since the late 1980s, ewule is still an important fishery product especially in the hinterland. This product is not popular among urban dwellers or middle and upper-income earners who consider ewule an inferior fishery product.

Mali: Smoked dried fish forms nearly 60 percent of the total volume of fish distributed and consumed in Mali. Fermented, sun-dried fish is also consumed by many people and constitutes about 30 percent of the total fish supply. These cured fishery products are usually dried to a very low moisture content so that the product can be stored for a long period since cold storage facilities are limited.

The consumption of smoked fish in Mali has increased in recent years because it provides an alternative source of cheap animal protein for the preparation of traditional stews and soups. Fermented sun-dried fish is also consumed as food fish but it is valued more for the characteristic flavour it imparts to soups as a condiment.

Fried fish consumption is generally low in Mali and it is limited to cities and urban centres. The limited consumption of fried fish may be partly due to scarcity and the high cost of cooking oil which is normally imported. Fried fish is usually sold with fried yam, plantain or potatoes as a ready-to-eat food in the capital city and other big towns.

Senegal: The Senegalese consume a lot of fresh fish, but the most important grilled and dried fish cured product is locally called kethiakh. Various forms of salted fermented or sun-dried fishery products are also widely consumed in Senegal.

Kethiakh is consumed mostly by subsistence farmers and low-income earners especially in the rural communities. About 15 percent of the total fish supply is consumed as fully or partially fermented products including guedj, tambadiang and yeet. Kethiakh is used as a food fish but the various types of fermented fishery products may be used either as food fish or added to stews and soups in very small quantities as a condiment to enhance flavour.

Fried fish is not consumed at any appreciable level except in the cities where it is readily available. It is used to prepare stews or is eaten with other staples.

The Sudan: Fish is not consumed on any large scale in the Sudan except in the southern region and in the major towns and cities along the River Nile and Lake Nubia. Only about 5 percent is eaten in the smoked form.

The predominant cured fishery product widely produced and consumed in northern Sudan is fessiekh, a fermented fishery product. It is used as both a staple food and a condiment in food preparation. About 5 percent of the total fresh fish supply in the Sudan is processed into fessiekh but only 30 percent of this is consumed locally. Nearly 70 percent is exported to Egypt where there is a ready market. It has been reported that fessiekh originated from Egypt where it is used in the preparation of a special meal during Easter. Fessiekh is minced and boiled with vegetables (e.g. tomatoes and spices) to prepare a sauce that is eaten with bread. Fessiekh may also be eaten raw after the addition of vinegar and spices.

Terkeen is a fermented fish paste which is a delicacy among the people of northern Sudan around Lake Nubia. It is mainly used as a condiment in traditional vegetable sauces. Mindeshi is another paste-like fermented fishery product relished by the people of south-western Sudan.

Hard dried fermented fish (kejeick) is popular as food fish for Sudanese farmworkers involved in agricultural projects or working on farm plantations especially in southern Sudan.

Uganda: The popular cured fish in Uganda is smoked fish which constitutes about 40 percent of total fish supply. Demand for fermented and dried fish is low in southern Uganda. In northwestern Uganda, however, a lot of fermented fish is produced and consumed.

Total fermented fish consumption in Uganda is estimated at about 15 percent of the total national fish supply. A greater proportion of the fermented fish produced is exported to Zaire and southern Sudan where there are ready markets for the product.

The most popular sun-dried partially fermented fish which is always available at the major markets is dagaa. Small quantities of salted dried fermented fish found at the markets are patronized by foreigners especially from Zaire.

6.2 Substitutes for fermented fish

There is a growing trend in the usage of artificial food flavours in the preparation of traditional sauces and stews particularly in the West African sub-region. Some of these additives or condiments simulate the flavour characteristics normally associated with fermented fishery products. The commonest brands of these artificial flavour enhancers found in Côte d'Ivoire, the Gambia, Ghana, Mali and Senegal were maggie cubes, jumbo cubes, coumba, A1 and ajinomoto. The active compound in all of these products is monosodium glutamate (MSG). They are currently used on a large scale as flavour boosters or flavour enhancers in food preparation. The use of these products is widespread in both the urban and rural communities, notably among the middle and high-income sectors of the populations but also among people with a high level of formal education. Artificial flavours are used on a large scale for food preparation in restaurants and local public eating places (chop bars). Until the introduction of artificial food flavours, fermented fishery products were the most common traditional condiments used in these chop bars.

