Smell of the Seacoast

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
Ocean fish often have an additional, characteristic aroma of the seacoast. This ocean aroma appears to be provided by compounds called bromophenols, which are synthesized by algae and some primitive animals from bromine, an abundant element in seawater. Bromophenols are propelled into the seacoast air by wave action, where we smell them directly. Fish also accumulate them, either by eating algae or by eating algae eaters, and the fish can thus remind us of the sea air. Farmed saltwater fish lack the oceanic aroma unless their artificial feed is supplemented with bromophenols.