Salpa: Nutritional Properties, Role in Diet and How to Cook by R.Borgacci

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What is the sail?

Salpa is the name of an extremely widespread and cheap sea bony fish, but little appreciated in terms of food.

Thanks to its biological characteristics - habitat, reproduction and growth - it can be captured by means of small-scale fishing in a completely eco-sustainable way.

Although it is not blue fish but white fish, it has discrete nutritional properties and is, along with the mullet, the boga, the look and the soup or frying fish, the most indicative exponent of the so-called poor fish.

Of the first fundamental food group, the salpa is rich in high biological value proteins, specific vitamins and minerals. Being a fishery product, it uses the excellent concentration of omega 3 semi essential polyunsaturated fatty acids - such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) - vitamin D (calciferol) and iodine.

Did you know that ...

Although it is difficult to believe, it seems that some parts of the sail are endowed with hallucinogenic effects. These would be attributable to the composition of one of the algae it feeds on, the Caulerpa taxifolia, which in some periods secretes these poisonous elements.

The reason why it is believed that such effects are also induced by the head of the fish is not clear; perhaps it is the result of a "selective" deposit in the nervous tissue of the fish. The rest of the fish is totally harmless.

Salpa is suitable for most diets. It has no contraindication in the diet of the healthy subject and of those affected by the replacement pathologies typical of the metabolic syndrome. However, there are some exceptions which we will discuss in detail in the next paragraph.

The salpa can be cooked in all ways, even if it could be defined as more suitable for stewing and frying. Sautéed in a pan or boiled, it is excellent accompanied by various sauces, also normally too tasty to season fish.

The salpa has a fairly conventional form. More elongated than the bream, sea bream, snapper, pagello, pagro, tanuta and pezzogna, it is less tapered than mullet and sea bass. Its mainly recognizable morphological characteristic is the coloring, typically ruled horizontally, with alternating stripes of silver and gold tones. Fins and yellowish eyes only. The mouth is typically small.

The salpa is a sparide of the genus Sarpa and species salpa . It lives in the Eastern Atlantic Ocean and throughout the Mediterranean Sea, generally in the first 20 m of water. It feeds on invertebrates as young and above all on sea lettuce in adulthood. He has a distinctly gregarious attitude. Born male to become female in adulthood and reproduces abundantly in autumn.

It is fished at both professional and amateur level. Despite its abundance in the seas, it has a rather limited trade - this association is by no means accidental. In spearfishing, given the ability to select preys of greater gastronomic value, it is usually ignored. With the line it bites especially in fishing from the shore, during the attempt to catch mullets, bream, sea bream and sea bass.

Did you know that ...

In Liguria, there is a "conviction" that there is a more appreciable type of salpa - race salpa - with an elongated shape, which would gather on the tips of the shore in spring and autumn.

Nutritional Properties

Nutritional properties of the salpa

Salpa is a fishery product that is part of the 1st fundamental food group. It belongs to the category of poor fish but not of blue fish, while it has all the characteristics of white fish; however, it provides good levels of: semi essential polyunsaturated fatty acids omega 3 - eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA) - vitamin D and iodine.

Despite the excellent protein concentration, the salpa has a medium-low amount of energy, a nutritional characteristic mainly due to the low lipid concentration. It is a skinny fish in all respects - but not very thin, like cod and plaice. The calories would therefore be supplied largely by peptides, followed by lower concentrations of lipids and irrelevant carbohydrates. Proteins have a high biological value - they contain all the essential amino acids compared to the human model. Fatty acids are predominantly unsaturated and, as anticipated, probably characterized by an excellent level of omega-3 polyunsaturated essential biologically active seeds (EPA and DHA); any traces of carbohydrates should be soluble.

The salpa does not contain fibers, while the quantity of cholesterol is relevant but not excessive. Lactose and gluten are completely absent, the concentration of purines is abundant and the histamine, absent in the fresh product, can quickly increase in poorly preserved fish. Being a highly protein food, it is also a significant source of phenylalanine amino acid.

Salpa is probably rich in water-soluble B vitamins, such as thiamine (vit B1), riboflavin (vit B2), niacin (vit PP), pyridoxine (vit B6) and cobalamin (vit B12). It should also have excellent levels of fat-soluble calciferol vitamin (vit D). The levels of iron, zinc and potassium are appreciable; it is almost certain that it is also a significant source of phosphorus and iodine.

Salpa is a creature potentially at risk of infestation with Anisakis simplex . It is a herbivorous fish that does not reach large dimensions; this means that the accumulation of mercury and methylmercury in its meat is very low . It is therefore not essential to avoid eating adult salps, even of considerable size (over a kilogram of weight). However the presence of algal toxins, especially in the head, can not be excluded . It is therefore advisable to pay attention to carefully eliminate the whole head of this fish to reduce the risk of it ending up on the plate.

