Can You Eat Koi Fish? Are They Really Edible?

Yes, koi fish can be eaten. Koi are a type of carp and can be eaten raw in the form of sushi or sashimi or cooked. In Japan, though, where …

Yes, koi fish can be eaten. Koi are a type of carp and can be eaten raw in the form of sushi or sashimi or cooked.

In Japan, though, where koi carp originated, they are mainly ornamental fish and are placed in moats and ponds in gardens and temples. While they were originally established as a food fish by Japanese rice farmers, the practice of eating koi fish has pretty much died out in Japanese culture.

In a few regions of Japan, however, koi fish is eaten either as sashimi (sliced raw fish) or in a soup known as koikoku. It can also be eaten fried, grilled, or boiled.

Koi fish that are raised in ponds or other bodies of water may contain harmful chemicals or parasites, so it is essential to properly clean and prepare the fish before consuming it, particularly if eaten raw.

What Are Koi Fish?

Koi Carp
Koi fish are a domesticated variety of the common carp, native to Asia and widely kept as ornamental fish in outdoor ponds or water gardens.

Koi fish are a subspecies of the common carp and these colored carp have been selectively bred for their vibrant colors, patterns, and overall beauty.

They are typically kept in outdoor ponds and are known for their long lifespans, with some living for over 100 years.

Koi fish – especially the golden-colored koi – are also considered to be symbols of good luck, prosperity, and success in many cultures.

While koi fish came from Japan, they are a popular ornamental fish and pet fish in other Asian countries including China, Taiwan, and Singapore, and can also be seen in the US, Europe, and even Australia.

What Does Koi Fish Taste Like?

The taste of koi carp is similar to that of other types of freshwater fish, according to those who have tried it (I am yet to taste koi).

Koi fish meat is described as having a mild, slightly sweet flavor with a firm, white flesh. Some people compare the taste of koi carp meat to that of bass or tilapia.

The texture of koi fish is said to be similar to that of other white fish, with delicate and slightly flaky flesh.

How Do You Cook Koi Fish?

Carp fillet raw
Koi fish is not often eaten but in some Asian countries, it is a delicacy cooked by grilling, boiling, or stewing.

Koi fish are just a particularly decorative species of the common carp, so the main ways of cooking carp apply here if you wish to eat them.

Many people will keep a carp they have caught alive and place it in their bathtub for three days to allow it to purge its flesh to remove the muddy taste that carp can otherwise have.

Once the carp are killed humanely, cleaned, and scaled, they can be grilled, fried, poached, or smoked.

  • Grilled koi fillets can be seasoned with salt, pepper, and olive oil and cooked for 6-8 minutes per side, or until the flesh is flaky.
  • Fried koi involves taking the fillets, dipping them in a mixture of flour, egg, and breadcrumbs, and frying them in hot oil for 3-5 minutes per side, or until they are golden brown.
  • You can poach koi fish fillets by placing them in a large pot and covering it with water. Vegetables such as onions, carrots, and celery, as well as herbs and spices of your choice, can be added to improve the flavor. Bring the water to a simmer and cook for 20-30 minutes, or until the fish is cooked through.
  • Smoking koi involves coating the fillets with a dry rub or marinade of your choice that will enhance the koi fish taste. Smoke it over low heat for 1-2 hours, or until the flesh is flaky.

Why Don’t Most People Eat Koi Fish? And Does it Bring Bad Luck?

Koi Carp 1
Koi fish is usually kept as decorative pet rather than being raised for food. Eating koi fish is considered bad luck in some Asian cultures but is not a widely held belief.

For many people in Asia, koi carp have a sacred significance, particularly in Japanese culture, and they are commonly seen in places of worship such as shrines and temples.

Also, koi are considered a symbol of good luck in these nations, so most people don’t want to tempt fate by killing them.

You can read here about the flak that a Malaysian woman copped when her pet koi carp died after a pond management mishap and she decided to cook them to eat rather than see them go to waste.

And finally, koi carp are expensive (each fish can cost up to $100) and the taste doesn’t really warrant buying them to eat with most people preferring other freshwater fish to eating koi fish.

Can You Eat Koi Fish: Final Thoughts

As we’ve explained, koi fish are edible and aren’t dangerous unless they’ve been living in water that is contaminated.

That said, it is not a fish that many people want to eat because of its spiritual and cultural significance in many cultures, and the fact the koi fish taste doesn’t justify it.

There are ways to make koi fish taste good, but I’d prefer to eat other types of freshwater fish.

Along with the ornamental and spiritual value of koi fish, many people who keep koi fish in a backyard pond think of them as a kind of pet that they understandably don’t want to kill and eat.

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Rick Wallace is a passionate angler and fly fisher whose work has appeared in fishing publications including FlyLife. He's appeared in fishing movies, founded a successful fishing site and spends every spare moment on the water. He's into kayak fishing, ultralight lure fishing and pretty much any other kind of fishing out there.
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