- The Healthy Fish
- Nile Tilapia
- Blue Tilapia
- Mozambique Tilapia
- The Truth About Tilapia
- The contaminant angle
- Tilapia: Freak Farmed Fish or Evolutionary Rock Star?
- Superfood or Supervillain? The Truth About Tilapia
- Is Tilapia a Real Fish?
- Where Does Tilapia Come From?
- Is Tilapia Bad for You?
- Is Tilapia Good for You?
- How Does Tilapia Farming Effect the Environment?
- Does Farmed Tilapia Taste Good?
- What Tilapia Does FultonFishMarket.com Carry?
The Healthy Fish
Tilapia, like other fish and animals, come in a variety of species. Three of the most commonly fished and eaten species of Tilapia are Nile, Blue and Mozambique. Varying in shape, size and color, these three fish differ from one another in more ways than just how they look. Knowing the distinct characteristics of each fish could help you know exactly what you’re buying at the supermarket. We’ve done our homework on these three popular species so that you know what exactly makes each of them unique.
Oreochromis niloticus, more popularly known as Nile Tilapia, can be traced back 4,000 years to Ancient Egypt. Thanks to the fish’s delicious mild taste and nutritional benefits (high protein and low fat), Tilapia’s popularity in America has surged over the past 20 years. Pioneering seafood companies like Regal Springs have helped Tilapia become the 4th most eaten seafood in USA (after shrimp, salmon and tuna).
Nile Tilapia reach maturity after five to seven months at roughly 1-2 pounds, Nile Tilapia thrive in waters around 80 degrees and begin to reproduce when temperatures drop to about 75 degrees. Nile Tilapia can be raised in various ways, including ponds and in pristine lakes – about 70% of the Fresh Tilapia eaten in the USA is all natural and lake-grown.
The method by which Tilapia are raised and what they are fed directly effects the fish’s taste and texture. That said, we always recommend Fresh lake-grown Tilapia from Honduras or Mexico – these two countries produce 70% of all Fresh Tilapia eaten in the USA and do not use antibiotics or chemicals. Frozen Tilapia from Indonesia and Mexico are grown the in the same responsible manner and are also highly recommended (available at Costco and Giant Eagle).
Nile Tilapia is among the most responsibly farmed fish you can buy and is widely available grocery stores and restaurants across the America stores like Costco, Kroger, HEB, Sprouts, Red Lobster, Bonefish Grill, Rubios and many others.
With origins in Northern Africa and the Middle East, Blue Tilapia, which is often blue-gray with a pink-white belly, can be found in abundance in Florida’s lakes, rivers and streams. The adaptability of this species means that it can also live in saltwater, although it thrives in freshwater.
Blue Tilapia takes much longer to reach maturity than Nile Tilapia and commonly reaches two to four pounds within three years.
This species of Tilapia is native to Africa and was introduced to the United States for sport fishing and even as a means of aquatic plant control. It is often hybridized with both Blue and Nile Tilapia as they can withstand colder waters, while Mozambique Tilapia can’t. This species is easily recognizable because of its olive-gray tone and yellow belly.
Mozambique Tilapia sits comfortably in the middle of Blue Tilapia and Nile Tilapia in terms of growth rate and weight. This species can reach over two pounds in one year.
Just like with any other animal, the taste and nutrition levels of Tilapia are heavily affected by the way they’re raised and what they’re fed. If you’re looking for the best choice, we recommend Regal Springs Tilapia. Their fish raised in pristine lakes and are fed a vegetable-based floating feed to ensure supreme quality. While the type of Tilapia you’re eating may not matter to you, the way it’s raised should.
Photos: Regal Springs, Secretaria de Agricultura e Abastecimento, Michael Hayes, Greg Hume
The Truth About Tilapia
The contaminant angle
What about drug residues, a major concern with most imported seafood? Tilapia is not exempt from contamination, though this depends on where and how it’s farmed. As we previously reported, veterinary drug residues were detected in tilapia (and other fish) that were inspected by the U.S., Canada, and the European Union between 2000 and 2009, according to a 2011 paper in Environmental Science and Technology.
