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Are Piranhas Edible? All You Need to Know

When you think of piranha, you probably think of the frightening pack animals in the Amazon with sharp, deadly teeth that can debone small animals within minutes.

the teeth of a piranha

Those jaws are definitely worth casting a wary eye. Still, you might be surprised to find that, despite that scary face, the piranhas are actually a popular dish you can cook up in various ways. 

Do People Eat Piranha?

Piranhas are an ancient and plentiful fish, so it’s not surprising if you were wondering whether or not you can eat them.

person holding a piranha

You certainly can. But the more important question is, how do you eat them? 

If your curiosity is getting the best of you, keep reading to learn everything you need to know about this toothy Amazonian fish.

Is It Edible?

Piranhas are a pretty common meal among indigenous tribes in the Amazon basin. However, the taste might be a bit off-putting to some, which is why you’re unlikely to find it on your local seafood restaurant’s menu anytime soon. 

a big piranha swimming

That said, a lack of popularity shouldn’t prevent you from trying piranha.

There’s nothing special about piranha that requires a particular preparation, so if you’ve cooked fish in the past, you’ll be able to prepare your piranha. However, you may need to use a smaller size hook if you’re fishing for them!

They’re usually grilled, fried, or steamed up just like regular fish, but smoking is another common cooking method, too. 

piranha showing its teeth

Another thing about piranhas to keep in mind is that they’re bony. These fish have a lot of tiny, needle-like bones, so make sure you pick all the bones out before you eat them.

What Does It Taste Like?

One of the strangest things about piranha is its flavor. Even though it’s a freshwater fish, most people say piranha has a very salty, ripe flavor that you might expect from saltwater fish.

a school of piranhas

“Fishy” would be the best description of the taste.

However, not everyone agrees with that assessment. Some people liken piranha to the sole, a yummy and flaky white fish that looks a bit like flounder.

Since there are several species of piranha and multiple cooking methods to alter its flavor, that discrepancy could just be a matter of different fish or methods.

2 piranhas swimming

If you want to get the most out of a plate of piranha without getting overwhelmed by fishy flavor, consider choosing a cooking method that helps mask it.

One of the reasons smoked piranha is so popular is because it covers up the ripe, fishy taste.

The smoking process helps infuse the fish with flavors that allow you to taste the fish without being overwhelmed. 

Is Piranha Safe To Eat?

Piranhas are safe to eat, but you should do so in small doses because they have a fairly high amount of mercury (Hg).

a school of piranhas

Unfortunately, mercury can cause health issues if you consume too much. This is especially true for women who are pregnant or nursing. 

Another potential concern of eating piranha is anisakiasis contamination. This parasite can make its way into a fish and then into you.

If you get infected, you could have a fever, abdominal pain, nausea, and abdominal distension, among other symptoms.

Can You Eat Piranha Raw?

Everyone loves a good plate of sushi, but piranha probably shouldn’t be the one you choose when it comes to raw fish.

a swimming piranha

For one, it’s not very tasty raw. Sushi and sashimi tend to have very mild or slightly fishy flavors.

Conversely, piranhas have a strong, almost unpleasant taste, so they’re best served cooked. 

In addition to taste, all raw fish carry a risk of contamination. Foodborne illnesses including anisakiasis, salmonella, and other parasites are a significant risk with raw fish, including piranha. 

Final Thoughts

If you’re feeling adventurous, giving piranha a try might be fun. But, unfortunately, it might be hard to get depending on where you live.

Yes, you can buy piranha in the pet store, but those fish aren’t regulated the way food-grade fish are. As a result, you could end up with a diseased or parasite-ridden fish, which is never any fun.

So, if you’re in an area where you can get your hands on these snappy little fish, you should definitely give them a try. Of course, here are some other great freshwater fish to eat if you can’t get piranha.

Your best bet is to smoke them to get some excellent flavor. And remember–don’t forget to remove all the bones. Enjoy!

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