The Nutritional Characteristics of Minke Whale Meat

(from "ISANA" No. 8, 1993)

Taneko Suzuki
Professor, Nihon University

Meat, milk, and eggs have been long established as animal foodstuffs throughout the world. In Japan, additionally, fish, shellfish, and whale meat play a very important role as animal foodstuffs.

a) Nutritionally, Whale Meat Is Rich in High-Quality Protein

Protein is composed of 20 different amino acids. Protein ingested as food is broken down into amino acids inside the body. These amino acids are then synthesized back into protein, producing elements such as muscles, internal organs, blood, skin, and hair. There are eight amino acids that the human body cannot produce, and these are termed essential amino acids. Whale meat is excellent in the quantity and balance of essential amino acids that determine the nutritional value of proteins, and in this respect it is as good as, if not better than, other animal meats.

b) Whale Meat Has a Lower Calorie Content Than Beef or Pork

Though richer in protein, whale meat has fewer calories than beef or pork. This points to whale meat as an important food, not just as a source of protein, but also as a foodstuff which has a significant preventive effect on many adult diseases.

c) Whale Meat Has a Much Higher Iron Content Than Other Animal-Related Foodstuffs

Whale meat is red, which indicates there is a large quantity of myoglobin contained in its muscle fibers. Myoglobin, like the blood pigment hemoglobin, is a combination of a chemical component heme, which contains iron, and globin, a simple protein. Iron plays an important role in carrying oxygen to the body tissues and organs. In so far as iron deficiency can cause anemia, it is necessary to ingest sufficient iron through food intake. Whale meat is thus an excellent source of iron.

d) Whale Meat Is Rich in Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and Equal to Fish Meat in Preventing Adult Diseases

Saturated and unsaturated fatty acids differ in their physiological effects. A large intake of saturated fatty acids raises cholesterol in the blood, Causing arteriosclerosis and heart diseases. Unsaturated fatty acids, by contrast, have the effect of lowering the cholesterol level in the blood. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) inhibits the coagulation of blood and serves to prevent a variety of diseases that affect the blood vessels. EPA is also known for its cancer-preventing qualities.

In recent years, it has been found that docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) stimulates activity of the brain in mice and enhances their learning ability. As such, it has attracted attention as a fatty acid that may stimulate human brain functions. Whale and fish/shellfish meats are rich in EPA and DHA. The chemical composition of the oils and tats contained in whale meat is almost the same as that contained in fish/shellfish meat. This is a notable characteristic of whale meat and shows it to be a useful foodstuff that is quite different from other animal meats.

e) Whale Meat Contains a Relatively Large Quantity of Niacin

Niacin deficiency causes skin lesions.

f) Whale Heat Is Relatively Low in Cholesterol

Regular intake of fats rich in cholesterol increases the chance of ischemic heart disorders such as myocardial infarction.

g) Whales from the Unpolluted Waters of the Antarctic Are Not Contaminated by Industrial Chemicals

The number of people suffering from allergic disorders is rising sharply each year, a phenomenon which is attributed to the living and eating conditions of modern life. Under the circumstances, whale meat is attracting attention as a safe and valuable source of protein relatively free of allergic reactions.

h) Therefore, considering all these factors, we find that whale meat is a foodstuff valuable to human health.

Table 1. Composition of Whale, Fish, and Shellfish Meats
Note: Contents per 100g of meat

A: Minke whale, tail meat
B: Minke whale, lean meat
C: Beef, shoulder
D: Pork, shoulder
E: Sardine
F: Pacific cod

Component A B C D E F
Water (g) 71.9 73.1 60.3 64.4 64.6 82.7
Protein (g) 23.9 24.8 18.1 17.9 19.2 15.7
Fat (g) 3.3 1.2 20.4 16.6 13.8 0.4
Ash (g) 0.9 0.9 0.9 0.9 1.9 1.2
Carbohydrate (g) 0 0 0.3 0.2 0.5 0
Calories (kcal) 132 116 270 233 176 70
Prospher (mg) 137 186 140 170 200 170
Iron (mg) 5.58 8.54 2.3 4.3 1.7 0.6
Calcium (mg) 4.8 4.1 5 11 70 42
Vitamin A (IU) 30 0 33 30 60 100
Vitamin B1 (mg) 0.06 0.08 0.07 0.10 0.03 0.10
Vitamin B2 (mg) 0.17 0.20 0.20 0.24 0.36 0.17
Niacin (mg) 7.81 9.70 3.8 5.8 7.7 1.3
Cholesterol (mg) 37 40 65 65 75 60

Source: The above data on meats other than minke whale meat is based on two lists - Food Nutrients Analysis (4th ed.) and Fat-Soluble Components of Japanese Foodstuffs - edited by the National Institute of Resources of the Science and Technology Agency

Table 2. Major Fatty Acids Contained in Selected Meats
Note: Percent of total fatty acids, by weight

A: Minke whale, lean meat
B: Minke whale, tail meat
C: Japanese beef, sirloin
D: Pork, shoulder
E: Pacific cod
F: Sardine

Type of fatty acid A B C D E F
Saturated fatty acids
Palmitic acid C16:0 16.9 15.8 28.4 28.4 17.3 19.0
Stearic acid C18:0 4.2 2.7 11.2 13.5 4.3 3.3
Unsaturated fatty acids
Oleic acid C18:1 26.9 25.4 47.7 44.9 12.7 13.0
Linoleic acid C18:2, n-6 2.0 2.3 1.5 7.3 0.6 2.6
Linolenic acid C18:3, n-3 0.5 0.5 0 0.5 0.2 1.0
Polyunsaturated fatty acids
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) C20:5, n-3 9.9 12.8 0 0 16.7 13.0
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) C22:6, n-3 6.0 8.2 0 0 32.9 10.7