Raw tilapia fillets with spices and lemon on a black background.
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Can You Eat Raw Tilapia?

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Many popular foods, including sushi, are made with raw fish. You can eat both fresh raw fish or raw fish that has been frozen and thawed.

Some popular varieties of fish that are eaten raw include salmon, tuna, and yellowtail. When it comes to tilapia, there is a bit of confusion over whether it can be enjoyed raw or not due to the way it is farmed.

So, can you eat raw tilapia? Yes, you can eat raw tilapia that has been handled properly and grown in a healthy environment. It is a great substitute for red snapper and can be used in sushi, poke bowls, ceviche, and carpaccio.

Read on to find out more about tilapia, what it tastes like, how to safely eat it when raw, how to cook it, and much more!

What Is Tilapia?

Tilapia fish on ice display for sale.

Tilapia refers to several species of freshwater fish belonging to the Cichlidae family.

It is found mostly in the Nile River and other parts of Africa and the Middle East, but is farmed all over the world for its culinary uses.

Tilapia is ideal for farming as it is a very low-maintenance fish that doesn’t mind being crowded, grows quickly, and has a simple and cheap diet.

Three of the most common market species of tilapia include Nile or black tilapia, blue tilapia, and Mozambique or red tilapia. There is, however, very little difference in their appearance and taste.

Tilapia reside in shallow freshwater lakes, ponds, and streams. They feed mostly on algae, insect larva, and aquatic plants. Due to its special diet, raising tilapia can actually help improve the quality of water that has aggressive algae growth.

Is Tilapia Healthy?

Tilapia farming in the agricultural industry.

After shrimp, tuna, and salmon, tilapia is the most consumed seafood in the United States. It is widely popular due to its mild flavor and low price.

The health benefits and dangers of tilapia depend mostly on how it is farmed, which varies significantly based on the location.

At present, China is the world’s largest tilapia producer and provides the US with the majority of its tilapia imports.

If raised properly and kept in the right conditions, tilapia can be a pretty impressive source of protein, with 3.5 ounces packing 26 grams of protein and only 128 calories.

It is also rich in vitamins and minerals such as niacin, vitamin B12, phosphorus, selenium, and potassium.

Tilapia contains only 3 grams of fat per serving, but it is the type of fat that raises a few eyebrows.

While most fish are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, which help lower inflammation and reduce the risk of heart disease, tilapia is rich in Omega-6 fatty acids — these are regarded as less healthy and even believed to increase inflammation if consumed in excess.

How To Use Tilapia

Pan-fried tilapia with Asian slaw and roasted potatoes.

Tilapia can be used in a variety of ways and is a good substitute for fish such as red snapper and sea bass.

It is easy to cook but, like many other types of seafood, can quickly turn dry if overcooked. 

Tilapia is typically sold as boneless, skinless fillets that are best prepared and served with a flavorful sauce. It is also a good option for fish tacos and fish and chips!

Some of the best seasonings that work incredibly well with tilapia include black pepper, paprika, cayenne, garlic, thyme, dill, and Cajun spice blends.

The best side dishes to serve with tilapia are French fries, roasted potatoes, salad, pasta, steamed vegetables, and rice.

This simple mild-tasting fish is an easy-to-use ingredient for a variety of recipes, and while some people prefer cooking tilapia before eating it, others may enjoy eating it raw in dishes such as sushi and sashimi.

Is It Safe To Eat Raw Tilapia?

Raw tilapia fish ready for cooking.

Tilapia is a popular fish that can be cooked in a variety of ways and paired with different ingredients.

There are, however, several concerns regarding eating it raw, with many people disapproving the practice. 

So, is it safe to eat raw tilapia? Although it is safe to eat raw tilapia, you need to make sure you source yours from a reputable place that follows healthy rearing farming practices.

Tilapia can be grown in unhealthy conditions, such as small crowded pens to live in, which can make the fish susceptible to diseases and force the farmers to use antibiotics on them.