Intoxication from a sail

The salpa, consumed in greater quantity in the nations of France, Israel, Algeria and Tunisia, is one of the few native fishes of the Mediterranean Sea capable of triggering a syndrome called - in English - ichtyosarcotoxisme.

This pathological manifestation is mainly due to the consumption of fish intestines, in which algal toxins accumulate - only in certain seasons - produced by Caulerpa taxifolia - commonly called killer algae. Its hallucinogenic properties, exploited especially in the Pacific Ocean by Melanesians and Polynesians during religious rites, are also described by some texts on the Mare Nostrum dating back to the Roman Empire.

However, there are many who maintain that even eating the head of the wind can lead to nerotoxic effects. This could only be explained by the deposition of these substances in the tissues of the central nervous system, more precisely of the brain.

water77.3 g
Protein18.0 g
Lipids2.7 g
Saturated fatty acids- g
Monounsaturated Fatty Acids- g
Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids- g
Cholesterol62.0 mg
TOT Carbohydrates2.0 g
Starch / Glycogen0.0 g
Soluble Sugar2.0 g
Food fiber0.0 g
Soluble0.0 g
Insoluble0.0 g
Power104.0 kcal
Sodium- mg
Potassium540.0 mg
Iron4.3 mg
Football28.0 mg
Phosphorus- mg
Magnesium29.0 mg
Zinc3.3 mg
Copper0.6 mg
Selenium- mcg
Thiamine or vitamin B1- mg
Riboflavin or vitamin B2- mg
Niacin or vitamin PP- mg
Vitamin B6- mg
folate- mcg
Vitamin B12- mcg
Vitamin C or Ascorbic Acidtr
Vitamin A or RAE- mcg
Vitamin D- IU
Vitamin K- mcg
Vitamin E or Alpha Tocopherol- mg


Sail in the diet

Salpa is a food suitable for most diets.

Normally digestible despite the high concentration of proteins, excessive portions may still be inadequate for those with digestive complications such as dyspepsia, gastritis, gastroesophageal reflux disease, gastric ulcer or duodenal ulcer.

Salpa is suitable for slimming diets, which must be low-calorie and normolipidic. Being rather thin, in the kitchen it can be prepared using little extra virgin olive oil also in nutritional therapy against obesity.

The abundance of proteins with high biological value makes the ideal strain in the diet of malnourished, debilitated or with an increased need for essential amino acids. This type of food is advisable in the case of very high intensity sports activity, especially in the disciplines of strength or with a very important muscular hypertrophied component, and for all particularly prolonged aerobic disciplines. The salpa is also suitable in case of breastfeeding, pathological intestinal malabsorption and in old age - in which the eating disorder and the decreased intestinal absorption tend to create a protein deficit.

EPA and DHA, semi essential but biologically active polyunsaturated omega 3, are very important for: the constitution of cell membranes, the development of the nervous system and the eyes - in the fetus and in children - the prevention and treatment of some metabolic pathologies - hypertriglyceridemia, arterial hypertension etc - maintenance of cognitive functions in old age, reduction of some symptoms of neurosis - depressive - etc.

Due to the absence of gluten and lactose, salpa is relevant in the diet for celiac disease and for intolerance to milk sugar. The abundance of purines makes it undesirable, in considerable portions, in the nutritional regimen for hyperuricemia, above all of a serious nature - with gouty attacks - and in that of calculosis or renal urinary lithiasis. Well preserved, it has no contraindication for histamine intolerance. The massive presence of phenylalanine precludes a significant use in the diet against phenylketonuria.

The B vitamins have a mainly coenzymatic function; this is why salpa can be considered a good source of nutrients that support the cellular functions of all tissues. Vitamin D, on the other hand, is crucial for bone metabolism and the immune system. Note : we remind you that dietary sources of vitamin D are very rare.

Phosphorus, which is hardly lacking in diet, is one of the main constituents of bone (hydroxyapatite) and nervous tissue (phospholipids). Zinc constitutes enzymes, nucleic acids and proteins of various kinds. Iron is an essential constituent of hemoglobin, which is in turn necessary for the transport of gases by red blood cells; the deficiency, more frequent in pregnant women, vegans and marathon runners, can induce the onset of iron deficiency anemia. Potassium, of which foods of animal origin are not considered primary nutritional sources, is an alkalizing mineral responsible for neuromuscular transmission, which can also hinder the negative effects of excess sodium in therapy against sodium sensitive hypertension. Finally, iodine is necessary for the proper functioning of the thyroid gland - responsible for the regulation of cellular metabolism after the secretion of hormones T3 and T4.

