Fishiness and How to Fight It

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

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The house-permeating “fishy” aroma of cooked fish appears to involve a group of volatile molecules formed by fatty-acid fragments reacting with TMAO. Japanese scientists have found that certain ingredients help reduce the odor, apparently by limiting fatty-acid oxidation or preemptively reacting with TMAO: these include green tea and such aromatics as onion, bay, sage, clove, ginger, and cinnamon, which may also mask the fishy smell with their own. Acidity—whether in a poaching liquid, or in a buttermilk dip before frying— also mutes the volatility of fishy amines and aldehydes, and helps break down muddy-smelling geosmin that farmed freshwater fish (catfish, carp) sometimes accumulate from blue-green algae.