Canned fish has become popular in Portugal and even an emblematic symbol of national gastronomy in recent years. Specifically, in the large cities of Lisbon and Porto, a number of places have sprung up that sell not only traditional Portuguese wine and cheese, but also high-quality canned fish in charmingly beautiful packaging and boxes, such as Unique Flavours.
History and Origin
Actually, preserving fish has a long tradition in Portugal. The method of preserving fish in sea salt was introduced in the Iberian Peninsula during the Iron Age, and was used by the Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians, followed by the Romans. Ruins along the coast, such as Roman clay amphora jars discovered in Peniche, reveal evidence of a thriving salted fish industry at the time.
Ramirez was Portugal's first commercial cannery (and now the oldest in Europe), founded in 1853, with factories in Setúbal, Algarve, and Vila Real de Santo António in the north to produce sardines in olive oil.
After the introduction of pasteurization in 1862, several other canneries opened, not only for sardines but also for tuna and other fish. Most of these canneries were in the Pacific Northwest.
The early 1900s brought new technology, including the first can-sealing machines that streamlined business and allowed more factories to open, producing for both local and international markets. It was also around this time that the old practice of frying fish before canning eventually changed to boiling it in salt water and other spices, adding the rest of the cooking liquid to the can. This style of preparation not only improved the flavor but helped retain the juices.
Portugal had 152 canneries in 1983, producing over 34,000 tons of canned fish per year and was one of the largest exporters of canned fish. However, the canning business suffered a severe downturn in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with numerous factories and manufacturers closing their doors and canned fish being relegated to the back shelf of Portuguese minds.
The revival of the canned fish fashion
The economic crisis of the last few years has hit Portugal hard, but there were also those who saw it as an opportunity.
The economic and practical value of canned fish made it possible for budget tins of tuna or sardines to be a quick and easy, and quite affordable, meal option.
In addition, canned fish is a very healthy option. Both tuna and sardines are a great source of fatty acids, such as Omega 3, and loaded with vitamins and minerals, especially when cooked in sea salt and preserved in olive oil. Canned seafood such as clams and mussels are also rich in iron. Sardines, in peculiar, are some of the healthiest fish you can eat, and some studies have shown that these are even better than fresh ones. Not only are they rich in protein and vitamin B12, but they have ten times the calcium as a result of the gelling process.
When you can can whole sardines, the gelling breaks down the bones and makes them easily digestible. So you can eat the whole fish and get that added calcium from the bones.
Even Portuguese cardiologists recommend that canned sardines be eaten at least three times a week to decrease the risk of heart attack.
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