And a 2014 paper in the Journal of Hazardous Materials found antibiotic residues in farmed fish purchased in the U.S., including tilapia from Panama and China. Though levels were relatively low, the authors note that the use of antibiotics in fish farming could nonetheless be contributing to the growing public health problem of drug-resistant bacteria.
On the other hand, an analysis in the open-access Journal of Food Processing & Technology in 2013 reported that of 36 samples of imported tilapia—mostly from Latin America—none tested positive for anti-microbials (chloramphenicol, malachite green, and gentian violet), though results may have differed, the researchers said, had more samples from Asia (particularly China and Vietnam) been included. This study also looked at mercury, cadmium, arsenic, and lead in tilapia. All samples had detectable residues of at least one of these heavy metals, but at levels well below safety action thresholds set by the FDA.
Tilapia’s Worse than Bacon? Baloney!
Tilapia may not be as heart-healthy as fatty fish like salmon because of its low omega-3 levels, but that hardly means it’s unhealthy—and the claim that it’s worse for you than bacon is ludicrous. Here’s how that rumor got started, and why it’s bogus.
The Environmental Working Group considers tilapia one of the safer seafood choices in terms of mercury, especially compared to fish such as tuna, sea bass, shark, and swordfish. According to its seafood calculator, even if a pregnant or nursing woman eats three servings of tilapia a week (and no other fish), she will get less than 10 percent of her weekly mercury limit—but also less than 10 percent of her omega-3 needs.
Bottom line: Tilapia is popular for good reason—it’s inexpensive and widely available, plus it “goes with everything.” And though it’s not rich in omega-3s, it’s a good source of lean protein and is better for you than fatty meats like burgers and bacon. It can clearly be a part of a healthy diet if you like it, though as with all fish, we recommend you vary your intake and look for responsibly farmed (or wild-caught) sources. You can use seafood guides from such organizations as the Monterey Bay Aquarium and EDF as a starting point, but you still have to ask questions of your fishmonger or waitperson (or chef) and check packages of frozen products if you want to know if the fish meets standards for sustainability (see inset above). Some companies post this information on their websites.
- Fish Fraud Runs Deep
- How Safe Is Your Imported Seafood?
- Seafood Labeling Fraud
- Finding Better Shrimp
Tilapia: Freak Farmed Fish or Evolutionary Rock Star?
Posts are appearing on my Facebook feed warning against the dangers of eating tilapia. So I decided to do a little research.
My dad was a seafood wholesaler at the Fulton Fish market, and as a kid I’d encountered all manner of fish, at the dinner table and from working one summer at his stall. I knew about porgies, red snapper, flounder, and crabs galore, and that gefilte fish was a mixture of carp, whitefish, and pike. My dad even dealt in turtles and he’d send the occasional mystery species uptown to the American Museum of Natural History for identification.
But I was flummoxed when great bags of shrink-wrapped tilapia fillets began appearing in the supermarket a few years ago.
What the heck is tilapia?
I like it a lot, because it’s blandness doesn’t evoke the odors of my fishy childhood. I especially wondered what it was when I read about two high school students who used DNA fingerprinting to identify mislabeled fish in New York City sushi restaurants and seafood markets and found pricy white tuna to be Mozambique tilapia.
So when badmouthing talipia started showing up on Facebook, warning against the evils of fish farming, I finally googled it – and quickly discovered that tilapia are evolutionary rock stars and I’d indeed heard of them. They’re cichlid fishes! Any bionerd will instantly recognize their place in natural history.
So I pulled out the introductory biology textbook that began my writing career, and of course there they were, the famed cichlids.
From African Lakes to Aquaculture
Both within and between the African Great Lakes, over hundreds of thousands of years, geologic activity and time separated cichlid populations, allowing genetic changes to accumulate and persist. This is the essence of evolution – natural selection favoring traits that ease survival to reproduce.
I wrote in my intro biology textbook:
“In Cameroon, their speciation is probably the consequence of ecological isolation. Some populations feed exclusively on the lake bottom, whereas others prefer the regions near roots of aquatic plants, or closer to the surface. Because the members of each population do not come into contact, no gene exchange occurs. As changes in the genes of each population accumulate, they become more reproductively isolated. Over many years, the populations have become distinct species.”
