Catfish are sort of a mythical fish with many false narratives surrounding them. Whether they are edible and if they’re poisonous are a few questions that people often have about this prehistoric-looking fish with whiskers. While they tend to get a bad rap for several reasons, these falsities do catfish a disservice. When prepared correctly, catfish can be pretty tasty, as many folks from the South can attest.
So, can you eat catfish? You can eat catfish. There are thousands of species of catfish worldwide, and people prepare them in a variety of ways depending on the region. While most are edible, not all taste good to eat due to their age or where they were grown. However, the popularity of catfish, especially in the Southern United States, leaves no doubt to the palatability of select varieties of this fish.
Stick around! Just because you can technically eat catfish, doesn’t mean it’s safe, healthy, or tasty. You don’t want to miss this.
Are catfish safe to eat?
Ever wondered, can we eat catfish? The answer is yes.
Catfish are typically safe to eat and are a great source of vitamins and minerals, including B12. They are an excellent source of protein and are low-carb and low-fat if prepared in a way that doesn’t include frying. They are especially popular in the Southern United States, mainly fried.
A 3.5-ounce piece of catfish is about 105 calories and contains around 18 grams of protein. Along with B12, it’s a good source of Selenium, Phosphorus, Thiamine, Potassium, and Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.
So, are catfish bad to eat? Usually, they’re a healthy addition to most diets if handled and prepared correctly.
What does catfish taste like?
How catfish tastes depends on several factors, including where they live and what they eat. For example, catfish found in Asia typically have a mild flavor, while catfish caught in the muddy waters of North America may have a dirty taste. Since they are bottom feeders, they filter a lot of mud through their bodies, impacting their flavor.
Farmed catfish have a more consistent flavor since they are raised in clear water and fed a steady diet of pellets every day. While these catfish tend to be sweeter, they may be too mild for some people’s tastes. Others may prefer it.
As with anything, much of a catfish’s flavor also depends on how it is prepared. The age of the fish can also impact flavor.
Can you get sick from catfish?
Typically eating catfish will not make you sick if you handle it correctly, prepare it right, and properly store leftovers.
In general, ciguatera poisoning and scombroid poisoning are the types of food poisoning you can get from fish. These result in typical food poisoning symptoms like nausea, fatigue, dehydration, and other unpleasant bodily functions. Food poisoning can be avoided by not eating undercooked seafood and fish like catfish. And again, proper handling, especially if you’re catching and processing them yourself, is crucial.
Another way to get “sick” from catfish is if you get stung by one. The spines on the backs of some (but not all) catfish contain toxins that can cause inflammation and infection. Proper care is essential in the case of a catfish sting, including cleaning the wound properly and taking pain-reducing medication like acetaminophen. Sometimes a doctor will also prescribe oral antibiotics to prevent infection.
However, it is important to know that not all catfish have toxins despite much misinformation, and the spines mentioned above cause the stings, not the whiskers, which is a popular myth.
Usually, stings occur when fishing for and handling catfish or if someone accidentally steps on one. So be careful if you’re around catfish or wading around in their territory.
What catfish is edible?
There are thousands of species of catfish, and while most are edible, not all are good to eat. In fact, only a small handful are regularly eaten. So, which catfish are not good to eat? Because there are thousands of species, let’s discuss which ones are good to eat instead.
Younger catfish are more edible than older, fatter catfish. They may weigh more and are acceptable to eat, but they just don’t taste as good. They’ve also had a much longer length of time bottom-feeding, filtering mud and other things from the bottom through their bodies. This definitely can affect their flavor.
One type of catfish called the “channel cat” is quite popular to eat. You may also hear it called spotted cat, speckled cat, fiddler cat, blue channel, blue fulton, blue cat, or chucklehead, although the blue cat may be confused as a blue catfish, which is a different species. They do look similar, and both are good to eat.
Why should you not eat catfish?
While catfish are safe to eat in and of themselves, you should check with your local extension office about the waters where you catch your catfish. Some water bodies may contain contaminants, including mercury, that builds up in fish. When you eat any type of fish caught in contaminated water, you could potentially be ingesting high levels of contaminants.
While some metals in low quantities won’t do much harm, others can. For example, most people can handle low levels of mercury. However, pregnant women and children should limit the amount they eat. The good news is catfish are typically a low-mercury fish. In fact, it is one of the top five most popular low-mercury fish.
Additionally, toxins are typically stored in a fish’s fat, and if you eat younger, less fatty catfish, you’ll avoid some of the accumulated metals.
An alternative to wild-caught catfish is farm-raised catfish. These are typically more mild tasting than those caught from the muddy bottoms of natural sources. However, it would be best to avoid imported farm-raised catfish as other countries like Vietnam, where it often comes from, do not have the same food safety standards as the United States.
Recap: Can You Eat Catfish Safely?
If you’re still wondering, is catfish good to eat? Rest assured that it is typically safe to eat. Whether it is good or not is often in the eye of the beholder and depends on how it was prepared, where it was raised, and even its age.
Catfish are found and eaten all over the world. Its flavor can range from mild to muddy, depending on where it comes from. The Southern United States loves its catfish, especially fried with a side of grits and greens, but there are many other ways to prepare it.
Too much catfish from a contaminated water body can be harmful, so make sure you check your local extension office for information. Even the EPA website for your area may post waterbody advisories if related to environmental threats, like Superfund sites. Additionally, be careful of imported catfish, as other countries have less strict health and safety rules for their seafood.
Finally, younger catfish tend to taste better and typically have less accumulated toxins if they come from a contaminated water body.
So, get out there and catch yourself some channel cats. Or chuckleheads. Or whatever they’re called where you live!