The Oolichan Fish That Can Be Used As A Candle

Samuel Reason | October 13th, 2018

Oolichan fish is a type of fish that is so greasy it can actually be burnt and used as a candle. Hence it has the popular nickname the candlefish. The Oolichan is seen as a savior for many North Coast First Nations, the indigenous tribes of the Pacific northwest coast. This is because even though Oolichan fish live in the ocean, they travel upstream like salmon into freshwater springs when they need to spawn or die.

This meant that for many Northern tribes they represent the food source that reappears after a long hard winter. When they are struggling up the streams, it is quite an easy feat to catch them, allowing the tribes to replenish their food stocks. Natives could then decide if they wanted to bake them immediately or preserve them by smoking for the winter. But the fish also had another purpose: they were processed for their fat.

Placing them in a pit for a week would start the decomposition process, then doused with boiling water the fat could easily be collected. The grease collected from oolichan fish then became a key element of their survival. For starters, it had an amazing energy source and also had healing properties, which meant it was a valuable trade item. Rubbing it on the skin could help cure things like rashes or dandruff.

The key to the secret of the oolichan fish is that its fat is more mono-unsaturated than saturated fats. This allows it to have a very high melting point, which means it could simply be stuck on a stick and used as a candle. Furthermore being so greasy the oolichan fish was less prone to spoilage when being stored, meaning it was the perfect food source to be preserved for the long winter months of the Northern hemisphere. Essentially it was the perfect fish to keep the native tribes from the region alive.


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