Great Lakes whitefish: Is fresh whitefish better than frozen whitefish?
Consumer preferences for fresh versus frozen Great Lakes whitefish studied at Michigan State University
The Great Lakes commercial lake whitefish industry harvests a great deal of their catch in the fall of the year, when these fish are more easily caught. During this same time of great harvest, tourist and restaurant markets decline and the Great Lakes commercial whitefish processors are forced to freeze large quantities of the catch. While a frozen product allows consumers to access whitefish beyond the regular season, there has always been a stigma that fresh fish is better than frozen fish.
In the winter months, the Great Lakes whitefish that you purchase in a restaurant is more than likely a frozen product. Many consumers, though, indicate that they can tell the difference between a frozen fish and a fresh fish. Is this true? To answer this question Michigan Sea Grant and Michigan State University Extension conducted a sensory analysis study to determine if consumers can actually tell the difference between a cooked fresh and cooked frozen Great Lakes whitefish.
The research for this project was carried out at the Michigan State University Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition Sensory Evaluation Laboratory. Great Lakes whitefish that had been frozen for 1 and 4 months was compared to fresh Great Lakes whitefish. Two side-by-side frozen fillets were stored in 3 mm vacuum-sealed bags. During the freezing process, all vacuum packed fillets were spread out on racks in the freezer to freeze evenly and quickly. The freezer was kept at -10 Fahrenheit to -20 Fahrenheit. There were 115 consumer panelists that participated in the product testing. For all the tests, one-half ounce samples were prepared from the loin section of the fish fillets and they cooked in a microwave without any additional seasoning. The consumer panel preferred the 1 and 4 month frozen Great Lakes whitefish over the fresh Great Lakes whitefish in cooked appearance, texture, and overall acceptability. The consumer panel could not differentiate a cooked flavor difference between the fresh or frozen Great Lakes whitefish.
The Great Lakes whitefish commercial fishing industry is using the results of this study to help position its product in the marketplace. The stigma that frozen Great Lakes whitefish is inferior to fresh product is dispelled in this study as the consumer panel gave the frozen product high scores.