Tasting ocean acidification

Pink shrimp raised in tanks that simulate the more acidic ocean expected in the future just don’t taste right, according to a recently published research paper from Sweden.  For the first time, a scientific study has looked at the effects of future ocean conditions on the taste of seafood.

Teaming up with a professional chef, the researchers cooked and served local shrimp that had been raised for three weeks in high carbon dioxide conditions alongside shrimp raised in regular conditions. Volunteer taste testers then tried both kinds of shrimp and scored them on appearance, texture, and taste.

Ocean acidification didn’t affect texture at all, but it significantly hurt the shrimps’ appearance and taste scores.  Shrimp raised under regular conditions were more than three times as likely to be rated the best shrimp on the plate, and the shrimp raised with high carbon dioxide levels were about three times as likely to be rated the worst on the plate.

“Ocean acidification is often referred as the silent storm because you can’t see it, you can’t hear it, and you can’t smell it, but our research suggests that you just may be able to taste it”, says lead author Dr. Sam Dupont, in a statement from the University of Gothenburg, where the research was performed.

The researchers did not study exactly why the flavor and appearance changed, but it’s well known that stressed animals produce poorer quality meat. In fact, fish under stress can have a metallic aftertaste. The stress of ocean acidification might have changed these shrimps’ metabolism enough that they didn’t store fats and sugars normally, leading to these changes.

These intriguing results suggest that there could be many hidden ways that global change will affect the things we care about. It’s not just about shellfish growing slower or sharks not smelling their dinner.

Sarah Cooley, The Blog Aquatic (Ocean Conservancy), 15 January 2015. Article.

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