To Eat or Not to Eat the Stink Heads?

Salmon is a staple of the native Alaskan diet and natives have traditionally used all parts of the fish. One of the traditional delicacies is fermented salmon heads. Colloquially the dish has earned the name “stink heads.” Essentially the heads of King salmon are buried in the ground in fermentation pits, put into plastic or wooden barrels, even plastic food storage bags, and left to let nature do its thing for a few weeks or more. The heads are then harvested and consumed as a putty-ish mash.

Via Culinary Schools.org            Watercolor via Jana Bouc

 Fermentation was sometimes used as a preservation technique ( by Yupik people.) Stinkhead and stinkeggs are preserved salmon heads and roe made by wrapping them in grasses and burying for several weeks, similar to Swedish lutefisk. The results are very unpleasant for non-natives to eat but are an important source of nutrition when food is scarce and considered a treat in the villages.

Via Alaska Wild Berry Products

 All cases ( of food-borne botulism) in Alaska have been associated with the preparation and storage of traditional Alaska Native foods. This includes “fermented” foods, dried foods, and traditionally prepared condiments such as seal oil.

Toxin production… is less likely to occur at the lower temperatures used during traditional fermentation. However, fermentation now may be done indoors, or in a container above ground and in the sun. These methods involve warmer temperatures which make fermentation more rapid and production of botulism toxin more likely.

Via Botulism in Alaska 


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