Salpa is allowed in the diet during pregnancy, as long as it is well cooked and free of intestinal residues or head. To those who want to consume it raw instead, remember to subject it to a lowering of temperature.

The average portion of meat salpa - as a dish - is 100-150 g (100-150 kcal).


How do you cook the sail?

Salpa can be cooked in various ways, but as mentioned above it has organoleptic and taste characteristics that are not always appreciated.

In truth, this tendency is more the fruit of a defamatory work; given the collective ignorance of everything concerning the cuisine of the fish - even of the alleged experts - few would really recognize it on the plate without first seeing it raw - and even in the latter case, not everyone would identify it successfully.

Outside of personal tastes, the only objective truth is that the salpa has a very intense taste. It feeds on invertebrates as a young and above all as adult algae, which is why its flesh maintains a very intense "green" aftertaste. To be honest, not all salps are the same; in fact, the specimens that colonize seas poor in algae often find themselves feeding differently, an aspect that can alter the final result of a recipe.

Due to the chemical nature of its fabrics, the salpa must be eaten fresh. It should never be purchased "unopened" and it is not advisable to freeze it. At the time of purchase it is essential to verify the state of preservation; moreover, defrosted loses much of its flavor while maintaining only the characteristics that are not very appreciable.

Another fundamental aspect for successfully cooking the sail is cleaning. The bowels are quite smelly and should not be left in the fish for a long time; on the contrary, the correct procedure would like the wind to be eviscerated and deprived of the peritoneum - the black film that internally covers the belly - just caught. This practice also reduces the risk of meat contamination from the algal toxin of Caulerpa taxifolia .

Being able to choose, like the mullet, also the salpa should be purchased in the early spring period. This is because, having spent the whole winter eating little, the fish has almost always semi-empty bowels and very limited fat reserves. The taste and aroma are therefore generally more subdued.

Salpa can be eaten raw, but it is not one of the most suitable fish for this purpose. This fish should be used especially in fried and stewed recipes, being very careful not to break it during cooking - to avoid the spreading of bones. The meat actually makes all the heat transmission systems - conduction, convection and irradiation - and cooking methods - boiling, roasting in the oven or on the grill, in a pan, etc. However, it has a tendency to dry quickly, which makes it complicated - if large and, even worse, if reduced to fillets - to be cooked on embers or in a ventilated oven. On the other hand, enclosed within a cartoccio it maintains an odor and taste that may be excessively intense.

Boiled or cooked in white in a pan, it is probably the fish that is best suited to accompanying certain sauces - not just mayonnaise, but also aromatic herbs.


Description of the windlass

The salpa has an ellipsoidal shape, less round than the bream, the gilthead, the dentex, the pagro, the pezzogna, the tanuta and the bream, but not tapered like the mullet and the bass. It has a very small mouth; medium-sized eyes are yellow. Eyes and fins are pale yellow in color, while the side mantle - equipped with medium scales - is typically striped in a longitudinal direction - parallel to the lateral line - alternated by 10 silver and gold colored bands. The belly is white, the back darker than the sides, tendentially greenish.

The salpa has 11-12 dorsal spines and 14-17 dorsal soft rays. The anal spines are 3, with 13-15 soft anal rays. A black dot can be seen at the base of the pectorals.

It normally reaches 30 centimeters in length; the maximum recorded is 51 cm.


Elements of biology on the sail

The salpa belongs to the Perciformes Order, Sparidae Family, Genus Sarpa and Salpa species.

It colonizes the subtropical marine and brackish areas of the bentopelagico, at depths normally included in the first 20 m and exceptionally up to 70 m. It is present in the Eastern Atlantic Ocean, the Bay of Biscay and the Strait of Gibraltar in Sierra Leone, including also Madeira, the Canary Islands and Cape Verde. It is also common in the Congo and is also very present in the Mediterranean Sea.

The salpa populates the rocky and sandy substrates, with posidonia and algae growth. It is strongly gregarious. When young it is predominantly carnivorous and feeds on crustaceans, while in adulthood it is exclusively herbivorous and eats algae. It has properties of hermaphroditism protandric (born male and becomes female at about 25 cm in length).

It is fished limitedly, for its not excellent gastronomic reputation. With a well-nourished population, it would instead be an extremely sustainable fishery product. It can be captured with nets, lines and spear guns. However, in spearfishing it is generally ignored. With the barrel, on the other hand, it is an occasional prey when searching for mullet, sea bream and bream.