Tilapia is the Most Popular Farmed Fish and Three More Things You Need to Know

May 01, 2015

It's popular, less expensive than other fish options, and has a great nutritional profile. Here's what you need to know about tilapia.

Tilapia is one of the most popular fish on dinner plates across the US. It has progressively grown in popularity since the early 2000s when it first entered the top ten list of the most frequently consumed seafood products, making this once obscure African native the most popular farmed fish in the United States. Currently tilapia ranks fourth on the list behind shrimp, canned tuna, and salmon.

Here are four things you need to know about Tilapia:

History: 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 US. Do note that China is currently the largest producer accounting for over 50 percent of the world’s production. 

Types of Tilapia: There are many different species of tilapia. Although wild fish predominate in most species, the vast majority of tilapia consumed in the United States is “harvested” from pens or cages (aquaculture) in Latin America and Asia. Tilapia is a very hearty and easy to grow fish. The approved market name for all varieties is ‘Tilapia,’ and the three primary species in the marketplace are Nile or black tilapia, blue tilapia, and Mozambique or red tilapia. Although the species names imply different colors, the edible portion is a very similar white fish.

Nutrition: Tilapia is protein rich with 29 grams of protein in a 4 oz serving. It has as much omega-3 as other popular seafood including lobster, mahi-mahi and yellow-fin tuna. Tilapia is also very low in fat.

How to shop:  According to Seafood Watch, the "Best Choice" is tilapia that is tank-farmed in the US and Canada or in carefully managed ponds in Ecuador. Tilapia farmed in ponds in China and Taiwan is a "Good Alternative" rather than a "Best Choice," because there's some concern about waste management and the use of chemicals. Naturland certifies some tilapia farms as sustainable. 

National Marine Fisheries Service
Seafood Health Facts