Is Cream Dory really Safe to Eat?January 20, 2015
I love, love dory (not that Dory, although she is pretty darn cute). Some might argue that it’s quite bland and insipid, but my palate has this mildly embarrassing tendency to be rather childish (which explains why you’ll probably find me nursing a glass of soda or juice at a party, while everyone else is having a shot….or three), so the fact that cream dory doesn’t really taste like fish actually appeals to me. Well, that and its oh-so-buttery texture.
Apparently, I’m not alone in my preference for the pale, boneless fillets. Apart from young children and the elderly (which makes me wonder which group I belong to exactly), cream dory has steadily gained popularity all over the world in the past decade. Also called the Pangasius fish, cream dory is prized by consumers and suppliers alike for its neutral flavor (which makes it ideal for endless permutations of cooking methods, flavorings, and sauces) and its low cost (especially when compared to similar fish varieties like cod and sole), respectively.
However, as with a lot of the world’s most popular ingredients (among other things), cream dory has had its share of controversies. Back in 2008, a French production outfit even came up with a documentary that claimed to uncover the beloved cobbler fish’s allegedly high levels of toxicity. Playing off the French word for fish (“poisson”), the “Poisson or Poison” documentary accused Pangasius fish growers of everything from freezing their stocks in contaminated river water to injecting them with the dehydrated urine of pregnant women from China (yes, really). Naturally, chain emails touting content from the said documentary made the rounds and most consumers began to be wary of the cobbler fillets in supermarket freezers and on restaurant menus.
So, what’s the real score? To get to the bottom of the issue, let’s analyze a couple of the biggest allegations pertaining to whether cream dory is safe for consumption or not:
Claim No. 1: Pangasius Fish are riddled with toxins and bacteria.
Since cream dory is sometimes known as the Vietnamese cobbler fish (after their country of origin), it’s been alleged that the Pangasius fish are grown in the Mekong River (which is apparently Vietnam’s version of our own Pasig River). Given that plenty of unscrupulous factories and pedestrians tend to dump industrial waste and garbage into the said river, it wouldn’t be a stretch to conclude that any sort of life form it houses is probably crawling with substances so toxic that they’re best known by their acronyms (DDT’s, CHL’s, HCH’s, etc.).
While it might be true that the fish we know as cream dory are quite widespread in the Mekong basin, not all Pangasius fish are grown there either. Since the Pangasius fish are a hardy breed that’s able to withstand less than ideal water conditions like low oxygen levels and the occasional tropical storm, they can be grown practically anywhere. While we can’t speak for the cream dory suppliers in other countries, the legitimate ones here in the Philippines (such as the Vitarich Corporation, which leads the farming and distribution of locally-grown cream dory) do raise their fish in clean, well-maintained ponds that undergo regular inspections.
Thus, if you’re looking to stock up on cream dory fillets, it would be best to hit reputable supermarkets and to look closely at the produce that you’re getting. If you’re unsure about a certain foreign brand, then you may want to play it safe by opting for the local (but no less reputable) alternatives. Imported cream dory fillets are known to be white in color and have a more subtle flavor, while local fillets have a slightly yellow hue and a slightly sweeter flavor.
Claim No. 2: Pangasius Fish is so cheap because growers feed it garbage and bits of dead fish.
Some of the cream dory’s biggest detractors generally claim that Pangasius growers tamper with the feeds by grinding up bits of waste material (e.g., dead fish) into a paste and mixing it up with all sorts of hormones. This sort of toxic, unregulated feed is supposedly what makes the Pangasius fish grow into humongous sizes quickly, which is purportedly the reason why they are cheap to produce and to sell.
For starters, it’s true that Pangasius fish are known to be highly adaptable eaters who aren’t really picky about what’s placed before them. And yes, they have been known to be bottom feeders who might scavenge around for food. However, while some unscrupulous fish growers do take advantage of this fact by stuffing their fingerlings with all sorts of chemicals and wastes to speed things up a bit, the legitimate suppliers opt for industry-approved standard feeds that do not make the Pangasius fish unsafe for consumption.
Also, upon further investigation, there are a lot of factors that contribute to cream dory’s rather cheap price. These include the Pangasius fish’s hardy nature and its resulting low mortality rate. Say, about 40,000 fingerlings were being raised in a certain pond. On average, you can expect about a little over 200 of them to perish prior to maturity. That’s a mortality rate of less than 1%.
Then there’s its significantly higher stocking density. Unlike other fish like the tilapia, Pangasius fish can still thrive in crowded ponds, making it easier for fish growers to grow more of them in the same space allocated to less hardy fish breeds, thus driving the cost down even further.
Seeing as the local Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) has not exactly put out any statement banning cream dory from the markets or the restaurants (and have actually encouraged local agricultural entrepreneurs to grow the fish), it’s probably safe to assume that cream dory can stay on our menus. Given the Pangasius fish’s rather meteoric rise over the years, it’s highly possible that some rival fish purveyors may have exaggerated certain things about it to come up with a targeted (and apparently effective) black propaganda against the beloved cream dory as a species.
But that’s not to say that we shouldn’t be vigilant about where we source our food. As with a lot of the ingredients on the market, cream dory can also be grown by dishonest producers who could care less about the harmful effects of cutting corners. Failing to take that into consideration and then indiscriminately buying or eating anything resembling cream dory would still inevitably result in an upset stomach at best.