Cichlids also diverged into new species when separated into different bodies of water. I wrote, “As new lakes formed, they isolated populations of the fishes, and the animals eventually accumulated sufficient genetic changes to constitute new species. The approximate times when DNA sequences diverged (calculated from the mutation rates), according to mitochondrial DNA sequence comparison, coincide with geographic evidence of when earthquakes occurred. The earthquakes may have formed the lakes that separated the ancient gene pools of cichlid fishes.”
About 1,650 cichlid fish species are recognized, with possibly 2000 to 3000 existing. The number of tilapia species is about 70.
The scientific literature on the celebrated cichlids is vast. I was thrilled to find “Sympatric speciation suggested by monophyly of crater lake cichlids,” because one of the trio of authors is famed Swedish evolutionary biologist Svante Pääbo, of Neanderthal fame. That’s from 1994, but the paper trail reaches back to at least 1972.
Dr. Pääbo and his associates described two tiny crater lakes in Cameroon that are not fed by rivers or streams. One lake, Barombi Mbo, houses 11 species of the fish and the other, Bermin, has 9, all of the fish “tilapiines,” or “tilapia-like cichlids.” The researchers compared a 340-base mitochondrial DNA sequence among the 20 species, which revealed that each lake held a monophyletic collection: a single origin, each lake colonized just one time.
Attempts to expand tilapia began in the 1980s. In 1987 the Genetically Improved Farmed Tilapia project started with eight African and Asian tilapia founder populations. “The GIFT population has experienced intense artificial selection,” wrote a team of researchers from China and Singapore who sequenced the genomes of 47 “tilapia individuals,” published in Nature in 2015.
The researchers probed the genomes for sequence subtleties that reflect artificial selection (selective breeding) behind the “genetically improved” status of the fish. A list of a dozen or so genes that showed distinctive changes boiled down to three broad functions: reproduction, growth, and development; immunity; and response to chemicals and other forms of stress.
Are the cichlids from the 1994 paper the same species as the ones I haul out of my freezer from Wal-Mart? Probably, because the names from the “aquaculture for tilapia” entry in Wikipedia indeed match three of the species in the 1994 paper.
Tilapia are ideal for fish farms for several reasons:
- They reproduce, develop, and grow fast, reaching saleable size by 7 months.
- They’re omnivores, satisfied with cheap veggies and algae.
- Crowding doesn’t appear to bother them.
- They thrive in water that’s salty, fresh, or brackish.
They’re so well adapted to aquaculture that there’s no need to genetically modify them, although it’s been done. Going GM just complicates matters because the fish must be rendered infertile. As far as I can tell it just isn’t necessary. Sometimes nature can’t be improved upon.
But still come the panic pieces. Bellows the meme that initially caught my attention:
“Stop eating this fake ass fish! This fish is boneless, has no skin and can’t be overcooked. You can’t find tilapia in the wild. It’s being harvest (sic) in artificial fish farms. … eating tilapia is worse than eating bacon or a hamburger. … This fish is a mutant: it’s killing our families.”
The bonelessness and skinlessness claim may come from this statement in Wikipedia: “Whole tilapia can be processed into skinless, boneless, fillets.”
As for the fish farms, rumors and reports claim that tilapia farms in China use manure – from various sources, mostly pigs and geese. This Snopes report is particularly nauseating.
Despite the fertilizer issue, I love tilapia, because it’s nutritious and has turned around my childhood fish aversion.
My sister and I were not only served malodorous seafood often, but we even kept two giant lobsters in the bathtub as pets until one day we came home from school to find our otherwise kind mother murdering them in a vat of boiling water. That trauma is why I won’t eat lobster. I also have bad memories of fish sticks – no one really knew what they were. But when I see those bags of tilapia fillets at Wal-Mart – protein-packed and enough to serve 20 or so children for about $12 – I can’t help but appreciate the elegant boneless and skinless white fish descended from the famed lakes of Africa.
Tilapia has progressively grown in popularity since 2002 when it first entered the top ten list of the most frequently consumed seafood products in the United States. It is currently the fourth most popular type of fish behind tuna, salmon and Alaskan pollock, and the third most popular aquaculture or farm raised seafood product behind shrimp and salmon. Since 2006, Americans have consumed over 1 pound of tilapia per person each year. Predictions suggest it will remain a popular selection due to its mild flavor and taste, versatility in preparation, and competitive prices.