The industrial preparation of Southeast Asian style liquid fish sauce "Nuoc Mam". was attempted in Côte d'Ivoire in the 1970s. It is said that when consumers heard that the product was produced from rotten fish, the project had to be quickly abandoned. Interestingly, fermented fish is not considered as rotten fish by local consumers except some "foreign" experts.

In Chad, northern Ghana, Mali and Senegal, the fermented seeds of the parkia plant are also used in food preparation by some sectors of the population as an alternative condiment to fermented fish. In Ghana, for instance, dawadawa (fermented parkia seeds) is the popular condiment used by the indigenous people of the northern Savanna regions where consumption of fermented fish is limited. A similar product which is popular in Mali is called soumbala, while in Senegal it is known as nyateku. These fermented products have a characteristic strong odour and impart a desirable taste and aroma to soups and stews.

A very special fermented food used to be prepared in Benin City (Nigeria): lion's meat was mixed with honey and left to ferment. It was only to be eaten by the Oba (king) of the Edo.

6.3 Nutritional evaluation of fermented fishery products

The primary objectives of curing fish in many African countries are to preserve the fish and develop a desirable flavour. However, processing sometimes tends to affect the nutritional value of food products. Table 9 shows the proximate analysis of different types of fresh and cured fishery products.

Considering fish as a major source of protein, a general observation of Table 9 shows that curing (smoking, fermentation and salting) does not adversely affect the crude protein content of fishery products.

The moisture content of fermented fish varies from about 12 percent in smoked dried anchovies to 65 percent in wet salted cured fish (momone). The wide variation is an indication of the lack of quality standards for artisanal cured fishery products. Products with high moisture content tend to deteriorate faster than drier products especially if the salt level is low.

The protein content of fermented fish ranges from about 20 percent to nearly 50 percent depending on the water content. This makes the product a good source of animal protein. Thus, if fermented products are consumed on a large scale as food fish in the diet, they make a substantial contribution to the total protein intake. However, where only small quantities are used as a condiment to prepare sauces etc., their contribution is of minor importance.

Table 9 shows high levels of ash in all of the salted fermented products compared to other unsalted cured products. This is a reflection of the level of salt uptake during fermentation (610 percent). When salted products are to be used in relatively large quantities in food preparation, the common practice is to steep the fish in water for a short period (one to three hours) to leach out some salt. Information obtained from people in Mali and parts of northern Ghana suggests a high incidence of goitre which could be partly attributed to low levels of fish and salt consumption and therefore low iodine intake.

Table 9. Proximate Composition of Raw and Cured Fish

Type of Fish Energy in Calories Moisture % Protein % Fat % Ash %
Fresh 92 73.8 18.4 1.5 7.3
Dry smoked 380 11.9 68.6 3.5 16.0
Sun-dried 308 16.2 58.4 4.0 18.5
Cassava Croaker (Pseudotolithus senegalensis)
Fresh 104 78.6 18.4 2.8 1.0
Dried, salted (kako) 161 43.9 34.9 1.3 20.8
Fermented (momone) 134 57.6 26.2 2.4 14.6
Grey Snapper (Lutjanus agennes)
Fresh 101 76.4 14.4 1.5 1.1
Fermented (momone) - 64.9 18.2 1.4 -
Scad (Decapterus rhonchus)
Fresh 125 72.5 22.6 2.8 1.3
Hot smoked 212 56.9 33.9 7.4 2.4
Fermented - 54.5 18.9 - 1.3
Seabream (Pagrus spp., Dentex spp.)
Fresh 104 77.3 18.3 2.7 1.2
Smoked 179 61.7 29.1 4.7 1.3
Salted, fermented, dried 168 62.5 27.6 4.1 2.5
Threadfin (Galeoides decadactylus)
Fresh 113 73.9 18.9 2.0 1.5
Fermented 149 55.9 28.7 2.9 16.8
Triggerfish (Balistes spp.)
Salted, fermented, dried 196 40.1 40.7 2.5 22.5
Raw - 79.1 19.4 0.3 1.4
Squid (Sepia spp.)
Salted, dried 182 42.1 38.1 2.1 16.5
Tiger Fish (Hydrocynus spp.)
Smoked 369 15.4 73.3 6.2 5.1
Salted, fermented, sun-dried 157 43.1 32.6 2.0 22.3
Fresh 123 73.4 16.6 5.8 6.8
Salted, fermented, sun-dried (koobi) 189 39.9 38.1 0.6 16.1
Smoked 368 20.9 67.5 8.8 2.7
Unsalted, fermented, sun-dried 357 12.6 71.9 3.1 6.8

Source: Eyeson et al., 1975

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