Bristol Bay Sockeyes Served Up as Baby Food Entrees

Athina Maroudas Tzolas samples Bambino’s Alaska Sockeye Salmon Strips, from salmon harvested from Bristol Bay. Photo courtesy of Bambino’s Baby Food.

Bristol Bay sockeyes are being offered to a new group of young diners these days, as salmon fillets, salmon bisque and salmon strips, in a new partnership aimed at spreading the word about the nutritional and cultural importance of Southwest Alaska’s red gold.

The Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, Bristol Bay Native Corp., and Bambino’s Baby Food in Anchorage are partnering to promote Bambino’s salmon entrees for infants ages four months and to toddlers, with these organic frozen meals, which have already attracted online customers throughout the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and China.

In fact, 85% of Bambino’s products are sold outside of Alaska, said Zoi Maroudas, president and founder of Bambino’s.

“Salmon is a fundamental part of our cultures and our values, from protecting the waters they spawn in to ensuring our shareholders are able to fill their freezers every year,” said Jason Metrokin president and chief executive officer of BBNC. “We’re looking forward to partnering with Bambino’s and BBRSDA to share the stories of why salmon is so crucial to our region and our shareholders.”

“We want to ensure that people everywhere and of all ages not only reap the nutritional benefits of Bristol Bay sockeye salmon but are also aware of the origin and sustainability of the Bristol Bay region,” said BBRSDA marketing director Lilani Dunn.

To Maroudas, whose family is of Greek ancestry, the partnership is a natural, based on the common passion of Greeks and Alaska Natives for family and the environment. 

“We have a common mission of honoring families,” she said. “When I launched salmon strips (the latest of her salmon baby food offerings), it was to honor our indigenous families. We are all in this together.”

Also among Bambino’s frozen baby food offerings are a halibut entrée and a vegetable stew with filet mignon. All frozen products are kosher, contain no additives and include and come as star shaped little cubes, which can be served up in three ways.

Frozen Bristol Bay sockeye salmon bisque for babies, from Bambino’s Baby Food. Photo by Margaret Bauman.

For four-month to three-year-olds, the cubes—in a star-shape easy to grip by a baby or toddler—may be thawed slightly at room temperature for a couple of minutes for a teething baby or simply as a healthy snack.

For those aged 12 months and up, the cubes may be placed in a tempered bowl, covered and microwaved in 30-second increments, for a textured meal. For four-month to 12-month-olds being introduced to solid foods, the cubes may again be microwaved until the puree is completely smooth, with water added as needed to adjust consistency. Rice, barley, lentils or even macaroni and cheese can be stirred in for toddlers.

The company also suggests adding five of the frozen cubes to 10 ounces of boiling water to make a tasty broth.

Maroudas, herself the mother of two young children, said she’s excited about sharing promotion of Bambino’s salmon products with BBNC, whose shareholders include many commercial, sport and subsistence salmon harvesters, and BBRSDA, which represents the drift gillnetter fleet in Bristol Bay.

Bambino’s uses only Bristol Bay sockeye salmon in its products, and in the summer of 2021, over 40 million sockeyes were harvested commercial in Bristol Bay.

Maroudas’ passion for seafood nutrition prompted her in 2017 to enter the Alaska Symphony of Seafood competition where she won the grand prize with her halibut bisque entrée.

While Maroudas, who has an extensive background in medicine and nutrition, had already introduced the Hali Halibut frozen baby food entrée, but for the Symphony competition, where she offered tasting samples in small cups, “I wanted the flavor to be the focus, not the baby food,” she said.

The decision to begin the introduction of wild Alaska fish as baby food with halibut was based on the halibut’s milder, more delicate flavor, she explained.

Frozen Bristol Bay sockeye salmon bisque
Frozen Bristol Bay sockeye salmon bisque is one of several frozen seafood products from Bambino’s. Each package contains five frozen portions, shaped as stars, and can be fed with a spoon or held by the baby to suck on to ease the discomfort of teething, Photo by Margaret Bauman.

“What our little ones eat the first three years of life is the foundation on which their overall health stands,” she remarked. “Bambino’s Bristol Bay wild caught and sustainable Alaska salmon products offer not only an abundance of healthy omega-3 fatty acids essential to neural brain development, but also seven-to-10 times more nutrition.”

Maroudas said she is also working with Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, on a bill to eliminate what she said are unnecessary rules limiting the types of foods parents can purchase for their babies under the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) supplemental nutrition program.

The 2021 Infants Need Food and Nutrition Today (INFANT) Act would allow WIC recipients to be offered fresh, frozen and natural alternatives to shelf-stable options. Under current WIX regulations inclusive meals composed of protein (chicken, beef or seafood), vegetables and grains are not allowed, nor are fresh frozen organic products and certain package sizes.

In addition to WIC beneficiaries, the legislation would benefit Alaskan fishermen and the Alaska farmers whose organically ground vegetables are included in the company’s baby food products, Young said.