Types and Sources of Products
Tilapia is probably the oldest farm raised fish in the world. Stories from biblical scholars suggest it was the fish used by Jesus to feed the crowds at the Sea of Galilee, the so-called ‘St. Peter’s Fish’. Today, over 80 nations produce farm-raised tilapia including the United States. China is the largest producer accounting for over 50 percent of the world’s production.
There are many different species of tilapia. Aquaculture producers have developed various breeds or hybrids that grow efficiently to market size and have desirable appearance and flavor characteristics. The approved market name for all varieties is ‘Tilapia’, and the three primary species in the marketplace are: Nile or Black tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus), Blue tilapia (O. aureus), and Mozambique or red tilapia (O. mossambicus). Although the species names imply different colors, the edible fillets or portions are very similar and more influenced by growing conditions and feeds than external colors.
Tilapia is a hardy herbivorous fish that feeds on algae or small aquatic plant cells, and is primarily raised in freshwater systems using cages, ponds, raceways or open waters. The water conditions in the farming operations have an important impact on product quality and taste. Tilapia has been called the “aqua-chicken” because of the breeding improvements and mass production methods that evoke comparisons to the land based chicken industry in the United States. Organic production methods for tilapia have been developed and some producers are seeking official recognition for their products.
Product Forms and Buyer Advice
Tilapia is popular because it is a mild flavored, white-fleshed fish that is available throughout the year at a competitive price. The most popular product form is skinless and boneless fillets ranging in size from 3 to 9 ounces (5 to 7 ounce fillets are the most common). Various processing and packaging methods are used to ensure that fillets have a mild flavor and retain their bright red color. During the early years of production, tilapia from some sources had unpredictable off-flavors that were associated with water conditions and certain types of algae from different freshwater farming operations. However, recent production improvements have introduced methods to prevent the development of off flavors and screen products to ensure that flavors are uniform.
As the tilapia market has grown, some efforts to creatively market this species or illegally change its name to something more appealing such as sunshine snapper, cherry snapper and pink snapper have occurred. Substituting tilapia for a more valuable species is also illegal, but stands as testimony to its quality attributes.
Tilapia has a low to moderate fat content, and is a rich source of high quality protein. A nutrition label for a 3 ounce cooked portion of tilapia is provided. Nutrient levels can be affected by the ingredients and cooking method used to prepare tilapia fillets.
Sustainability and Management
Tilapia is a sustainable farm-raised product. Because tilapia are herbivorous fish that feed on algae, there is no need for feeds produced from wild caught fish. Raising tilapia in some ponds or other small water bodies can actually help improve the quality of waters compromised by excessive algae blooms. Some farming operations are using a technique called aquaponics to cultivate fish and vegetables or herbs together to produce two or more products in the same water based system.
National Marine Fisheries Service, 2011. Fisheries of the United States 2010
USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference
Tilapia has been successfully farmed in tropical regions as it is hardy and can withstand intensive farming (high population density). It breeds easily, is resistant to disease, withstands handling and grows quickly. It can be reared in earthen ponds, concrete tanks or in cages.
Tilapia is the second most farmed fish in the world after carp and ahead of salmon. China is the main producer, with 1.1 million tilapia in 2008 and Africa is the main consumer with 950 000 tonnes consumed per year.
The most frequently used species in aquaculture are the Nile, Mozambique and Aureus tilapia. They have small stomachs and are fed up to four times a day with small quantities of mostly agricultural by-products (oil cakes made from oil-producing plants, cotton or corn), organic fertiliser (liquid manure) and granules. The fingerlings need more protein than the adults and receive additional animal by-products (meat meal, blood meal, fish meal and fish oil) and vitamins.
© / konmesa – Tilapia farming in Thailand
Mature females can lay eggs every three to four months (from the 12th week in the case of the Nile tilapia). They lay their eggs in nests made by the males, then carry the fertilised eggs in their mouths until they hatch. They then keep the fingerlings close by until they are big and strong enough (10 millimetres). To boost reproduction, one male fertilises three females. Water temperature is also scrupulously monitored, as tilapia only breed at a minimum temperature of 22°C. Large fingerlings are separated from smaller ones in the breeding area to prevent cannibalism.
