Halibut Fish: Nutrition, Benefits and Concerns

Halibut Facts

The name “halibut” comes from the Greek word meaning “sea horse”. The fish is native to the waters off Alaska and Japan. There are many varieties of halibut including blue, king, silver, yellowfin and red. They range in length up to 9 feet (2 meters).

Some species grow larger than 10 feet (3 m) long!

They have a white or pinkish flesh with a light texture when cooked.

Their meat is high in protein and low in fat.

They are very nutritious. They contain omega 3 fatty acids, which are essential for good heart health. Omega 6 fatty acids may increase the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Halibut’s flavor varies depending on its size and age, but it tends toward being milder than other types of fish such as tuna or salmon.

Halibut is one of the most popular fish eaten in Japan.

In Japan, they prefer to use halibut over salmon because it tastes better.

Salmon is considered a delicacy in some parts of Europe and North America. Salmon is often served raw or lightly salted. Halibut can be used as a substitute for salmon in cooking, especially if the latter contains added salt.

In North America, people usually eat halibut steaks, or sometimes even smoked or canned.

The meat is slightly softer than most other types of fish. It requires a little extra care when cooking. The flesh side has a tendency to fall apart.

A favorite way of cooking in the U.S. is simply to dust the steak in flour, salt and pepper and then pan-fry it in a little butter on both sides.

Surprisingly, halibut does not have too strong a flavor when fried. It has a delicate sweet taste, with a very soft texture.

It should be served on a bed of mashed potatoes, or sometimes with some green beans and some kind of creamy sauce. In other parts of the world, it is served baked or smoked.

The only real concern when eating halibut is its size and the potential for consuming too many calories. It definitely should not be eaten every day, but a few times a month should not pose any major health risk.

If you want to eat it on a regular basis, then make sure that you are getting the right amount of physical exercise. A half pound (200 grams) is enough to feed one person.

If halibut is eaten as a substitute for more common types of fish such as cod or tuna, then it should definitely be limited. It has a higher fat content than these other types of fish. For many people, the taste and texture of halibut makes it well worth the extra cost, which can be significant.

The cooking time for a typical sized steak can vary from 10-25 minutes depending on how well done you like it cooked.

Halibut should always be eaten the day it is purchased, and if possible it should be cooked and eaten immediately after purchase.

How to Buy Halibut

When buying halibut, make sure that the eyes are clear and bulge-free. The skin should be smooth with no visible marks (a few marks on the edges are okay). The halibut should feel firm when touched, but not so firm that it’s hard.

Make sure that the edges of the fish are not dried out or slimy.

The halibut should be a uniform color, with no dark spots.

If the fish exceeds 13 inches (33 cm) in length, make sure that it is at least 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick. Thicker halibut are more likely to have softer, mushier flesh.

The halibut should not have a strong fishy smell. However, due to its high fat content you can expect the fish to have a stronger than average smell. If the fish has an overpowering, persistent smell, do not buy it.

Look for bright red gills and fresh looking fins. The eyes should be bulging and clear.

When you tap on the side of the fish, it should make a vibrating sound rather than a dull thud.

At the fish market, halibut is typically sold as whole fish, steak, and sometimes in loins.

Halibut is an expensive fish so make sure that you return any scraps to the fishmonger or store manager.

Don’t buy more than you need since halibut can easily be frozen without too much loss of quality.

When cooked, the color of halibut will vary from a creamy pink to a light brown.

Canned halibut is also available, but the canned variety is not as popular or highly regarded as tuna.

Nutrition Information

If you are on a low-fat diet, then you should limit yourself to one serving of halibut per week. Each serving has about 1.3 grams of saturated fat and about 50mg of cholesterol.

The skin of the fish is edible, but obviously some people may not like the “flavor”. Otherwise the fish itself is nearly fat-free.

The fish is high in protein and it also has a high concentration of the minerals selenium and iodine.

Because it is a fatty fish, it is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids (link to article on types of fats).

In terms of vitamins, it is a very good source of Vitamin B12 and a good source of niacin, pantothenic acid, and vitamin B6.

How to Store Halibut

The fish should be stored in the coldest part of your refrigerator. It should not be frozen. For safety, the fish should be consumed within 2 days after purchase.

Cooked halibut can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Health Benefits

Due to the high fat content of halibut, it should be eaten in moderation. However, the fat content is “good fat” as it contains high concentrations of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-3s can reduce the risk of heart disease, relieve arthritis, and has been proven to help reduce symptoms of depression.

Due to the high concentration of Vitamin B12, halibut can help prevent pernicious anemia, which is a lack of red blood cells.

This fish is also particularly high in selenium. Selenium is an antioxidant that can help prevent cancers and tumors.

Selection

When buying fresh halibut, look for firm, shiny fish with a clean, not “fishy” smell. The eyes should be bright and bulging and the gills a nice rosy color. There should be no brown spots or dried-up slime on the fish. It should have a fresh sea smell, not a “fishy” smell.

Any fresh fish should be stored on ice or in the coldest part of your refrigerator, not in the freezer. Cook it the same day that you buy it.

Storing Halibut

Uncooked halibut can be stored in the refrigerator for 2 days.

Cooked halibut can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator and consumed within 4 days.

Freezing Halibut

Halibut should be frozen if not cooked within 24 hours of purchase. Allow about 6 oz of halibut per person when planning a meal.

Wrap the halibut in aluminum foil and place it in a plastic freezer bag. Be sure to squeeze out all of the air before sealing the bag.

If you have a vacuum sealer, you can seal the bag and prevent freezer burn.

The frozen fish can be stored in the freezer for up to 6 months.

To thaw the fish, you can leave it in the refrigerator overnight or you can place it in a container with a little water and microwave to thaw. Place a few paper towels on top of the fish so that it absorbs the water that is released as it thaws.

Sources & references used in this article:

Quantitative approach for incorporating methylmercury risks and omega-3 fatty acid benefits in developing species-specific fish consumption advice by GL Ginsberg, BF Toal – Environmental Health Perspectives, 2009 – ehp.niehs.nih.gov

The form and context of aggressive behaviour in farmed Atlantic halibut (Hippoglossus hippoglossus L.) by K Greaves, S Tuene – Aquaculture, 2001 – Elsevier

The benefits of fish consumption by CHS Ruxton – Nutrition Bulletin, 2011 – Wiley Online Library

Issues of fish consumption for cardiovascular disease risk reduction by SK Raatz, JT Silverstein, L Jahns, MJ Picklo – Nutrients, 2013 – mdpi.com

Decline in fish consumption among pregnant women after a national mercury advisory by E Oken, KP Kleinman, WE Berland, SR Simon… – Obstetrics & …, 2003 – Elsevier

Ranking the contributions of commercial fish and shellfish varieties to mercury exposure in the United States: implications for risk communication by E Groth III – Environmental Research, 2010 – Elsevier

Fish and shellfish as dietary sources of methylmercury and the ω-3 fatty acids, eicosahexaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid: risks and benefits by KR Mahaffey – Environmental research, 2004 – Elsevier

A risk–benefit analysis of wild fish consumption for various species in Alaska reveals shortcomings in data and monitoring needs by PA Loring, LK Duffy, MS Murray – Science of the Total Environment, 2010 – Elsevier

Balancing the benefits of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and the risks of methylmercury exposure from fish consumption by KR Mahaffey, EM Sunderland, HM Chan… – Nutrition …, 2011 – academic.oup.com