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Aaron Sta Maria
Written by Aaron Sta Maria

Reviewed by Mohammad Nazri Zulkafli, MD and Physician Ng Qing Xiang on May 24, 2022

Fish Maw: The Secret to Looking and Feeling Great

Yes, a fish’s swim bladder is a popular delicacy! Perfect for numerous recipes, fish maw is packed with a multitude of essential nutrients.

Dried fish maw placed in a wooden basket

As crazy as it sounds, the term ‘delicacy’ doesn’t describe foods that are only favoured because they taste good. In fact, tasteless, nutrient-rich foods like fish maw and foods with unique taste profiles, such as century eggs or stinky tofu, are considered delicacies. However, while dried fish maw is generally tasteless, a good grade product comes with an umami flavour when you cook it as is. 

Learn more about fish maw benefits in this article.

What is Fish Maw?

Fish maw is the dried form of a fish’s swim bladder — an organ in the fish belly that helps them stay afloat in water. The organ is rich in gelatine and has an array of nourishing health benefits.

Because of this, it has become increasingly popular as a delicacy in recent years. It is worth noting that the Chinese further categorised it into yu biao, which is lower grade and costs around RM30 per 100 grams and the higher grade, hua jiao, may cost over RM300 per 100 grams. 

Interestingly, the swim bladder of deep-sea fishes is thicker and more gelatinous. To produce fish maw, it must first go through dehydration or a sun-drying process. Meanwhile, the swim bladder of smaller fishes will either be baked at a high temperature or deep-fried before being available for purchase in the market.

Here are some health benefits of consuming it and different ways to incorporate the delicacy as part of a healthy diet. 

Fish Maw Benefits

A short-haired woman with beautiful skin looking down smilingly
The collagen in fish maw can help to maintain skin elasticity and firmness as you age.

Is fish maw healthy? According to The Compendium of Materia Medica, this delicacy can nourish the Kidneys, blood, and yin. It can also help boost energy levels and maintain your skin’s beauty.

Enhances and maintains skin beauty 

Collagen — a type of protein — is essential for ensuring the health of your hair, skin, bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments. It’s worth noting that the natural production of collagen by the human body reduces with age. Collagen levels will start to deplete even before we reach the age of 30. 

On the other hand, women can potentially lose up to 30% of collagen during the first five years of menopause. Similarly, collagen fibres can accumulate damage over time, thus decreasing their ability to function correctly. Consequently, damage to collagen fibres or low collagen levels in the body can weaken the skin’s structural support. The skin will lose firmness and volume and start to wrinkle. 

In the same way, glycosaminoglycans (previously known as mucopolysaccharides) are also important for supporting the healthy growth of skin, bones, cartilages, corneas, tendons and connective tissue. Because of this, more people are consuming fish maw, which is abundant in both these skin anti-ageing nutrients.

Is fish maw good for health? in TCM, fish maw benefits include nourishing yin and helping to alleviate gastrointestinal disorders — disorders of the digestive system — like gastritis and peptic ulcers, and stomach pain. This advantage attributes to the sticky nature of the ingredient after boiling. Specifically, it works as a protective barrier by adhering to the surface of gastric mucosa after it enters the stomach. It also effectively inhibits hematemesis — vomiting of blood — due to gastric erosion or peptic ulcer disease. 

Nourishes different organ systems in the body 

Alternatively, people with a Qi Deficiency in the Spleen or stomach can also mix fish maw with herbs like Astragalus root, ginseng or Codonopsis root (Dang Shen). Consuming a herbal formulation that includes these herbs can help nourish qi and invigorate the Spleen.

In addition, this delicacy can replenish Kidney essence (jing), which supports the production of Liver blood. It’s worth noting that the Liver and Kidney systems relate directly to each other. Hence, its consumption can provide relief for muscle twitches and spasms, and tremors caused by Kidney and Liver Deficiencies.

Preparing a Tasty and Nutritious Meal with Fish Maw

A bowl of herbal soup that contains chicken, fish maw and goji berries
Fish maw can be combined with ingredients like fresh chicken and goji berries to make a nutritious herbal soup.

So how to prepare fish maw? The preparation of meals that include this delicacy varies according to the preference of people living in different regions. Typically, you can include this delicacy in chicken soup alongside dates and goji berries. Preparing a soup with these ingredients will make a delicious meal and nourish the body. 

To cook chicken and fish maw soup with goji berries, you will need to prepare:  

  • half a chicken 
  • 20 grams of fish maw 
  • 10-15 goji berries 
  • 10 dates 
  • 10 longan fruits 
  • 1 tangerine peel 
  • a moderate amount of ginger, rice wine and salt 

Firstly, rinse the chicken and chop it into chunks. Next, soak the fish maw in warm water for 15 minutes and cut the ginger into thin slices. Then, fill up a pot with water before adding the chicken chunks and fish maw into it. Add in some cooking wine and let the dish cook for approximately an hour. Finally, include the goji berries in the soup and let it cook for another 15 minutes before serving.

People who are prone to indigestion or have a weak spleen and stomach should refrain from consuming substantial amounts of fish maw. Similarly, people with seafood allergies should also limit their intake of this delicacy. 

It’s a given that fish maw may not be everyone’s cup of tea. However, if you’re keen on trying out a new delicacy whilst maintaining wellness, then this ingredient might be suitable for you.

If you’re interested in purchasing it, keeping in mind that the good ones, fried or dried, should have an even golden yellow, fairly thick for more bite, and whole. Avoid broken ones and those with a greyish tinge. It’s a hint that they have probably been displayed for too long. With all things considered, you can experiment in cooking up various delicious recipes using this dried seafood with herbs to elevate it to the next level.

References

  1. Cedars Sinai. 2020. Collagen for Your Skin: Healthy or Hype?  [Accessed 3 October 2021]
  2. Plastic and Aesthetic Research. 2021. Skin collagen through the lifestages: importance for skin health and beauty. [Accessed 3 October 2021]
  3. DayDayNews. 2020. Healthy Stomach | The effect, usage, selection and foaming of the gums for nourishing the stomach and protecting the stomach, just read this article! [Accessed 3 October 2021]

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Reviews (4)

Sep 03 2022

Have fish maw species of baramandi and cat fish available

All Things Health TeamSep 05 2022

Hi, it depends on where you purchase the fish maw from. We’d suggest for you to check with the fish maw seller directly!

Ahmaya JohannesenSep 01 2022

Great article on fish maw. Hard to find comprehensive information written on fish maw. Your article provides all the benefits of fish maw consumption, its origin, what it looks like, some possible contraindications to eating fish maw, & what i like about this article , you provide a recipe on how to cook fish maw.

All Things Health TeamSep 05 2022

Thank you for your kind words! Do feel free to share this article so that more can be educated on this nutrient-rich delicacy!

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