Growth varies according to the variety, sex and breeding conditions (density of fish, food, water temperature, saltiness of the water). In intensive farming, the Nile tilapia gains around 1 g to 2 g a day in water kept at 25°C. The results are higher for males and improved breeds kept with a low population density at 30°C. After seven months in water, these fish can weigh up to 650 g whereas with a high population density, the fish only weigh 300 g. Once the fish are harvested, they are packed in ice straight away to be transported to wherever they will be sold fresh or processed. As they have a long shelf life, tilapia are particularly valued in processed meals such as fish fingers.
According to Seafood Watch, here are six fish that are healthy for you and the planet.
1. Albacore Tuna (troll- or pole-caught, from the US or British Columbia)
Many tuna are high in mercury but albacore tuna–the kind of white tuna that’s commonly canned–gets a Super Green rating as long as (and this is the clincher) it is “troll- or pole-caught” in the US or British Columbia. The reason: Smaller (usually less than 20 pounds), younger fish are typically caught this way (as opposed to the larger fish caught on longlines). These fish have much lower mercury and contaminant ratings and those caught in colder northern waters often have higher omega-3 counts. The challenge: You need to do your homework to know how your fish was caught or look for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) blue eco label.
2. Salmon (wild-caught, Alaska)
To give you an idea of how well-managed Alaska’s salmon fishery is, consider this: Biologists are posted at river mouths to count how many wild fish return to spawn. If the numbers begin to dwindle, the fishery is closed before it reaches its limits, as was done recently with some Chinook fisheries. This close monitoring, along with strict quotas and careful management of water quality, means Alaska’s wild-caught salmon are both healthier (they pack 1,210 mg of omega-3s per 3-ounce serving and carry few contaminants) and more sustainable than just about any other salmon fishery.
3. Oysters (farmed)
Farmed oysters are good for you (a 3-ounce serving contains over 300 mg of omega-3s and about a third of the recommended daily values of iron). Better yet, they are actually good for the environment. Oysters feed off the natural nutrients and algae in the water, which improves water quality. They can also act as natural reefs, attracting and providing food for other fish. One health caveat: Raw shellfish, especially those from warm waters, may contain bacteria that can cause illnesses.
4. Sardines, Pacific (wild-caught)
The tiny, inexpensive sardine is making it onto many lists of superfoods and for good reason. It packs more omega-3s (1,950 mg!) per 3-ounce serving than salmon, tuna, or just about any other food; it’s also one of the very, very few foods that’s naturally high in vitamin D. Many fish in the herring family are commonly called sardines. Quick to reproduce, Pacific sardines have rebounded from both overfishing and a natural collapse in the 1940s.
5. Rainbow Trout (farmed)
Though lake trout are high in contaminants, nearly all the trout you will find in the market is farmed rainbow trout. In the US, rainbow trout are farmed primarily in freshwater ponds and “raceways” where they are more protected from contaminants and fed a fish meal diet that has been fine-tuned to conserve resources.
6. Freshwater Coho Salmon (farmed in tank systems, from the US)
Freshwater coho salmon is the first–and only–farmed salmon to get a Super Green rating. All other farmed salmon still falls on Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch “avoid” list for a few reasons. Many farms use crowded pens where salmon are easily infected with parasites, may be treated with antibiotics, and can spread disease to wild fish (one reason Alaska has banned salmon farms). Also, it can take as much as three pounds of wild fish to raise one pound of salmon. Coho, however, are raised in closed freshwater pens and require less feed, so the environmental impacts are reduced. They’re also a healthy source of omega-3s–one 3-ounce serving delivers 1,025 mg.
A team of researchers in Brazil explored the use of α-linolenic acid (α -LNA) in the diets of juvenile Nile tilapia raised in cold temperatures. The group published its work in the journal of Aquaculture.
“Tilapia dietary requirements of fatty acids under suboptimal temperature is far from being well-understood,” the researchers said. “Therefore, the present study aims to assess the dietary requirement of α-LNA at the suboptimal temperature of 22°C, resembling the winter water temperature in a subtropical climate zone.”
The researchers found that increasing the amount of α-LNA in the diet boosted weight gain, growth and feed efficiency, they said. Fatty acid content and linoleic acid accumulation in the muscle increased as more α-LNA was added to the diet.
