Asian Carp found to be surprisingly tasty
March 4th, 2015
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By Fran Webber
COLUMBIA, Mo. – Silver carp is an invasive Asian fish that is displacing native species as it steadily moves up the Mississippi River and its major tributaries. If this fish enters the Great Lakes, it could disrupt a multibillion dollar fishing industry. A University of Missouri professor has found a solution to this environmental and potentially economic problem: convince people to eat silver carp, which has been proven to taste better than other commonly consumed fish, expand the market to include universities and other food services that cater to large populations, and, in the process, teach students about sustainable solutions to environmental issues.
“Eating invasive species is a big deal,” said Mark Morgan, associate professor in the MU School of Natural Resources. “This effort is consistent with a broader trend of chefs around the nation creating high-end dishes to control problematic species. However, this high-end culinary approach doesn’t help reduce the overall number of Asian carp because just a few people are eating them. I want more people to consume so we can put a dent in the current population of Asian carp in the Mississippi River Basin.”
Current measures in place to address the threat posed by invasive Asian carp populations are designed to block the fish from reaching the Great Lakes. However, Morgan thinks that in order to solve the problem, the actual number of fish must be reduced. The environmentally responsible, and delicious, way to do this is by eating them, Morgan said.
Asian carp are inexpensive, healthy and have much lower levels of mercury than tuna, and in recent taste tests, Morgan found consumers preferred the Asian carp much more than other fish, including the popular catfish. The taste of Asian carp is mild, and it takes on other flavors well, Morgan said.
With these selling points, Morgan is working with a local grocery store in Columbia, Mo., to sell the fish to the public. Because carp fillets contain small bones that are difficult to remove by processors or consumers, the fish is currently being sold as a ground product that is 100 percent boneless. The fish crumbles work well for tacos, burritos, soups and chili, Morgan said. So far, Morgan’s strategy is working. The fish is selling well, and the grocery store is expanding to include other Asian carp products, including fish heads.
“Carp has an image problem,” Morgan said. “People assume that carp is not good, that it’s low quality or has poor flavor. If you eat it, you’ll change your mind pretty quickly. When people encounter carp in a prepared form they can look at it, smell it and taste it, and when they do, a lot of them end up thinking ‘Hey, this is really good!’”
Morgan said that next steps include expanding the consumer market to universities and other food services that cater to large populations, growing the market and further reducing the wild population of the fish. Serving carp at universities also creates an opportunity to teach students about sustainable solutions to environmental issues, Morgan said.
The School of Natural Resources is a part of the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.