Not only does this severely affect the quality of the fish, but it can also make you sick upon consumption.

Scombroid poisoning happens from consuming contaminated raw fish and the signs and symptoms may start to appear within 30 minutes of ingestion.

Some of the most common symptoms are rashes, headache, vomiting, and diarrhea, which persist for 12-48 hours but fortunately are not life-threatening.

It is safe to eat raw tilapia only if you get it from a quality shop that sources its fish from a responsible farming practice. Otherwise, you risk getting food poisoning and falling sick.

What Does Raw Tilapia Taste Like?

Tilapia is a popular fish with a mild flavor and firm, dense texture. It has a slight sweetness similar to red snapper and striped bass and adapts to nearly any cooking technique.

It doesn’t have a strong fishy flavor, which makes it the perfect blank canvas for you to pair with other flavors and ingredients.

The taste varies depending on whether the fish is caught in the wild or farmed, the type of feed it is raised on, and the water quality.

Raw fillets of tilapia are pinkish-white that turn completely white when cooked. The meat is lean and firm with a flaky texture.

How To Prepare Raw Tilapia

Defrosted raw fish fillets closeup.

When purchasing raw tilapia, make sure that it remains below 40°F until you are ready to use it — it can spoil very quickly and cause food poisoning if eaten raw or undercooked.

To be extra cautious, use raw tilapia that has been frozen for at least 24 hours as freezing also kills any parasites and pathogens that may be present in the fish.

To prepare raw tilapia for eating, you need to follow a few easy steps to ensure it stays free of any contaminants:

  1. Start by cleaning the frozen fish fillet thoroughly.
  2. Pat dry using a clean paper towel.
  3. Put the frozen fish in a bowl and add some lime juice to it.
  4. Gently mix and cover it with plastic wrap.
  5. Put it in the refrigerator to chill for 20-30 minutes.
  6. Take out the chilled fillet and cut it according to your requirement.
  7. For sushi and sashimi, freeze the fillet for a while as it will help cut it into thin slices.

Best Ways To Use Raw Tilapia

Raw tilapia is a great choice of protein for a variety of dishes. Tilapia is an inexpensive and delicious fish that you can enjoy both cooked and raw — it is frequently used for sushi or sashimi.

Here are some popular ways to use raw tilapia:

  • Ceviche. Tilapia ceviche is a light and refreshing appetizer with origins in Central and South American cuisine. Made with citrusy raw tilapia and fresh vegetables, it is served alongside chips or crackers, avocado, and lots of hot sauce.
  • Carpaccio. Tilapia carpaccio is a raw marinated fish fillet cut into very thin slices and topped with a vinaigrette. You can top it with some parmesan cheese and serve it with toasted bread.
  • Sushi. Raw tilapia has a mild, somewhat sweet taste, making it great for sushi and sashimi. It is a popular substitute for red snapper and expensive Tai fish in sushi recipes.
  • Poke Bowl. Made with sushi-grade tilapia seasoned with soy sauce, honey, and lots of sesame, it is usually served with brown rice, vegetables, and delicious spicy mayo.

Can You Eat Undercooked Tilapia?

Like raw tilapia, you can eat undercooked tilapia as long as it is of good quality and farmed in a healthy environment. 

Tilapia doesn’t need to be cooked completely and can be served raw or medium-rare. Try to get tilapia that is already frozen to avoid contamination and make sure to handle it properly while cooking.

When cooking tilapia, if you want to make sure that it is perfectly cooked, you can use a meat thermometer to check its internal temperature or use a fork to poke its flesh.

Perfectly cooked tilapia should have an internal temperature of 145°F and should flake off easily with a fork. You may cook both fresh and frozen tilapia. For the latter, make sure it has been thawed completely before cooking.

How To Cook Tilapia

Raw tilapia can be cooked in a variety of ways – from baking to searing, frying, and sautéing, each method allows the mild flavor of the fish to combine with the other ingredients and make a perfect addition to your family dinners.