“The α-LNA dietary requirement for 10 to 60-g Nile tilapia – when kept at 22°C and fed a diet containing 5.41% fat and 0.53% LOA – is 0.70% for maximum weight gain and 0.68% for maximum feed efficiency,” they said. “Additional studies are needed to establish the total dietary PUFA required for Nile tilapia and to determine the optimal ratio of n−3 and n−6 fatty acids for better growth performance.”
Why a-LNA in cold temperatures?
Tilapia is one of the most cultivated fish groups in the world and is raised in more than 130 countries, the researchers said. Its optimal water temperature is around 28°C, but is has adapted to other climates and conditions.
However, a drop in production has been noted in sub-optimal temperatures, they said. At around 22°C, there is a drop in feed intake, fish growth and performance and an increase in fish mortalities.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the omega-3 content of fish varies widely. Cold-water fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring and sardines, contain high amounts of LC omega-3s. Fish with a lower fat content, such as bass, tilapia, cod and shellfish, contain lower levels.
Some fish can do harm
Mercury should also be a concern for frequent fish eaters. The naturally occurring heavy metal is primarily released into the environment by the burning of fossil fuels, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
When humans eat contaminated fish, they ingest the mercury that has accumulated in it, which can have negative health consequences. While moderate consumption may be OK, high exposure can damage key organs. Vulnerable populations, such as pregnant women, infants and young children, are particularly at risk.
The EPA and the Food and Drug Administration offer mercury-in-seafood guidelines with these three categories:
- Best choices: (1 to 2 servings per week) include salmon, canned light tuna and herring
- Good choices: (1 serving per week) include halibut, carp and white tuna
- Choices to avoid: (those with the highest mercury levels) include marlin, shark and swordfish
The U.S. Agriculture Department’s ChooseMyPlate website also provides tips on how to choose seafood that is both low in mercury and high in omega-3s — the ultimate combination to get the best health benefits out of your maritime meal.
A new study revealed that tilapia is rich in omega-6 fatty acids that have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Experts then discouraged eating the fish since it feeds on poop and its body cannot expel the toxins that also cause cancer.
A printed study by researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine revealed that tilapia is not healthy to consume compared to other fish species. Tilapia is a fish that is typically farmed in 135 countries. It is ideal for farming because it grows quickly and consumes a cheap vegetarian diet. As per Life Is Beautiful, some farmers even feed them with toxic substances such as pig and chicken poop to cut costs.
Tilapia was also referred to as a worse protein source than bacon by Dr. Axe. Farm-bred fish were found to be high in antibiotics and pesticides that, when consumed, makes you susceptible to diseases. These are used to prevent fish from getting diseases and battle sea lice.
According to Health Line, tilapia also contain little omega-3 and more of omega-6. Omega-3 fatty acids are healthy fats found in most fish that lower inflammation and blood triglycerides. Tilapia only contains 240 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids per serving compared to salmon which has about 2,500 milligrams. The fish, however, is richer in omega-6 fatty acids that instead of alleviating, it worsens inflammation when consumed in excess.
As per a study published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine, experts claimed that consuming tilapia is discouraged when you are already suffering from inflammatory illnesses like heart disease. Chronic inflammation also drives serious illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and arthritis.
Contains Cancerous Substances
According to the Environmental Working Group, tilapia is also high in dioxin which is a toxic chemical that causes cancer and other health complications. Once it enters your body, it takes about seven to 11 years before it is expelled out of the system. This puts you at a higher risk of getting cancer.
High Mercury Levels
A study published in the Environmental Pollution journal also revealed that mercury concentrations in commercially fished tilapia exceed the recommended threshold for consumption among pregnant women.
Experts discouraged the consumption of farm-raised tilapia. Species like the Blue Tilapia are not usually farmed since they grow slower than the Nile Tilapia. The former is a healthier option. You can also prevent toxic consumption if you only eat those that are caught in freshwater and saltwater instead of the farmed ones.
Superfood or Supervillain? The Truth About Tilapia
If you’ve read the rumors recently, you may have heard that Tilapia is bad for you, that it should be avoided or that it doesn’t contain nutrients. These stories are mostly false and over exaggerated. As with any product, some producers have questionable standards that lead to a lower-quality fish. However, the truth is when raised responsibly, Tilapia is a great, healthy addition to your diet. Here’s what you need to know.
