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Can You Eat Koi Fish and is it Safe?

Nishikigoi fish, better known as koi, are a specific variety of Amur carp, distinguished by their color. You find them in water gardens or outdoor ponds.

fresh koi fish from a pond

Koi are freshwater fish that live in ponds, marshes and rivers throughout Japan. They are omnivores and will eat anything found in the water.

Koi consist of more than 200 different varieties, and they come in numerous colors, ranging from black, white, yellow, red, blue, green, and gray-brown. The colors can either be metallic or non-metallic, depending on the variety.

A typical Koi will grow to be about 12 to 15 inches. However, Japanese koi tend to grow 22 inches-26 inches, and jumbo koi can reach 34 and 36 inches long.

a koi fish swimming in the water

They originally came from eastern Asia. Since koi are generally for decorative purposes, can you eat koi? 

Do People Eat Koi?

You can find koi all over the world. As a result, there are koi raised for ornamentation and sports fishing, and in certain Asian countries, there are farm-raised koi bred for food.

a school of koi fish

The population of wild koi is currently at risk of suffering from hybridization when released or introduced into the wild.

According to United States anglers, koi are indeed edible because many people eat carp without incident. Koi are merely Amur carp that have been culled uniquely for their coloration. 

a closeup of a koi fish

In Japanese culture, koi symbolize many great qualities. They are known to overcome significant obstacles, such as swimming against currents, representing courage, perseverance, patience, strength, and success.

Is It Edible?

Are koi fish edible? Yes, but they are not recommended for consumption. Koi are a type of carp that many people regard as bottom feeders that don’t taste well.

a fresh caught koi fish

They aren’t considered a delicacy that you would find on a restaurant menu, especially in the U.S. 

In certain parts of Asia, specifically Japan, the conditions are better for breeding, and people adequately cared for the fish.

You might find some restaurants that have koi on the menu, but due to their cultural value, the likelihood is low. Restaurants serve koi as cooked sushi in other countries, such as Thailand and Bangladesh. 

What Does It Taste Like?

In North America, koi fish are usually in a backyard pond as a decorative feature. Otherwise, it is an invasive species in the waters where you may find it. In those rivers and lakes, the water conditions aren’t the cleanest. 

koi fish swimming in a pond

Koi eat anything, which gives them a muddy, oily taste that most people describe as tasting like you would expect trash to taste. 

The texture is tougher than other fish, so they take longer to cook. You can, however, easily fry it within 15 minutes, and if you use a marinade like herbs and olive oil, you might be able to mask some of that unpleasant, muddy taste. 

koi fish swimming by the surface of the water

Farm-raised koi should, in theory, taste better than wild-caught koi because you have control over what they eat, and their diets greatly affect their flavor. 

Is Koi Safe To Eat?

Mercury levels are always a concern with any fish you consume, but more so for pregnant women.

a school of koi fish swimming in a pond

The average person can handle traces of mercury found in fish and shellfish. Koi do carry the risk of ciguatera poisoning because they are prone to eating anything, including toxic plants or other fish. 

Fish, in general, have high omega-3 fatty acids, which are excellent for heart health, and they have some level of protein.

However, other fish varieties, such as salmon, bass and more, are more nutritious than koi.

Can You Eat Koi Raw?

You can eat koi raw, but you shouldn’t because it’s a freshwater fish. That means that they can carry parasites that are harmful to humans.

a school of koi fish swimming by the surface of a pond

Some restaurants will prepare cooked koi because the heat renders the parasites harmless. 

You can grill, fry, poach or steam koi for the best flavor that you can get. The flavor would be oily, and the taste is similar to mud, even more so when the fish is raw.

The texture is tough, so it’s always best to cook the koi to add spices and make the meat more tender. 

Final Thoughts

Can you eat koi? Yes, because it isn’t poisonous and doesn’t pose any greater health risks than other fish. However, you might dislike the taste.

It’s also expensive and hard to find in stores or on a menu. These fish are typically in backyard ponds because of their beauty.

They are also culturally significant and viewed as pets rather than a delicacy. We recommend trying healthier, more common fish species for these reasons.

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