Good Practice Project
A Finnish fisherman has taken up the Japanese method of ageing fish known as “umami”, attracting Michelin star chefs
“Umami” in Japanese refers to one of the five basic human tastes. It is described as the pleasant savoury taste associated with aged foods. In Japan, the aging of meat and fish is a traditional method of intentionally producing the umami taste.
Ben Henriksson, a fisherman from Ahvenkoski, has successfully applied this traditional Japanese technique, producing the first umami-type fish from the Baltic Sea. To develop this unique product, Ben spent over three years researching the Umami preparation technique and travelled to several countries (including Japan) to obtain first-hand knowledge.
Developing the highest grade of umami salmon requires a very specific process along the entire supply chain. As such, Ben only sources fish from fishermen who, like him, use fishing methods which keep the fish alive and stress levels to the minimum as stress hormones can affect the quality of the fish. For this reason, the umami technique requires the using the ‘Ikejime’ method of neutralising the nervous system, quickly killing the fish with minimal stress. Once landed, the fish are cleaned, gutted and aged on a 0°C ice bed. After a week, the fish is again cleaned, filleted and trimmed before being put back on the ice for another week. The matured fillets are then ready to be prepared in three different ways: natural, ‘gravad’ (marinated and slightly fermented) or cold smoked. The three-week process gives the fish a unique savoury taste which has been described as second to none by some Michelin star chefs.
The Esko FLAG supported the project in two stages. Firstly, in the testing and marketing phases of the product. Several variants of the product were developed and tested by Michelin starred chefs at a series of events. Secondly, in the further experimentation of the umami technique and the use of other species, and in the promotion of the new products at Helsinki food fairs, using a marketing specialist.
This new product has been brought to market successfully, selling for around €100/kg in high-end Helsinki restaurants. The project has increased the businesses turnover by €50 000 and has created a new 0.7 FTE job. Fishermen (or fish farmers) supplying Ben get a 30 to 40% price premium to compensate for the extra care given to handling and dispatching the fish used in this process.
Producing Umami type of fish is a demanding process that requires a high level of know-how. Still, niche markets exist in many areas. To tap into them requires meeting very specific standards but they can also be rewarding, as this example shows.
One lesson Ben draws is that luxury niche markets are demanding, especially Michelin star chefs who are not always easy to reach. Sales volumes for niche markets also tend to be limited and broadening the customer base for this type of product is not easy as regular restaurants are not ready to pay higher prices. Ben must, therefore, turn towards export markets to find new customers, but this can be challenging for a small company.
Contribution to CLLD objective: Adding value along the fisheries supply chain.
|Total project cost||€14 940|
|Timeframe of implementation||From Feb 2017|