Fish protein coating could be key to lower-fat fried foods

ASTORIA -Researchers at OSU’s Seafood Research and Education Center have come up with a fish protein coating they say significantly reduces the fat content of fried shrimp and other fried seafood dishes.

The protein solution is based on surimi, the minced and washed fish that’s transformed into a paste that can be formed into a variety of products, including popular imitation “crab.” The Astoria-based seafood center pioneered the science of producing tasty, protein-rich surimi, and is known world-wide for its annual Surimi School for seafood processors.

In Asia, surimi forms the basis of popular fried dishes – dishes which have an unusually low fat content (approximately 2 percent. That piqued the interest of Dr. Jae Park, head of OSU’s surimi research and education efforts.  With a grant from the Seafood Industry Research Fund (SIRF), Park’s team has been working on a project that turns some of that protein into a solution which can be used to coat other seafood products – and which appears to keep fried fish from absorbing so much fat.

“After doing some initial tests with typical fried US products like chicken nuggets and French fries, we saw that the fried surimi product was consistently low in fat,” said Dr. Jae Park, professor at OSU’s Department of Food Science and Technology and OSU Seafood Research and Education Center (Astoria, OR). “We thought if it’s the fish protein that is minimizing the fat uptake, how can we use that on other fried seafood to get the same results?”

After two years of research, Park and his team have developed a fat blocker solution from surimi protein that has successfully reduced the fat content of fried shrimp.

“Typically when you fry chicken nuggets or fish, you get a fat content of about 16 percent and 10 percent respectively,” explained researcher Angee Hunt. “When we fried the breaded shrimp by coating it with our fat blocker solution, the treated shrimp had 15 to 20 percent less fat compared to untreated shrimp.”

The scientists believe that the fish protein creates a protective layer around the food to reduce the fat uptake and retain the moisture, without altering the taste or texture of the product.

Oregon Sea Grant was an early supporter of surimi research by Park and other scientists at the Astoria lab.

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