Here are some of the best ways to cook raw tilapia:


Using just a handful of ingredients and served on a bed of greens, seared tilapia is a simple dish that takes less than 30 minutes to cook and is ideal for beginners as well as professional chefs.


Baking tilapia is a popular way to enjoy this fish. It uses a perfect blend of herbs and spices and can be served on its own or with your choice of side dish.


Grilled tilapia is full of flavor and spice, and is paired with interesting ingredients such as mango salsa to make it the perfect addition to your BBQ menu.


Smoking tilapia is a wonderful, non-traditional way to enjoy this delicious fish. It may take around 1.5-2 hours to smoke the tilapia, but the end result is worth it.


Poaching is a great cooking method if you are worried about overcooking your tilapia as will make sure you end up with perfectly moist fish fillets.


Stir-frying tilapia is a great way to combine the goodness of tilapia and your choice of favorite vegetables in one dish. It is a healthy, easy, and no-fuss way to cook tilapia in a matter of 20 minutes (if you’ve done the cutting beforehand).


Steaming is a great way to make sure the tilapia doesn’t dry out while cooking. It is also incredibly quick and you can pair it with Asian-inspired flavors that go well with the mild flavor of the fish.


Braising is one of the best ways to cook tilapia, particularly for people who enjoy thick and robust flavors. You may cook it in a white wine sauce or use tomatoes for maximum flavor.

How To Tell If Raw Tilapia Is Bad

Raw tilapia may go bad for several reasons such as improper handling and storage or expired meat. Consuming bad tilapia, whether raw, undercooked, or cooked, can make you fall sick.

Luckily, there are a few easy ways to tell if tilapia has gone bad. They have to do with how the fish looks, feels, smells, and tastes.

Your tilapia has spoiled if it:

  • Has a sour and fishy smell. Most freshwater fish have a distinct smell, but once they have gone bad, they give off an unpleasant odor due to the presence of bacteria.
  • Has a sticky or slimy texture. The skin and meat of tilapia are naturally covered in mucus, but if you touch the fish with your fingers and your fingertips feel sticky afterward, the fish isn’t safe to eat.
  • Has a thick fluid oozing out of it. This is never a good sign — if you see any type of weird fluid coming out of a prepackaged fillet, discard it immediately.
  • Loses all elasticity. A great way to check for this is to gently poke the fillet. If the flesh is loose and doesn’t stick to the bones, and your finger leaves an indentation in the meat, it means that the fish is not fresh.
  • Is dark, discolored, and dry around the edges. Fresh tilapia will have a clear and shiny eye, nice rich color, and firm flesh. If you notice any discoloration or paleness in the flesh, it probably isn’t as fresh.
  • Is way past its use-by date. All kinds of groceries come with a use-by date that indicates how long the item will stay good. If your tilapia is way past the use-by date and hasn’t been stored or handled properly, chances are that it has gone bad and must not be eaten.

Related Questions

Now that you know all about tilapia and whether or not you can eat it raw, here are a few additional questions we thought you might have!

How long does raw tilapia last?

Raw tilapia must be refrigerated after being purchased, where it should last for 1 to 2 days if kept at optimal conditions. If properly stored in the freezer, it will maintain its best quality for about 6 to 8 months.

If kept at room temperature, it should be discarded if left out for more than 2 hours.

What is the best way to freeze raw tilapia?

The best way to freeze raw tilapia is to wrap it in a couple of layers of aluminum foil, plastic wrap, or freezer paper, then place it in a heavy-duty freezer-safe bag to prevent freezer burn.

Can all fish be eaten raw?

While almost all fish are edible, not all are suitable to be eaten raw.

As a rule of thumb, any fish you would normally find in a sushi bar will be safe to eat raw. These include tuna, salmon, clams, scallops, mackerel, snapper, squid, and flounder.

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