The Health Benefits of Tilapia
Lake Malpaso, Mexico – One of the pristine lakes where Regal Springs raises their Tilapia
Tilapia’s major health value has been severely overlooked. In reality, this fish is very nutritious (high protein, low fat and no carbs), and versatile, placing it high on the list of healthy seafood options. Regal Springs, the world’s largest producer of Tilapia only raises their fish in pristine lakes in Mexico, Honduras and Indonesia using a vegetable-based diet (mainly soy beans, corn, wheat and other premium grains).
Tilapia is Filled With Nutrients
Fresh, lake-grown Tilapia from Mexico and Honduras or frozen Tilapia from Indonesia (retailers like Costco, Giant Eagle and HEB source from here) is a delicious source of many essential nutrients such as potassium and iron. This fish is also a source of lean protein, making it an excellent option for pescetarians or those who avoid eating red meat. Furthermore, Tilapia is low in fat, making it the perfect healthy choice for people who are looking to eat lighter meals. About 70% of all the Fresh Tilapia sold in USA comes from Mexico and Honduras so premium Tilapia is easily available in groceries and many national restaurant chains like Red Lobster.
Tilapia is Free of Mercury
Lake Toba, Indonesia where Regal Springs raises all-natural Tilapia.
Many people steer clear of eating seafood due to the high levels of mercury in popular fish such as tuna and swordfish. However, Mexican, Honduran and Indonesian Tilapia is free of mercury, making it a safe choice for pregnant women and others concerned about their mercury intake.
Tilapia is a Source of Omega-3
Omega-3s are important fatty acids that contribute to healthy brain development, curb joint stiffness and pain and help protect against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Because the body doesn’t produce Omega-3s on its own, we have to find them in the foods we eat. While it may not be the first fish that comes to mind when you think of Omega-3s, ethically-farmed Tilapia has just as much of this fatty acid as other popular fish such as cod, Mahi-Mahi and yellowfin tuna.
Explaining Tilapia’s Poor Reputation
A poorly regulated fish farm in China.
When it comes to choosing healthy and sustainable fish to eat, not all Tilapia is raised equal. The nutritional value of the fish depends largely on where it comes from. Some countries hold their Tilapia farmers to much higher standards than others. While fresh Tilapia from Mexico and Honduras and frozen Tilapia from Indonesia can provide you with significant health benefits, Tilapia from some countries can be of lower quality.
On fish farms in places like China, Tilapia is raised in small, shallow pools that allow the fish to feed on the algae or mud at the bottom of the pool. As a result, it is important to make sure your Tilapia comes from a supplier that raises their Tilapia in good conditions (preferably floating cages) without any additives, preservatives or chemicals.
How to Choose Your Tilapia
Companies that raise high-quality Tilapia are certified by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council, a standard developed by the World Wildlife Fund. By choosing products with this label, you ensure that you’re consuming fish that will add to your healthy diet rather than detract from it. You can also check the country of origin label, which is included on all fresh and seafood packaging—look for fresh Tilapia from Mexico and Honduras or frozen Tilapia from Indonesia. If you are dinning in a restaurant ask where the Tilapia is from, the servers can easily check with the chef.
When you consider the various nutritional components of this fish, you might start to wonder why we ever doubted Tilapia’s value in the first place. In order to make sure that you’re getting the best product possible, simply make sure your Tilapia comes from a company that holds their fish farmers to the highest of quality standards.
Seafood aficionados and amateurs alike appreciate the diversity of our seafood selections. From lobster and oysters to salmon and tuna, there’s no lack of love for the bounty that we deliver right to your door.
But one of our selections doesn’t always garner the enthusiasm of our other fresh favorites: Tilapia. Sentiments on this delicious freshwater fish can range from a mild-mannered “so-so” to a more opinionated “not a real fish.”
So why does tilapia, which is both tasty and good for you, tend to have a negative reputation? Is it warranted? Today we’re going to explore some of the more popular opinions of tilapia – both good and bad – and answer some of our customer’s frequently asked questions about one of seafood’s most contentious fish.
