Fish scales are usually the first thing we as humans scrape off and throw away when preparing fish. The main purpose of scales in fish is protection from predators and parasites, which is why they are relatively hard. The overlapping nature of the scales also helps with streamlining the fishes’ body so that movement in waster offers less resistance.
Some cichlid fish species have evolved to feed solely on the scales of other fish and have even adapted their mouths to optimally do so (Source). This is called Lepidophagy, and even though none of us are considering turning lepidophagous any time soon, it does not mean that fish scales are not nutritious.
The question is though, if you were in a crisis, with very little food – is there a way that fish scales could help nourish you and your family. Do fish scales really have?
Fish scales are composed of mostly of keratin, collagen, enamel and protein rich mucus. The collagen and mucus together provide a very high proportion of proteins, especially lysine. Fish scales are also high in calcium phosphate, which serves as a source of calcium for strong bones and teeth. Collagen is also a vital component of connective tissue and supports joint injury recovery and diseases such as osteoporosis.
The nutritional and commercial value of fish scales lies mainly in it’s high collagen content. So many beauty and health products feature collagen for skin elasticity and joint health.
On a smaller scale, the collagen from fish scales have been used to make HIVI nutritional cookies as supplement for malnourished communities, while researchers are investigating the wound healing potential of fish scale collagen.
Before we get into these alternatives, let’s have a look at how you can consume fish scales for the collagen, to support your joints.
Fish Scale Therapy anyone?
You may think of cosmetics and facial creams advertised by movie stars when you hear the word “collagen”, but collagen is actually one of the most abundant proteins in the human body. It is a major component of all connective tissues such as tendons and ligaments and helps the skin retain its structure.
Collagen also supports healthy bones and should thus be part of a healthy diet.
So how do we consume collagen?
Well, your body can actually make collagen from the right ingredients, which mostly include a diversity of proteins and some minerals and vitamins. As your body gets older, it makes less and less collagen, which means you need to start taking it as a supplement.
There are several collagen supplements available on the market, but you can also consider making your own fish scale jelly or fish scale dessert soup. This is known as fish scale therapy. If you can source fresh fish scales from a local fish market, you can follow the two recipes below to make your own fish scale desserts (Source).
Fish Scale Jelly
Wash you scales properly to remove the fishy smell. Now cook them in some boiling water, at a ratio of three cups of water to one cup of scales. You can add in some fragrant leaves such as pandan leaves, or some vanilla pods to help remove the fishy smell. Peppermint also works well.
Now add in some sugar, dates, berries or fruit syrup for flavor. Continue to cook the scales for about three to four hours, until it all turns into a thick jelly. Pour the warm mixture into jelly molds and allow to set in the refrigerator. Serve with some additional fruit syrup for a yummy healthy dessert!
Fish scale dessert soup
This soup in made in the same way as the jelly, but is served straight from the stove as a warm dessert soup. The added fruits serve as a source of vitamin C and antioxidants to make this a healthy dessert option.
These cookies are produced as a high protein supplement for undernourished human populations, and contains as its base, fish scales. The collagen content of these cookies is roughly 25% per 100g, which serves as a protein source for nourishment and to help curb hunger.
Fats and carbohydrates are added from corn flour, kidney beans and honey. In poor populations, these cookies also support the elderly with osteoporosis (Source).
Healing potential of fish scales
The secret of the healing power of fish scales lies once again in its collagen rich composition. Scientists in Singapore have investigated the use of modified collagen derived from fish scales for wound healing. They investigated the use of this collagen both internally as a supplement as well as externally as wound dressings.
Internally, the collagen is exposed to the acidic environment of the stomach, which allows it to dissolve and be absorbed. Externally, however, the collagen needs to be modified to be water-soluble, in order to be added to wound dressings.
They have also considered the use of the collagen as a carrier of additional wound healing drugs, to be placed on wound dressings.
Another factor that makes the use of fish scale collagen so promising is that fact that most of the medically used collagen is derived from cows, pigs and sheep. The use of these mammalian derivatives has cultural and religious restrictions that have made the use of collagen wound dressings difficult.
The use of fish scale collagen, however, will open up the application of collagen and drug infused collagen to wound dressings (Source).
Since fish scales are largely considered as a waste product of the fishing industry, it comes at a very cheap price in very high volumes. It is therefore not surprising that fish scale collagen is the natural choice for biomedical research into wound healing.
Other uses of fish scales
If you follow a “throw nothing out” approach in your home, then you will be happy to know that there are other uses for fish scales. Therefore, if you decided that fish scale dessert is not for you, you can always opt to make fish scale fertilizer.
Fish Scale fertilizer
People have been using fish waste and by products as fertilizer for centuries. There are even stories of Native Americans who used to put small fish in the tilled soil before they planted their seeds. These small fish decomposed slowly, thereby releasing small amounts of nutrients to the plants as they grow.
If you choose to make your own fish scale fertilizer, here is what you should know (Source: The Grow Network).
To make your own fish scale fertilizer, create a compost mix by mixing equal parts of fish waste with organic matter in a large container. Add some water and cover with a lid. Allow this mixture to ferment in a dark place for several weeks.
Once ready, pour off the liquid and use diluted at a ratio of 1:12 to fertilize your soil or to spray on the leaves for foliar fertilizer. Fish mulch contains potassium, nitrogen and phosphorus, which are vital elements for plant growth and reproduction.
The truth is that many of the things we have traditionally labeled as waste can be extremely useful. Similar to recycling plastics, glass and metal, we simply have to think out of the box a little to find uses for the things we throw away, especially when it comes to food scraps.
Now that you know all these amazing uses for fish scales, I hope you explore them and find alternative uses for it in your home. Let’s try and use every drop!