Paiche, “Cod from Amazonia”, is Big in Brazil, and Around the World
In recent months, however, the Brazilian Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture along with the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources agreed to launch a pilot project to allow arapaima farming and exportation. The first state chosen to participate in this initiative is Rondônia, which has already developed a small arapaima farming sector. Nearly fifty producers in the state currently have over a thousand specimens in their facilities. Biologists employed by these farms seek to ensure sustainable breeding and growing practices. Measures are also being taken to prevent illegal fishing. The initiative is expected to be extended to other Brazilian states, but for now companies from elsewhere in the country are moving to Rondônia in order to take advantage of this business opportunity, as arapaima farming is said to generate up to twenty times greater annual profit than cattle production per unit of area. Commercialization of paiche will also help generate abundant new jobs for locals and raise the value of the fish: while in earlier years a fisherman could expect to earn about 3 Brazilian reals (US$1.5) per kilo of fresh fish, the price has recently nearly doubled. Brazilian officials expect success for the new industry, given that Brazil is the world’s second largest cod consumer, following only Portugal.
But paiche arouses interest not only in Brazil, but also in Japanese, European, and American markets. Promotional events took place at the recent Rio+20 Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro, where Brazilian chefs Felipe Schaedler and Ana Castilho prepared a special tasting menu based on “Cod from Amazonia”. Other noted chefs have introduced paiche into their culinary vocabularies, including such global heavyweights as the pioneer of molecular gastronomy, Ferran Adrià, and Nobu Matsuhisa, of the acclaimed Matsuhisa and Nobu restaurants, known for his fusion cuisine blending traditional Japanese dishes with South American (especially Peruvian) ingredients. In a recent Food Network Iron Chef competition, Masaharu Morimoto prepared several paiche dishes (see the image). Some U.S. restaurants have added paiche to their menus, including recently reopened Peruvian restaurant Mo-Chica in downtown Los Angeles, which serves it with ajiaco de arroz, a sort of stew, and cherry tomato escabeche. Yolo (You Only Live Once) Restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, also serves a daily special made from paiche. Customers pay $16 for a paiche dish at Mo-Chica and around $25 at Yolo. Those who want to cook their own paiche can purchase it online through ArtisanFish.com.
Flesh is not the only part of the arapaima utilized by native Amazonian peoples. The tongue is thought to have medicinal qualities, especially for killing intestinal worms. For this purpose, it is dried and combined with guarana bark and water. The bony scales have been traditionally used as nail files. Arapaima scales are also attracting attention of experts in biomimetics, the study of useful materials from living organisms and the processes that produce them. The intricate arapaima scales serve as “peace through strength”, allowing the fish to coexist with piranha when the two species are crowded into Amazonian backwater lakes during the dry season. A recently published study in The Journal of the Mechanical Behavior of Biomedical Materials, suggests that the toughness of arapaima scales comes from the combination of a hard mineralized layer on the outside and a much softer layer of collagen fibers stacked in alternating directions like a pile of plywood (see image). The corrugated surface keeps the scales’ thick mineralized surfaces intact while the fish flexes as it swims. These intricately constructed scales provide “bioinspiration” for engineers looking to develop flexible ceramics and stronger forms of armor.
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