| Opinion |

The Science Behind the Fishy Smell in Smelly Fish

Keep New Times Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Miami and help keep the future of New Times free.

You want to eat fresh fish. You want it glazed, or baked in parchment with fresh dill and lemon. You want the skin crisp from the broiler and the meat moist and juicy. Instead, you're looking down at a plate of stinky fish in all of its odoriferous glory. How could this smelly hell have been avoided?

Fresh fish, crustaceans, shellfish, etc., smell lightly of the sea when they're first caught, but they should never smell distinctly fishy. Unless you have an amazing fishmonger, or caught the fish yourself, the week-old cod you're buying from the supermarket will most likely reek. What causes it to smell so bad, you ask?

According to Don Glass from A Moment of Science, "fish tissue contains an odorless chemical known as triethylamine

oxide. Once the fish is killed and exposed to air, the chemical breaks

down into derivatives of ammonia, and therefore smells bad."

Yelp offers a few places with the best fishmongers, and here are some tips from the FDA to help make sure the fish you buy is a fresh catch.

  • The fish should smell fresh and mild, not fishy, sour, or ammonia-like.
  • The eyes should be clear and bulge a little.
  • It should have firm, shiny flesh and spring back when pressed.
  • It should not display darkening or drying at the edges.


quick tip for cooking fish that is more than a day old: Clean it with

fresh lemon juice. You can also soak it in milk, refrigerate it for an

hour, and rinse with water prior to cooking. This removes all traces of

fish stench because the acids in citrus and

milk neutralize the bases from the triethylamine.

Getting your hands on fresh fish is more than a luxury. The

FDA warns that anything but fresh might have high levels of scombrotoxin,

which can lead to illness. It's important to make the effort to care

about what you eat, or it could come back to bite you.

Follow Short Order on Facebook and Twitter @Short_Order.

Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Miami.


Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Miami.