Tilapia

grilled tilapia

Tilapia [tuh-lah-pee-uh] is the common name for nearly a hundred species of fish. Tilapia inhabit a variety of fresh water habitats including shallow streams, ponds, rivers and lakes. Historically they have been of major importance in artisan fishing in Africa and the Middle East, and are of increasing importance in aquaculture. China is the largest Tilapia producer in the world, followed by Egypt.

Tilapia has become the third most important fish in aquaculture after carps and salmonids, with production reaching 1,505,804 metric tons in 2002. Because of their large size, rapid growth, and palatability, a number of tilapiine cichlids are at the focus of major aquaculture efforts. Tilapiines are also among the easiest and most profitable fish to farm. This is due to their omnivorous diet, mode of reproduction (the fry do not pass through a planktonic phase), tolerance of high stocking density, and rapid growth.

In some regions the fish can be put out in the rice fields when rice is planted, and will have grown to edible size (12–15 cm, 5–6 inches) when the rice is ready for harvest. Tilapia have very low levels of mercury as they are fast-growing and short-lived with a primarily vegetarian diet, and thus do not accumulate mercury found in prey. Tilapia is a low saturated fat, low calorie, low carbohydrate and low sodium protein source. It is a source of phosphorus, niacin, selenium, vitamin B12 and potassium.

However, farm raised tilapia (the least expensive and most popular) has a high fat content (though low in saturated fats). Research suggests the nutritional value of farm raised tilapia may be compromised by the amount of corn included in the feed. The corn contains short chain omega-6s that contribute to the buildup of these materials in the fish, and lower amounts of omega-3, which raise questions of the health benefits of consuming this fish.

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