Is Tilapia a Real Fish?
Where Does Tilapia Come From?
Is Tilapia Bad for You?
Is Tilapia Good for You?
How Does Tilapia Farming Effect the Environment?
Does Farmed Tilapia Taste Good?
What Tilapia Does FultonFishMarket.com Carry?
Is Tilapia a Real Fish?
Yes, tilapia is a real fish – not a “franken-fish.” Stories of tilapia go back to the Roman Empire in 1500 B.C., with biblical scholars even hypothesizing that Jesus fed the masses on the shores of the Sea of Galilee with two tilapia and four loaves of bread!
Fast forward to the 21st century, tilapia is actually one of the most popular fish served in restaurants. Ranking behind tuna, salmon, and Alaskan pollock, it’s the fourth most commonly consumed type of seafood in the United States.
The most popular varieties of tilapia include Nile tilapia, blue tilapia, and Mozambique tilapia. While their flavor profiles are similar, the quality and taste are affected by their growing environment, feed type and water conditions.
Where Does Tilapia Come From?
Although tilapia hails from Africa, its surge in popularity has led to the development of commercial tilapia farms around the world. Over 135 countries, including the United States, produce farm-raised tilapia in indoor recirculating tanks, ponds, freshwater net pens, and raceways. China currently leads global tilapia production.
Is Tilapia Bad for You?
The quality of tilapia aquaculture systems can have impacts on both flavor and the nutritional profile. Tilapia quality and taste are affected by the feed type, which is typically corn and soy pellets. A high-quality, vegetable-based diet is imperative because it satisfies the population’s appetite, ensuring that the fish do not eat algae, mud, or effluence (aka fish poop).
Overcrowding results in the excess of effluence, which, if not managed property, is consumed by the fish population. This can lead to disease, which can lead to the irresponsible use of antibiotics and antimicrobials. This cycle ultimately leads to a poorer quality product which can promote antibiotic resistance. For our farmed tilapia, FultonFishMarket.com has partnered with Regal Springs, a trusted tilapia farmer that prides itself on ensuring their tilapia are raised responsibly with plenty of space and the best feeds.
Is Tilapia Good for You?
Yes! Responsibly-sourced tilapia like ours is a delicious source of lean protein that is low in calories, fat, and carbohydrates and high in vitamins and minerals like selenium, vitamin B12, niacin, and potassium.
While tilapia is lower in the omega-3 fatty acids that are characteristic of salmon and sardines, it is comparable to other popular fish selections like cod, mahi mahi, and yellowfin tuna.
How Does Tilapia Farming Effect the Environment?
One benefit of tilapia farming is that it supports the sustainability of the wild tilapia population. Responsible aquaculture of any species provides a cost-effective product that supports global demand for protein without depleting native stock.
The discharge of waste from tilapia farms can present issues to sustainability. Conscientious tilapia partners collect the effluent from aquaculture systems to use as fertilizer, whereas more reckless farms release the waste into the natural habitat which can cause illness to other species as well as tilapia. Escaped fish can also cause population challenges, as they are quick to procreate and could potentially choke out other native species.
Third party certifications recognize responsible, sustainable, and safe tilapia farming, including the Aquaculture Stewardship Council and the Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative (GSSI). The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch also makes recommendations for wild and farmed tilapia selections based on their environmental impact. Our partner Regal Springs was the world’s first Tilapia producer to be certified to the Aquaculture Stewardship Council Tilapia standard and also the world’s first tilapia producer to be certified to the Global Aquaculture Alliance’s Best Aquaculture Practice standard for Tilapia.
Does Farmed Tilapia Taste Good?
Tilapia’s sweet, mild taste and flaky texture makes it a great fit for recipes calling for white fish. The lean fillets absorb flavors easily, so we recommend using a light hand with spices and sauces. Tilapia is versatile across many cooking methods including pan frying, broiling, baking, or braising.
What Tilapia Does FultonFishMarket.com Carry?
We are committed to safe, sustainable seafood here at FultonFishMarket.com. That’s why we have partnered with Regal Springs to bring healthy, delicious tilapia to your dinner table. Regal Springs tilapia are responsibly raised in spacious floating pens in Honduras. Shop for tender, firm tilapia fillets from FultonFishMarket.com.
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