Around the holidays, smoked salmon and oysters are crowd pleasers in the Pacific Northwest. Well, to be honest, they are crowd pleasers all year round, but winter is a time for party platters of smoked salmon and oysters. Which got me to thinking- if some people choose to avoid barbecued meats in the summer months because of the risk of consuming carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), should they also be considering smoked salmon in the winter months? What about oysters? Does it matter if they are smoked or raw?
Well, with a bit of research into the issue we can start to answer that question. I consider Nat Geo to have the best seafood consumer decision making guide that actually has information about human health risks and benefits, so I checked that out. Nope, smoked fish is not an option on the seafood finder, but we do know wild salmon has higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids than farmed salmon, so we can already label smoked farmed salmon as less heart healthy. But does the smoking process alter those omega-3s? A 2011 letter to the editor from Harvard Heart Letter has insight from Norweigan fish nutrition scientist Marit Espe, who found that the smoking process does not alter the amount of omega-3’s. While it does matter for heart health whether your salmon was raised in the ocean or in a farm, perhaps baked is as good as smoked. The carcinogens on barbecued meats are on the most blackened parts, so it is possible that smoked salmon is healthier than blackened salmon. That is, unless the amount of sodium in smoked fish counteracts the omegas. So many questions and so few answers!
Oysters are a different story. They already have a rainbow of benefits: omega-3s, Vitamin A, Vitamin B-12, Iron, Magnesium, thiamine and niacin, and a bonus of zinc to aid your immune system in the sickly winter months. Now, would your oysters have carcinogenic PAHs? They could, if you had smoked oysters that were doused in liquid smoke, according to a 1993 study by Gomaa et al. So, the amount of PAHs in liquid smoke would deserve just as much consideration as real smoke. I’ll take my oysters raw, thank you.
That’s all I could find, folks. Some of these resources were a bit outdated, so please chime in or Tweet at me if you have anything to share.
*Disclaimer: This is a blog, not a way to replace your doctor.
For more information on cancer causing compounds from barbecuing meats, see the National Cancer Institute’s site.
Oyster nutrition facts from Granatta et al. The Seafood Industry: Species, products, processing, and safety. 2012. 2nd edition. Blackwell Publishing Ltd.