Before we dive into eating a Koi Fish, it is better first to understand what a koi fish is. While many people might be aware of this species, these fishes are incredibly magnificent and have cultural significance for those who are not.
Koi fishes are generally seen in aquariums or ponds than it is seen on dinner plates. So even the thought of eating something that otherwise is seen swimming around in an aquarium is weird, if not terrifying.
Koi fishes are lovely outdoor fixtures and are prized fishes in much of Asia. Let us explore more about this breed through this article and witness its historical and cultural significance.
Koi fishes are popular pet species for indoor and outdoor ponds across the world for centuries. They have remarkable and unusual longevity, and believe it or not, and they tend to live for about 70 years when kept in captivity. At the same time, their average lifespan is about 30-40 years. In addition, they are highly esteemed for their spiritual and cultural significance across a variety of cultures, mostly symbolizing peace, friendship, and wealth.
Each koi breed has uniquely intricate and beautiful patterning, scales, and coloration. As a result of years of breeding the Koi Fishes are famed for their grace, beauty, and especially their distinctive reddish- orange and silver speckled appearance. It is believed to be a descendant of the common carp (Cyprinus carpio).
Carp domestication began in China as early as 6200 BC and became increasingly common practice. It was during this time when farmers began noticing the variety of natural and beautiful color mutations arising from the crossbreeding of different carp.
The value of these fishes was now less as food and more for their intrinsic value. This perspective shift also had an impact on shift in the culture over time. The trend for breeding with the intent of producing more beautiful and meaningful fishes then began. In many countries especially Japan and China, Koi fishes were displayed in water gardens as a symbol of everything from love and wealth to luck and prosperity.
Seeing its cultural and spiritual importance, it would be gauche gulping one of these, and over everything else expensive, with the most expensive one going for a million pounds. Still, considering that you are not eating your pet or the costliest Fish in the world, the question remains the same that can you eat a koi fish, and if yes, how would it taste like?
Koi Fish- Culture and Cuisine
Historically, koi fishes were bred as a source for Japanese rice farmers. These carps were easy to take care of and thrived well in the dual-use rice paddies. But today, these koi fishes have attained a much greater significance across Japanese culture.
Kohaku, one of the wide three koi varieties, was the first to be consistently bred in Japanese culture. While Kohaku is the genetic baseline of many other varieties, it is yet a gorgeous and highly sought-after variety on its own. It is characterized by a white body with red markings, with the white color symbolizing purity and the contrasting red color symbolizing the sun.
Kin-Rin, the golden-colored Koi, represents wealth, growth, and prosperity. The platinum-colored Ogon Koi symbolizes career success and monetary wealth. The Butterfly Koi, boasting long, flowy, beautiful fins, signifies beauty, elegance, and harmony.
These are just a few examples among many varieties of the Koi, each with a different historical or cultural significance. Koi varieties are believed to reflect your perspective and outlook on life overall based on the variant of koi that speaks to you personally.
Like Japanese, where koi is in about 20 different varieties, the Koi Fish is representative of courage among Buddhists and has an important symbol relating to Buddhism.
Coming to cultural cuisine, Koi fish meat is occasionally found on menus in the form of fish taco recipes or curry dishes. It is also grilled with a variety of spices. ‘Koi Tel Jal’ is a flavorful fish curry dish popular in Bengali culture.
Ohh, that was quiet a lot of information. Now, coming back to our main question, can you eat Koi Fish? Well, Yes. Since it is not poisonous (as you may have read on the internet), so yes, it is possible to eat them. In fact, eating them is just like eating something that is like a carp. Now, that brings us to our second question,
Are Carps Good Enough to Eat in First Place?
If you are an expert in eating and catching fishes, you might already know that the taste of carps is not really appreciated. I mean you probably would not like to have served carps when you visit a fine dining establishment.
Fun Fact: Do you know that Koi Fishes are extremely common both in Asia and waters of Europe and North America where it was introduced as an invasive species.
Koi fishes eat everything, algae, and fruits, other fishes. Now you see where that muddy taste comes from. Their taste is dependent on what they eat, and this is true for carps as well.
The reason behind their “sandy”, “muddy and oily”, or “trashy” taste is because that is basically a part of what they have eaten from the environment in which they survive.
Carps are very common in lakes of the Eastern, Southern, and Midwest United States, all of which have surged numbers of these fishes.
