Canned Seafood

By Real Academia de Gastronomía

Real Academia de Gastronomía

Spain is one of the leading producers and exporters of canned seafood, and current data is showing an upward trend. The regions of Galicia and Andalusia have been at the helm, steering the industry's development.

Canned SardinesReal Academia de Gastronomía

From Salting to Canning

In the 19th century, the Spanish salting industry was thriving and, over time, it adapted new techniques that led to the emergence of the canning industry.

The first product to be canned was sardines.

"Le Drapeau" Canned Food by Massó Hermanos S.A./ La ArtísticaReal Academia de Gastronomía

A Chance Discovery

Around 1850, a French ship sank near Finisterre in Galicia, and local divers who arrived at the scene came across a shipment of canned sardines.

"Massó" canned food by Massó Hermanos S.A./ La ArtísticaReal Academia de Gastronomía

Sardines had disappeared from the Breton area of France but were plentiful in Galicia at that time, so technology was quickly adapted to enable Galician sardines to be canned.

Employees at Massó FactoryReal Academia de Gastronomía

The first factory to produce canned seafood was on the island of Arousa. But it was the influx of Catalan capital and alliances with France that provided a real impetus for the industry in the region.

Some cans were marked with the Spanish flag, so that their origin would be clear.

Coastal landscapeReal Academia de Gastronomía

Northern Canneries

Besides Galicia, other northern regions have also been heavily involved in the canning industry, such as Asturias, the Basque Country, and Cantabria in particular.

Anchovy HandlingReal Academia de Gastronomía

Cantabria, Italians, and Anchovies

In addition to Galicia, other regions along the Cantabrian Sea started to get involved in the canning industry, especially Cantabria and the Basque Country. As well as canned sardines and bonito, both regions developed a strong industry in semi-preserved anchovies.

"Codesa" Fabric - Fillet RoomReal Academia de Gastronomía

"Salatori," or salting experts from Italy, came to the Cantabrian coast, and Laredo in particular. They were attracted by the abundance of anchovies, as well as butter, which used to accompany canned anchovies before olive oil.

Canned SardinesReal Academia de Gastronomía

Iberian sardines (from Portugal and Spain) are still the favorite among gourmets, who insist that the quality of these canned fish improves over time.

Port of BonanzaReal Academia de Gastronomía

From North to South

As sardines started to grow scarce on the Galician coasts, the industry moved to Andalusia.

Coast of Sanlúcar de BarramedaReal Academia de Gastronomía

In 1879, the first fish-canning factory was established in Cádiz. About 10 years later, the second and third factories were set up, one after the other, in Ayamonte and Isla Cristina in Huelva.

Tuna and sardines were their main raw material, and their main customer was Italy.

Canned Tuna BellyReal Academia de Gastronomía

King Tuna

Tuna is the big fish in the Spanish canning industry, which contributes up to 70% of total production in the European Union.

It is the most important species in Andalusia and the most consumed canned good in Spain, at about 3 kilos per person per year, vastly exceeding the world average.

Still Life with Canned FishReal Academia de Gastronomía

Mussels, cockles, and clams from the Galician estuaries; melva and mackerel from the Andalusian coast; and anchovies and bonito from the Cantabrian coast. These are just some of the seafood products that have sustained Spain's canning industry and continue to do so today.

Olive oilReal Academia de Gastronomía

Boosting Quality with Olive Oil

Olive oil is not only an interesting and much valued method of preservation, it also improves the quality of Spanish canned fish.

It is essential not to throw it away when the can is opened, as it is a delicious accompaniment that can be used to prepare other dishes.

Canned MusselsReal Academia de Gastronomía

Designation of Origin

In Spain, there are 3 seafood products that are protected with European quality stamps: Galician mussels (Protected Designation of Origin) and Andalusian melva and mackerel (Protected Geographical Indication).

Canned ClamsReal Academia de Gastronomía

How and When Should Canned Seafood Be Enjoyed?

A perfect time to open a good can of seafood is as an appetizer, accompanied by bread, breadsticks, or potato chips.

Cockle CevicheReal Academia de Gastronomía

But they are very versatile products that can easily be used to prepare dishes such as a tuna salad with tomatoes, or potatoes garnished with melva.

Besides the fish or seafood itself, the latest culinary trends focus on using the remaining juices to make soups, stews, or sauces.

"Chivers" Canned FoodReal Academia de Gastronomía

Few could have suspected that a product designed for military supply would go on to become an everyday item in household pantries, bars, and restaurants across Spain. Long live canned food!

Credits: Story

Text: Silvia Artaza, in collaboration with Ismael Diaz Yubero, Spain’s representative at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food Advisor for the Spanish Embassy in Rome. Member of the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy.

Image: Foods & Wines from Spain / Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade / Massó Museum / David de Luis (products supplied by Frinsa).

Acknowledgements: Rafael Ansón, president of the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy; Elena Rodríguez, director of the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy; María García and Caroline Verhille, contributors to the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy.

Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy

This exhibition is part of the Spanish Gastronomy project jointly coordinated by Google Arts & Culture and the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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