Omega-3 In Arabian Gulf Fish (2)
Status of Hamour in the Gulf:
Hamour is the Gulf name for Grouper fish. Some elderly Gulf sailors told me that the name Hamour is not Arabic, but African in origin. As a food item there is controversy about the taste of Hamour in the Gulf, but as a sea creature Hamour is a very interesting fish with a fascinating life cycle. Therefore, instead of limiting my discussion to the purpose of this article, the omega-3 fatty acid of the Hamour, I will start with the status of Hamour in the Gulf and what distinguishes it from other fishes.
Traditionally, in the south and middle part of the Gulf like in United Arab Emirate (UAE) and Qatar, Hamour was not a popular fish, but in the north of the Gulf, the Kuwaitis love it and consider it one of their best fish1. That was the case up to the 1960s when the popularity of Hamour improved in the UAE. The reason was that during the 1950s and 1960s many people from the south of the Gulf went to Kuwait for work after the discovery of oil there. They became influenced by the Kuwaiti love for Hamour. In my own family neither my mother nor I like Hamour.
Because Hamour is a very easy fish to catch, it is considered locally as a dumb fish. I have personally caught Hamour with net, cage, line fishing and trolling. During the time I was preparing this article I caught a small 25 cm long Hamour with a hook using squid as bait. Because of this article, I paid good attention to its shape: the mouth is wide; the body is yellowish with dark red spots; the caudal fin and tail are black. We call this species of Hamour in the GulfBalool. It never gets beyond 40 cm in length2. There are people who love to eat Balool, while others like me do not consider it edible fish. Anyhow, I freed it from the hook and released it back in the sea.
Hamour may tempt a diver to catch it by bare hand between rocks. It will not escape, but no one will be able to pull it out alive. Hamour is capable of anchoring itself very firmly against the rocks with its powerful gill muscles if attacked. Some people in the Gulf refer to Hamour as "lazy" fish because it is rarely seen swimming like other fish, but rather hides between rocks. When it swims it moves slowly.
As a child I used to hear a Gulf folk myth story about Hamour. It said that Hamour tells his mother: "Do not cry if I get caught. Do not believe I am dead until you see my bones scattered on the sand." The reason for that myth is that Hamour, unlike other fish, does not die easily after taking it out of the water. It may stay alive for hours. It is not unusual to see live Hamour on a fish market table.
Because Hamour engulfs and swallows all kinds of sea creatures such as fish, squids, shrimp, crabs, and lobsters to achieve a huge size, Gulf citizens sarcastically refer to any greedy big businessman as a Hamour!
The Biology of Hamour:
There are many varieties of groupers in tropical and warm temperate waters worldwide. We have in the Gulf several species of grouper with a variety of sizes, shapes and colors. Groupers are capable of changing skin color for camouflage to match the color of their surroundings.
A common grouper in most waters of the Gulf is known as the Greasy grouper from the subfamily Epinephelinae (from the Greek Epinephelus meaning clouded over) of the family Serranidae. The origin of the name grouper is Portuguese3. Some are very large fishes, attaining a length and weight of about 2 metres and 225 kilograms and in some instances reportedly much more4.
Hamour swallows prey rather than bites pieces off it. By opening its mouth and dilating the gill covers to draw water in, groupers generally engulf their prey whole in one quick motion. The teeth are not used to tear flesh as with sharks, but rather to prevent small fish from escaping. They do not have much tooth on the edges of their jaws, but they have heavy crushing tooth plates inside the pharynx. They are not fast swimmers. They lie in wait, rather than chasing in open water. Their mouth and gills form a powerful sucking system that sucks their prey in from a distance3.
Hamours are protogynous hermaphrodite, i.e. they first function as females and later transform into males. So the young are predominantly female but transform into males as they grow larger. They grow about a kilogram per year. Generally they are adolescent until they reach three kilograms, when they become female. At about 10 to 12 kg they turn to male. In the rare case that no male exists close by, the largest female turns to male faster3.
After spawning as a female for one or more years, the grouper changes sex, functioning as a male during future spawning events. Individuals of the Nassau grouper have been discovered to be male without previously going through a female stage and are smaller than the secondary males. It is believed by some that the sex change is triggered when the fish aggregate in preparation for spawning5.
The fat content of Hamour:
Hamour is good for weight watcher because it has poor fat content, but not good for those who seek rich omega-3 fish. According to the Qatar Ministry of health Laboratory analysis, the Fat content of the edible portion of Hamour from Qatar waters is 0.35 % only6, while fat content of salmon is 4.8%7. More details of the Fatty Acid content (mg/100g) edible portion of Hamour in comparison to Atlantic Salmon are seen in table 1:
Hamour fish is good for a low sodium diet. It has 87 mg/kg Na while Salmon has 720 mg/kg. Table 2 shows the mineral composition of Hamour flesh6:
In conclusion Hamour fish has low-fat content; therefore it is a poor source of Omega-3 fatty acid. It is a good source of protein for low sodium low-fat diet. Those are the facts and the choice is yours.
Exler J, et al. Provisional table on the content of omega-3 fatty acids and other fat components in selected foods. U.S.D.A., Human Nutrition Information Service, HNS/PT-103, 1988. (http://www.thepaleodiet.com/nutritional_tools/omega3.shtml).
International Journal of Food Science & Technology Volume 32 Issue 6, Pages 547 – 551.
Kotb Ahmed et al: Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Content of Some Popular Species of Arabian Gulf Fish. Food Chemistry 40: (1991) P. 185-190.
Florida Museum of Natural History:http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/Gallery/Descript/Nassaugrouper/Nassaugrouper.html
Encyclopedia Britinica: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/247178/grouper .
Wikipedia : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grouper .
Asmak Al-Emarat Al-Arabia Al-mottahidh (Arabic) published by Ministry of Agraculture & Cultural Foundation (2003) p. 108, UAE.
Bakir, M. Y.: Al-Haddaq (Kuwait Fishing Encychopedia) – Published by Kuwaiti Studies and Research Center, (Arabic), 2000.