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A sheet of gelatin made from Alaskan pollock fish skin. Link to photo information
A sheet of gelatin, made from Alaskan pollock fish skin, is flexible, versatile—and edible! Click the image for more information about it.

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Freezer-Friendly Fish Gelatins Fight Sogginess

By Marcia Wood
April 24, 2007

Favorite foods stored in your freezer taste best if they have just the right amount of moisture—neither too wet nor too dry. In the future, invisible edible coatings made from gelatin might provide a new way to make sure water vapor can't wreak havoc with frozen food tastes and textures.

These thin, clear coatings might be made from gelatin extracted from the silvery skins of seagoing fish such as Alaskan pollock. That's according to Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists in Alaska and California who are experimenting with thin sheets of the gelatin.

Skins left over after pollock and other fish are processed into fillets are typically ground up and dumped into the sea or processed into low-value fishmeal. Gelatin coatings may provide a profitable and environmentally friendly alternative to this approach.

The coatings, which look something like everyday clear plastic wrap, have no seafood taste or odor, despite their marine origin.

Food technologists Tara H. McHugh at the agency's Western Regional Research Center in Albany, Calif., and Peter Bechtel at the Subarctic Agricultural Research Center in Fairbanks, Alaska, and their ARS and university coinvestigators are collaborating in the research.

Fish gelatins aren't new. But the ARS studies apparently are the first to establish the effectiveness of Alaskan pollock gelatin as a barrier.

In laboratory tests, the fish gelatin proved a more effective barrier to both unwanted moisture and oxygen than films made from the traditional sources—cow and pig hides. Also, the fish gelatin would be acceptable in kosher and Halal cuisine, while the cow and pig gelatins are not, according to McHugh.

Collaborator Roberto de Jesús Avena-Bustillos, formerly with ARS and now at the University of California-Davis, directed the barrier studies.

Besides these versatile coatings and films, fish gelatin offers an alternative to the traditional gelatins used as an ingredient in some frozen foods, for example.

Read more about the research in the April 2007 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.