Tilapia is a fast growing fleshy fish, which survives in fresh water habitat like ponds, rivers, lakes, streams, etc. It belongs to the species of cichid fish and is from the tilapine cichlid tribe. This fish is alternatively known as Cherry snapper, Ngege, Hawaiian Sun fish, Nile Perch, Mouth Brooders, and Sunshine Snapper. This fish is native to some Levant countries like Jordan and Israel and the African countries.
It is also one of the cheapest consumable fishes in the world and is known for its ability to absorb flavors of other cooking ingredients.
Tilapia in History
The bas-relief found in a 4000 year old Egyptian tomb suggests that Egyptians were fond of this fish and farmed it for food. The Nile tilapia was given extreme importance and was given hieroglyph (a logogram or symbol representing a particular living being or some other natural feature). The Greeks were also fond of this fish and in 300 BC, Aristotle named it Tilapia niloticus.
This fish is an integral part of the Christian mythology where Apostle Peter is believed to have been a tilapia and to honor the apostle British named certain species of this fish as “St Peters Fish”. According to a popular folklore and legend the dark spots on the fish are the fingerprints of the Apostle. The fish was found in abundance at Sea of Galilee and is still a source of income for fisherman in Israel.
Tilapia was introduced to American Mainland in 1959 and it has become an integral part of the South American cuisine.
The fleshy nature of this fish makes it fit for boiling, frying, baking, grilling, poaching, steaming and sautéing. The skin of the fish emanates bitter flavor and is peeled off before eating. It is considered as a good substitute for fishes like flounder, sole, pompano, snapper, orange roughy, cod, and sea bass.
For best results the fish is marinated prior to cooking. It is advisable to marinate it only for a small time period otherwise its structure will start disintegrating.
- Baking – The fish fillets are brushed with olive oil or butter and baked in an oven preheated to 400°F (204°C) until it becomes soft and gets easily flaked.
- Barbecuing – The fish fillets are good for grilling but are very thin and small, so it very important to be careful while handling and preparing them. The tilapia has a very mild flavor which goes well with most of the seasonings.
- Sautéing – The tilapia fillets are sautéed in butter or olive oil at medium –high heat. It is cooked for 2 to 4 minutes on each side until the fillets get flaked easily. A spoon of lemon juice is drizzled over the fillets during the cooking time.
- Tilapia Wraps – The tilapia fillets are fried, baked and wrapped in salsa ingredients while preparing this dish. The flavor of this fish can be altered by the addition of some herbs.
- Pan Fried Tilapia – This is a very simple preparation involving the fish fillets and is generally teamed with freshly cooked rice and French fries. It is complimented with a plate of fresh vegetable salad. The tilapia fillets are coated with breadcrumbs and other spicy ingredients prior to frying.
- Baked Tilapia with Roasted Red Pepper Mayonnaise – The tilapia fillets are baked after dredging in a spicy mixture and served with a roasted red pepper mayonnaise.
- Herbed Tilapia – This is a very popular preparation where the fish is baked with little butter, onion, thyme, tarragon, and crushed corn flakes.
- Lemon Garlic Tilapia – The fish is baked after dredging with lemon juice and lemon pepper seasoning along with other spices. The mild flavor of the fish integrates with all seasonings and rubs.
Each 3.5 ounce of the fish serves only 98 calories with 18.5 grams of protein, and 52 mg of sodium and contains no saturated fat or cholesterol. Apart from it the fish serves phosphorus ( 204 mg), Selenium ( 54.40mg), Niacin ( 4.74 mg) and vitamin B12 ( 1.86mg) and potassium (380.00) mg.
- Toxicity and Low Mercury Levels – Most species of this fish survives on vegetable diet like seaweed and sometimes consume grains. Their rapid growth, quick turnaround time and short lifespan, contributes to low mercury levels.
- Low Calories and Low Fat – The tilapia delivers low calories and low fat. It has a fewer Omega-3 fatty acids than other variants of fish. It still provides many beneficial heart-healthy nutrients when compared to meat choices like pork, chicken or beef.
- Muscle Building – The tilapia fillets are included in the muscle building diet because it helps in muscle rebuilding and help in fast recovery. This fish is especially recommended to people who are into muscle building and seek strength building supplements. It is especially revered for its low calorific and fat values.
Buying and Storing
A fresh tilapia is identified with its good smell, clean gills, clear eyes and shiny, moist and tight scales.
The frozen Tilapia can remain fresh for about 4 months or more when stored at 0°F (-18°C). The Tilapia is thawed or ran under cold water prior to storage. The fresh or thawed tilapia can remain fresh when refrigerated at 32 to 38°F (0 to 3°C). The fish fillets should be tightly wrapped prior to refrigeration.
This fish is preferred and farmed on large scale due to its short turnaround time and has fastest maturity period. It is generally raised at lower production costs because the fish can survive on the regular vegetarian diet. Its popularity stems from being a fish which has an ability to quickly transform into a marketable fish.
As Tilapia belongs to the invasive species of fish and it is known to have introduced in the Kenyan water bodies to curb the onslaught of malaria carrier mosquitoes.