What is flake fish?
The term “flake fish” is used to refer to the flesh of any small species of grey shark fit for human consumption, the most common variety being the gummy shark. Flake shark is a very popular ingredient in battered fish and chips because of its comparatively mild fishy flavour.
However, there’s been a growing concern about what exactly we call “flake”. Since labelling laws in the country aren’t regulated, there’s been a rising concern about whether or not our seafood is correctly labelled. This has led the Australian government to make some changes regarding the sale and labelling of seafood in order to protect consumers from false advertising and possibly unsafe sources of fish.
How to cook flake fish: nutrition and calories
Flake by itself is a low-calorie food, primarily because sharks don’t have a lot of fat. It’s a good source of protein, healthy cholesterol, and comes with essential minerals like Omega 3-fatty acids. But the way you cook flake fillet can wildly vary the nutrients and caloric count:
- Normal (market-bought) flake: 130 calories, 4 grams of natural fat, and 21 grams of protein. It’s naturally salted, so there’s not a lot of sodium.
- Grilled flake: has a lower calorie count, even less fat, and slightly more protein. Since salt is a huge factor in grilling fish, there’s a lot more sodium compared to market-bought flake.
- Fried flake: frying fish adds more calories and fat to the food, in addition to a lot of cholesterol.
- Canned flake: while it is lower in calories and fat than most forms of flake fish, it tends to have more cholesterol and salt, due to the preservatives and flavouring.
Aside from the preparation and cooking method, the calorie count also depends on which part of the shark the flake is from: for example, the muscle-rich shark tail will have far less fat than the belly.
Is flake fish good for you?
In recent years, numerous studies have shown that flakes contain high levels of mercury. Sharks regularly eat other fish, which make their flesh rich deposits of chemicals and pollutants. Sharks by themselves aren’t affected very much by this – they’re biologically sturdy – but when we eat shark, we get affected by those chemicals.
The Food Standards of Australia and New Zealand recommend limiting consumption of flake fish to only once a week (once every two weeks for pregnant women).
Flake vs other fish alternatives
So, what can we use as a safer, more sustainable alternative for flake shark? There are two species of fish that fit the bill:
- Whiting is a popular alternative because its flavour profile is almost identical to flake. Firmer and sweeter, it’s a good pick for those that want a different base for their seafood recipe.
- Flathead fish is a good substitute for grilled and pan-fried home recipes that require flake. It's more versatile than flake fish because of the shorter prep time, and it’s generally more affordable than whiting.
Healthier alternatives for flake fish
Flake may be cheap, but there's growing concern about the effect it might have on your health. While eating a little of it occasionally might not be a big deal, there are better alternatives out there.