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cooked tilapia
This Tilapia, as photographed by Constantine Agustin, was destined for the plate

On the Menu Tonight….Edible Aquarium Species

It may have occurred to you that since fish are eaten regularly by many people all over the world, some of the species we keep in our aquariums might well find themselves on the dinner plate as well as in a pretty aquarium. If I were in the shoes of any of the following aquatic species, I certainly know where I would rather end up. Please be warned however, your own aquarium fish are not for human consumption; at no point should any fish that’s been kept in an indoor aquarium environment be served on a plate, especially not after it’s died of natural causes. I repeat: do not eat your aquarium fish, regardless of what this irresponsible article of mine is about to tell you.


This cichlid comprises several different species, some of which are kept in the aquarium. They are generally thought of as destructive brutes in the aquarium, likely to snack on anything too small to keep it company and unlikely to show much appreciation for your efforts to decorate its tank. The Zebra Tilapia, Tilapia buttikoferi, is one of the more commonly kept aquarium Tilapia species and one of the nicest looking, having a black body punctuated by yellow or white stripes.

Zebra Tilapia

Zebra Tilapia photographed by Michael Salazar

Other Tilapia species, on the other hand, make up for their bad looks with their taste and fast growth rate. These unlucky species include the Mozambique Tilapia, Oreochromis mossambicus, and the Nile Tilapia, Oreochromis niloticus. Tilapia also drew the short straw as they make perfect farm fish, resistant to high stocking numbers and omnivorous. First farmed in Africa, they are now part of the diet of people in the Philippines and Indonesia where they are considered a fish for the impoverished. China is by far the largest Tilapia farmer. Over one million tonnes of Tilapia is produced every year. Tilapia have also been used to control mosquito populations and clear bodies of water of nuisance plant species such as duckweed.

This Tilapia, as photographed by Constantine Agustin, was destined for the plate

This Tilapia, as photographed by Constantine Agustin, was destined for the plate

Apple Snails

Whilst you may have thought it’s only the French that eat snails, you would be wrong (although you’re probably right if you think they are disgusting). The popular aquarium escargot known to you and I as the apple snail, Ampullariidae, is a delicacy in it’s native lands. Whilst having a particularly foul odour once they die in an aquarium, they are actually a decent source of protein as well as other nutrients. In fact, the nutritional value for 100 grams of apple snail meat is as follows:

[sws_yellow_box box_size=”529″]Energy 83 calories

Protein 12.2 g

Fat 0.4 g

Carbohydrates 6.6 g

Ash 3.2 g Phosphorus 61 mg Sodium 40 mg Potassium 17 mg Riboflavin 12 mg Niacin 1.8 mg

Other food values: Vit. C, zinc, copper, manganese, and iodine

Source: Management options for the Golden Apple Snail [/sws_yellow_box]

There are even recipes for apple snails available online, although I must warn you not to attempt to cook any rotting mollusc you find in yours or anybody else’s aquarium with a helping of garlic and butter.

Giant Gourami

The Giant Gourami, Osphronemus goramy, looks very similar in shape and body features to the Dwarf Gourami we buy for our tanks at home, and indeed I have seen these fish in an aquatic store in London. They are actually a classic case of a tankbuster fish; they start off at a reasonably small size when originally offered for sale but can go on a growth spurt to a length of 50cm. They are occasionally kept by fishkeepers that acknowledge their size requirements although one dreads to think what happens to those that outgrow their tanks – perhaps that’s how somebody discovered they were edible.

Giant Gourami

A Giant Gourami, the size of a dinner plate. Photo by orchidgalore

It is cultured in India and parts of Asia. It’s large size makes it a very suitable fish for aquaculture, which is convenient given it’s considered something of a delicacy. It has a light yellow coloured flesh and pleasant taste. It is compatible with Tilapia too – as if you were planning on keeping these two together in an aquarium.

Aren’t all fish edible?

Many fish that we keep in the aquarium are eaten in their native countries, even if they aren’t used in industrial aquaculture. Some fish are poisonous, especially puffer fish and others may well be carrying parasites. In any case, it is better to leave fish bought in aquarium stores to fulfill their ornamental purpose. Fish kept in tanks that have been medicated with any kind of chemical are also largely unsuitable for human consumption. This purpose of this article was not to help you beat the credit crunch with a spot of home aquaculture, but rather to highlight just how the aquariums we have at home really do contain fish that play a role in nature itself.

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