Tilapia is one of the most widely-eaten types of seafood in the US. It is affordable, easy to cook, and pairs easily with other ingredients. Plus, it doesn’t have a strong fishy flavor!
But what are the most common types of tilapia? There are three popular commercial types of tilapia: Nile tilapia, blue tilapia, and Mozambique tilapia. They all have a mild flavor. What makes these species different is their appearance, including their color, length, and maximum weight.
Continue reading to learn more about tilapias, what they taste like, how to cook tilapias, and if eating tilapias is actually good for you.
What Is Tilapia?
Tilapia is the collective name given to a group of freshwater species that belong to the cichlid family. They live in shallow streams, rivers, lakes, and ponds.
These species are perfect for farming as they are quick to grow. The vegetarian diet that tilapia needs is fairly inexpensive. These factors make tilapias more affordable than many other fishes.
Tilapia is one of the easiest fish to farm. The farming costs of tilapia are low as the fish can feed on algae. While this doesn’t produce the tastiest tilapia, it is one of the reasons why there is such a high number of tilapia farms around the world.
In fact, tilapia is dubbed as ‘aquatic chickens’ thanks to its low-maintenance farming and high demand. China is the largest producer of tilapia followed by Egypt.
Tilapia is the fourth in the list of the most-consumed seafood species in the country. So, it is not surprising that the US also produces tilapia in large amounts.
Flavor And Texture
Tilapia is well-loved for its non-fishy flavor. The flavor of tilapias is described as mild and slightly sweet.
Some people find the flavor of tilapias to be too mild and they consider them to be flavorless. Others see this quality as an advantage and think of tilapias as a blank canvas.
When raw, tilapia fillets are white with a pinkish hue. Once you cook them, they turn all white. Texture-wise, tilapia is firm and flaky.
As tilapia is very delicate, it is best to steam or bake it. Broiling tilapia is also an option. Grilling, on the other hand, is not something we recommend you do as the fish will most likely fall apart.
As the taste of tilapia is very mild, you should infuse the fish with other flavors using different ingredients and seasonings.
Tilapia goes well with lemon, black pepper, dill, thyme, garlic, and paprika. You can serve it with such side dishes as rice, potatoes, baked or grilled vegetables, pasta, quinoa, and much more.
Whatever you choose to pair with tilapia, remember that the fish doesn’t have an overwhelming flavor. So, make everything else on the plate brighter and as flavorful as possible.
How Many Types of Tilapia Are There?
There are over 100 species of tilapia in nature. These include exotic and invasive species, as well as aquarium species.
But despite the high number of tilapia species, only 3 types of tilapia make up the commercial species of this fish.
The Most Common Types of Tilapia
As mentioned above, the commercial species of tilapia include 3 varieties:
Nile tilapia is a type of tilapia native to northern Africa and the eastern region of the Iberian Peninsula. Now, however, Nile tilapia leaves outside its native distribution areas too.
Wild Nile tilapias have a brownish or grayish color and vertical stripes on their tail. The maximum length of Nile tilapias is 23.5 inches. The maximum weight of Nile tilapias is 9.5 pounds.
These tilapia species do well in 80°F waters and reproduce when the temperature of the water is slightly lower (75°F).
Nile tilapias grow well in ponds and lakes. But they can be successfully grown in farms too. Nile tilapias are one of the most popular tilapia species sold in the US.
So, if you buy tilapia often, chances are high that you have often eaten Nile tilapia.
Blue tilapia, as the name suggests, is a blue-grayish tilapia variety. It comes from regions of North Africa and the Middle East. You can recognize blue tilapia by its pinkish-white belly.
Blue tilapias are often confused with Nile tilapias. However, there are no stripes on the tails of blue tilapias.
Additionally, blue tilapias are often shorter than Nile tilapias. The maximum length this species reach is 18 inches. The maximum weight of blue tilapia ranges between 5 to 6 pounds.
While tilapias are freshwater species, blue tilapias have a higher tolerance for saltwater compared to other types of tilapia.
Mozambique tilapia is native to southeastern Africa. This tilapia type is characterized by its olive-gray color and yellow belly.
The common length of Mozambique tilapias is between 13 to 15 inches. The maximum weight of these tilapias is 2.5 pounds.
You may come across Mozambique tilapias that are hybrids with blue and Nile tilapias.
What Affects the Flavor of Tilapia?
The flavor profile of tilapia is described as mild and lacking strong fishiness which is true for all tilapia types we eat.
But there are two main factors that affect the flavor of tilapia. First, where the fish was caught from.
Tilapia grown in their natural habitat takes on some of the flavors from its surroundings and may taste different from tilapia from a farm.
Second, what the fish was fed with matters too. For example, tilapia in the wild may eat algae. The latter gives the fish unpleasant flavor notes.
But this doesn’t mean that farmed tilapia always tastes better. Farmed tilapia tastes good only if it has been fed with a quality feed.
The water quality of the tilapia farm can also affect the flavor of tilapia.
If there are chemicals in the water, be it in the wild or in farms, tilapia may taste like petrol. Certain microorganisms in water may also make tilapia taste musty and muddy.
Is Tilapia Good For You?
When it comes to the health benefits of tilapia, things get slightly controversial. While tilapia is one of the most popular types of seafood consumed in the US, experts are concerned about the fat content of this fish.
Tilapia contains omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. We all know how healthy omega-3 is. It is a good type of fat that helps to lower the risk of a range of diseases.
As the body can’t make omega-3 fatty acids, eating foods that contain a high amount of this nutrient is essential.
But a serving of tilapia contains only 240 grams of omega-3. For reference, salmon contains over 4000 mg of it per serving. But this is not the main issue.
The thing is, the amount of omega-6 in tilapia is higher than the amount of omega-3 it contains.
Omega-6 fatty acids are not as healthy as omega-3. Eating too much omega-6 can cause high blood pressure, inflammation, and a few other side effects.
So, while tilapia is accessible and mild-tasting, you may not want to consume it too often.
With this said, tilapia still has health benefits which means that you don’t have to exclude this fish from your diet. Here are some of the health benefits of tilapia.
- Tilapia is a good source of protein. A hundred grams of this fish contains 125 grams of protein and zero carbohydrates, making it an excellent choice for people who stick to a low-carb diet.
- Tilapia is rich in nutrients. This fish provides you with such vitamins as vitamin B12, B3, and D. It is also a good source of phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, and potassium.
- It helps fight free radicals. As tilapia is a rich source of the antioxidant selenium, incorporating it into your diet can help it fight free radicals.
Buying The Best Tilapia
The ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids is not the only thing that concerns experts regarding tilapia. As the fish is very popular and has high demand, it is produced in very large amounts. This brings forth risky farming practices.
Reports claim that tilapia farming practices have been getting more and more concerning alongside the growth of consumer demand.
When buying tilapia, it is recommended to make sure that the fish is coming from a farm where it was properly fed.
Additionally, when buying fresh tilapia make sure to smell and touch the fish, as well as inspect its color. Fresh tilapia shouldn’t have a sour smell and a slimy texture. Also, it shouldn’t have a dull appearance.
Is There A Substitute For Tilapia?
If you are looking for a healthier tilapia alternative, we recommend you use salmon or trout. Herring is also a safer alternative to tilapia.
But many people enjoy eating tilapia for its mild flavor profile. If this is what you are after, you can substitute tilapia with catfish, red snapper, striped bass, or rainbow trout.