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Home / Nutrition & Wellness

Is female fish sweeter?

By OLIVIA ODHIAMBO | Sat,Dec 04 2021 12:08:12 EAT


An average Kenyan consumes 4.5Kgs of fish in a year. [File, Standard]

For many years now, Kisumu has been associated with one of the most loved delicacy – fish.

Most tourists and residents thronged Dunga Beach and Lwang’ni Beach, which was demolished in July 2019, to enjoy the delicacy, which hoteliers get directly from Lake Victoria.

The waterbody has, among others, tilapia fish which is the most-preferred fish in Kenyan households.

The rise in the popularity of tilapia previously elicited debate on how to determine an “original” one and an imported one from China.

Some said the difference lies in the taste, while others claim it is the physical appearance that tells them apart.

Popularly known as ‘ngege’ in Dholuo dialect, tilapia is the main culinary show that a Kisumu visitor would die for.

However, there’s a raging debate on which “sex” of the breed is tastier. How do you tell whether the sweeter one is male or female? And how does one tell them apart? This is the dilemma fish-lovers are having, even as they enjoy their meals every day.

Thirty-five-year-old Fransiscah Awuor, who has been a fishmonger at Dunga Beach for over 18 years, said the female fish is sweeter compared to its male counterpart.

She says the female fish “has eggs and is very soft”. 

“Most of my clients ask for fish that has eggs,” said Awuor.

“The structure of the fish determines whether it is male or female. The male fish has a slightly bigger head, and is longer compared to their female counterparts. The female ones, on the other hand, have a better shape, and are heavier. It is obvious why my clients ask for fish that has eggs. Having sold fish for many years, I know the female one tastes better than male ones,” said Awuor.

Charles Otieno, a fisherman at Dunga Beach for the past 20 years, argued that what the fish eats determines its taste, but noted that both male and female fish are sweet in equal measure.

“It depends with where the fish stays in the lake. Most of the fish caught in the middle of the lake are exposed to a lot of food, which is also diverse. They are quite different from the ones near the shores, where they feed on remains of human foods,” said Otieno.

He added: “Even those in swollen rivers have lots of food. They taste better compared to those fished from small rivers. When the water level reduces, the production of food that fish eats also decreases. When you catch fish from the small rivers, you’d realise they are not so delicious.”

In the past, Otieno says, fishermen were less concerned about the gender of the fish they were catching.

“Recently, a new cage-farming technology was introduced. The technology allows the farmer to feed the two fish genders separately before mixing them,” he said.

Sixty-four-year-old Maurice Ochieng, also a fisherman, said the female fish is believed to be sweeter because it has eggs and fats.

Ochieng said the female fish are softer, and that people who have lived near the lake, or have lengthy fishing experience, can differentiate the taste.

Christopher Aura, the director of freshwater systems research at the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI), however, says the taste of fish depends on what they feed on, and not their sex.

“The taste is brought about by the environment [the fish is bred in], and the genetic nature (type of fish). Taste also depends on the preference of the consumer, and it will vary from to person. One person will find the male one sweeter and not the female one, and vice versa. It is important to note that the available ecosystem determines what the fish feeds on,” he explained.

Tilapia feeds on small plants in water, while the Nile perch mostly feeds on other small fishes, basically flesh, he said.

Aura noted that the male fish grows faster compared to its female counterpart. The female fish dedicates much of its food assimilation in production of eggs.

According to experts, an average Kenyan consumes 4.5 kilograms of fish each year.

“I urge Kenyans to eat tilapia frequently because it is white meat; it’s healthy, and has no side effects. The fish type is also associated with good fats like the ‘Omega 3’, which is useful in brain development,” he added

He said tilapia is the preferred type of fish by most consumers because of its taste.

“Tilapia fish can survive in poor environment, and is present in several tropical areas,” he said.

“You will be able to find tilapia in dams, small water bodies, and even lakes. Other types of fish are also good for consumption. For example, ‘omena’ is a good source of iron for young babies,” he said.

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