But this is against what the case is in indigenous states like Japan and China. These fishes are bought up in their own habitual waters which are in good condition and thus has far much better flavor.
In such fishes, their natural oils produce the oily taste and when sliced they have much tougher texture than many varieties of commonly eaten Fish.
After reading all this and knowing that it is not really the best food you would like to have, one common question that will pop up in our minds is,
Why May You Want to Eat?
Well, let us see. As mentioned earlier Koi were historically bred and raised to be used as food. However, through years the relationship between mankind and this Fish has kind of fallen apart and hence they are not eaten as readily as it once was.
Although what we said earlier was true, it is still found on the menus and home kitchens in Thai and Bengali cuisine, and even in parts of Europe. While in some parts, like the United States, as mentioned earlier, because koi fishes are bottom feeders, they are considered as low-quality fishes with bad reputation.
But one reason why you still might be interested in tasting Koi Fish is if you are travelling and want to try the local cuisine as part of the cultural experience. Trying something new can give us a positive experience and help you learn more about a culture and history through the taste of your tongues.
Considering nutritional intake, eating Koi fish will provide the same nutritional value as eating any other fish. They will be closest in nutritional value to the common carp, their direct natural ancestor.
While we did provide you the reason for why should go for tasting the Koi, for our readers to know, let us see the next question,
Why May You NOT Want to Eat?
Have you ever thought of having a pet that is not a ‘cat’ or a ‘dog’ but a ‘fish’? Well, if you have not, here is your time to give it a try. Most people do not really consider having fishes as pets, but Koi fishes are the exception. When regularly fed and properly cared these Koi fishes can recognize their owner and swim around their hands to be touched. They even respond to name calling if the owner spends enough time on the water’s edge and uses the Fish’s name regularly.
Studies support that fishes have long term memory, and they can help create long term memories as well. Koi fishes show a unique type of intelligence known as Machiavellian intelligence that was known to be possessed by humans, other apes, canines, and felines. This gives them the ability to modify their behaviors quite quickly and adeptly based on environmental changes and even engage in political hierarchal rivalry. This means koi fishes have fantastic ability to think, learn, adapt, and develop a unique personality.
Second reason for why you may not want to eat them is the fact that Koi fishes are considered sacred in countries like Japan and has a good luck omen in other countries in South East Asia. Koi fishes are also sold as decorative, ornamental, and scared Fish, to be kept as pets. They hence are every expensive for their ornamental and spiritual value, and as such are not thought of as a delicacy.
Empathizing with other culture’s belief systems themselves is a reason to keep this Fish off your plate. All over the world, many people have a great love and appreciation for the koi fish, and while not having the same belief system, consuming it may feel disrespectful to your fellow humans who do share in it.
Again, because of their ornamental and spiritual value, koi fishes are not cheap to buy. The animals also are bred for their exotic body patterns and markings. Due to all these most koi are captive bred. And these go for high sums apiece alive, sometimes a thousand dollars or more. And who would really like to throw money for frying a $1000 exotic fish?
The next reason is the most obvious. They feed on a variety of foods and tend to be rough in texture when cooked and oily or muddy in taste. And when there are much tastier and healthier options available in your local grocery store, it probably would not be a very good use of your time to spend time cooking it up for dinner.
So, where do we finally land on the matter of consuming a koi fish?
On the one hand, carps are edible, the Fish to which koi is related. But on the other, it does not have the world’s cleanest status or even tastes that you certainly would die to try.
So, I guess it is up to us.
When served in traditional Indian and Asian dishes and washed properly, Koi fishes can make a surprising, flavorful dish that is inexpensive and tasty. But again, it is not proper and can be insulting. Moreover, it is way too expensive and does not seem worth the money invested.
Personally, I feel a koi fish provides more value as a living animal than it would as another item on someone’s dinner plate. As pets, they can be really relaxing and providing us with joy for a significant portion of our lifetime. You can bond with them can have a truly meaningful relationship with them.
You can also try owning a koi pond, and it is known to reduce stress and provide a relaxing and potentially spiritual experience. Just sitting at the edge of the pond and watching Fish live their lives has a very soothing and hypnotic experience.
In this fast-growing technical world, it is very important that we expose ourselves to something calming, and these koi fishes can provide that calm effect to enjoy. Enjoying your koi fish as it lives for years in your backyard pond will enrich your life for much longer and provide you with invaluable experience.
You might be curious to taste koi; think how much value this pet can add to your life as a living being. LIVE & LET LIVE!!