There’s one rule that moms and kitchen safety experts often quote when it comes to a food item that has an odd color or appearance: “When in doubt, throw it out.”
But sometimes, moms (and experts) can be wrong.
Oklahoma’s Southcentral Region Fisheries Management published a Facebook post last week as part of its “Biweekly Fish Fact Friday” feature, reassuring outdoor enthusiasts that the flesh of largemouth bass can vary considerably in color and still be a candidate for the dinner table.
“Have you ever caught a fish that had an off color to the flesh?” the post asked. “You might have thought that’s weird and just cooked it anyway, or you became concerned and threw it out.”
However, the post assured readers, the different shade of flesh “is actually safe to eat and a common natural phenomenon!”
The agency included a photo of one typical-looking fish filet next to one that had a yellowish-orange color.
“These two filets came from … largemouth bass caught in the same location,” the post explained.
The difference in appearance, according to the report, is due to a pigment called xanthophylls, which can cause the fish flesh to have a yellow color. The higher the concentration or pigment, the more yellow the flesh. “Both are perfectly safe to eat!” the agency assured.
Like flamingoes, which develop their pink coloring from a diet containing carotenoid pigments found in the algae and shrimp in their habitat, the bass acquire variances in color based on the food they eat.
“These pigments typically come from the plants the fish are eating,” said the agency’s post, which they attributed to the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries division.
“In the case of largemouth bass since they are predatory it is likely obtained from the fish they ate. You can notice this coloration phenomenon in the egg yolks as well!”
So rather than being something alarming or off-putting, this color variance is another example of the wonder of God’s creation.
Bass are not the only fish that can show surprising variations in the color of their skin or flesh. The British-Columbia-based news outlet Times Colonist published a story last year recalling the excitement that ensued five years earlier when marine ecologist Aaron Galloway speared a ling cod that sported an “electric blue” color.
“I just found it fascinating,” Galloway said.
As it turns out, other fishing enthusiasts have occasionally landed blue-colored fish up and down the Pacific Coast. Some have dubbed them Smurf cod or Smurf meat — a reference to the little blue cartoon characters.
Blue “ling Cod” pic.twitter.com/TWuIN43Bpz
— StockShaman #PeakCopper (@StockShaman) May 1, 2021
Galloway was so intrigued he proceeded to conduct a study of the phenomenon, teaming up with some other scientists who had done an extensive catch survey of ling cod over long stretches of the West Coast. They studied the data to figure out what might cause some of the fish to turn blue.
While the study was not completely conclusive, sex appeared to be a factor, as most — about 80 percent — of the blue ling cod were female. There also was an indication the color might provide UV protection for those dwelling in shallower water.
Some tests showed the blue-fleshed fish had a lower concentration of fatty acids — a possible indication of poor health.
“So our hypothesis, and some of the fatty acids we traced, indicate the blue fish might be starving, or going through some sort of nutritional stress,” Galloway said, according to the Times Colonist.
For those who might be reluctant to consume blue fish flesh, here’s a bit of reassurance: The blue ling cod filets reportedly take on a more familiar appearance when cooked. Bon appétit!
— jess (@jessicaleighkob) July 21, 2014
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