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I've heard some say that fish only smells offensive if it's old. But my experience suggests that some fish, like salmon, are simply "fishier" and that the smell can put some people off. Is that right? If so, is there a simple explanation for the smell, or does it vary according to species? And which fish smell the least and most fishy?

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Fish smell when alive too as they, just like all living things, have an external surface which is made of layers living and dead cells – TFD Apr 5 '11 at 23:16
up vote 9 down vote accepted

Certain people who are "super smellers" who have a heightened sensitivity to smells. Assuming you aren't one of them: fish smells "fishy" when it's starts to age. If you can find a reputable fish monger, that would help.

That said, if you're sure you have fresh fish, and some fish just simply smell more, you can cut down on the smell, by a quick rinse and a marinade with an lemon juice.

As for why fish smell fishy... it has to do with amines contained in the fish. Amines get released as bacteria work to release them. Salmon, Tuna, others... are higher in amines, while fresh white fish, tend to be lower. You'd have to do a bit more research to find out more specific species...

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I agree with "some fish just simply smell more." I would suggest that it also depends heavily on preparation as well. Freshly caught trout, cleaned and cooked by the lake seems to have more "fishy" smell than when I take the fish home and clean it and scale it more carefully. – Wulfhart Apr 5 '11 at 16:57

Sure, some fish are smellier than others. The fishy smell arises from the production of various amines in the dead flesh. If you let your fish sit out on a warm counter for a day, it will get quite reeky. Here's a nice little explanation of the reaction between these stinky amines and lemon juice: Why fish is served with lemon juice.

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I've never had salmon that had a fishy smell. I think it may be time to find a new fish monger or start buying a different brand if you buy frozen.

I imagine that oily fish (like bluefish) would have a stronger fishy smell and taste. It's very much not to my liking so I stick to 'white meat' fish like fluke, flounder, black fish, ling, sole, Nile perch, tilapia, etc.

Having said that, I also LOVE tuna steaks and salmon. It's just a small fortune here so I don't buy it often.

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Fish should never, ever smell! When it comes out of the water, whether fresh, sea or ocean fish never has an odor. The only way to prevent this is to buy from someone you know in a fish market. Sometimes they'll try and preserve shell fish by packing it in salt, so be careful not to add any before you taste it 'cause the salt taste will never leave the fish once it is packed that way.

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Oily fish like salmon, tuna , mackarel are kind of oilfish type, rich omega 3 oils, smell more fisher than other fish /white fish like snapper, cooking methode for this kind of fish to reduce the smell is grill, cold sashimu ... Panfried cooking methode make the smell become stronger

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Fish should not have any "fishy" smell at all, as this indicates the fish is beyond peak freshness.

Fresh fish should have no smell at all, or a clean icy smell.

Regardless of just how fishy it smells, if there is any "fishy" smell you should not eat it.

Source: On Cooking textbook

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The main problem is that "peak freshness" is "alive". Breakdown of proteins (which produces the amines mentioned in other answers) starts very quickly after death. – MSalters Nov 17 '14 at 17:07
Be that as it may, I think it is fairly dangerous to tell someone that eating fish with a "fishy" smell is OK. You probably shouldn't eat it. – Code Whisperer Nov 17 '14 at 17:09
I'm one of those "supersmellers" mentioned above. Any fish has a fishy smell to me, even straight from the boat. There's unfortunately no objective answer here. – MSalters Nov 17 '14 at 17:12

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