Whether they’re flippering about and playing in the water, honking happily or doing tricks for a fish supper, it’s hard to argue with the majestic loveliness of seals.
The slippery sea-dwelling mammals live in both arctic and temperate oceans, and provide food for sharks, polar bears and killer whales, amongst others. However, they don’t tend to turn up on human menus that often, unless you live in Canada, where pro-seal meat advocates have recently dubbed it ‘Canada’s superfood’.
It’s not just eaten in Canada
Seal meat – specifically that of the non-endangered harp seal – is also eaten in Japan, Norway and Iceland (the latter of which also sees whale meat and puffin widely served). It’s most commonly eaten by Inuit and indigenous people, where it’s both a way of life and considered a valuable source of nutrition – however, it’s increasingly being treated as a delicacy by chefs.
Apparently it tastes a lot like liver
Newfoundland chef Todd Perrin has called seal meat the ‘veal of the sea’, because of its gaminess, although, when super fresh (it is said to spoil quickly, so must always be eaten fresh) it is also oily, lean and has a hint of the sea to it’s flesh.
Indigenous Canadian chef Joseph Shawana uses his classical-French training to serve a variety of indigenous foods on his menu at Kūkŭm Kitchen in Toronto, including seared seal loin with beetroot, watercress and greens, while the seal tartare is a favourite with customers.
Shawana has described seal meat as tasting like liver without the taste of blood, although others compare it to beef and use it in ravioli, pies and pasta dishes, or serve like steak.
It’s good for you too
When it comes to nutritional value, a typical 100g serving of seal has 250% of your recommended daily iron consumption, and has higher levels of vitamin B12, protein and magnesium, compared to beef, pork and chicken, and the meat is naturally low in mercury.
There are questions over how sustainable it is
The harp seal has never been listed as endangered, and the population has actually been slowly increasing over the last few decades. However, climate change is affecting sea life, including seals, so sustainable, humane seal farming should be the only source of the meat.
Canadian company SeaDNA, which produces seal oil and seal meat products, claim that sustainable hunting can actually help support seal populations, and promote good practice and protection of seals as a resource.
Eating seal meat is still pretty controversial – even in Canada
While chefs and indigenous Canadian people claim seal meat is sustainable – when hunted properly – nutritious and a traditional practice that is part of an environmentally aware and respectful culture, anti-seal meat protesters and animal rights campaigners disagree.
They consider killing and eating seals inhumane, particularly as the harp seals in question tend to be hunted while young – white coat seals (newborns) are illegal to hunt.
A petition against the serving of seal meat in Kūkŭm Kitchen, for instance, gathered more than 3,000 signatures, while a counter petition gathered almost 4,000, showing how divisive this issue continues to be in Canada.
Don’t expect to see it on UK shelves anytime soon
A 2009 act banned seal products in the EU, so you want to try seal meat, your best bet is booking a holiday to Canada.