In North America, it’s almost certain that any Tilapia you get will be farm-raised.
There are actually a few different species:
- Oreochromis niloticus – aka Nile River, dark emerald green skin;
- Oreochromis honorum – black and white skin;
- Oreochromis mossambica – aka Mozambique Tilapia, reddish skin;
- Oreochromis aureus – white or silver skin.
There are also some pinkish-skinned hybrids now.
The most common farmed one is Oreochromis niloticus. The other two that are usually farmed are Oreochromis mossambica and Oreochromis aureus.
Nile Tilapia is assumed to be a hybrid between Oreochromis niloticus and Oreochromis mossambicus.
Tilapia can start mating when they are 2 months old, producing up to 2,500 eggs per pound of body weight and spawning twice a month. The eggs hatch in 5 to 7 days. They carry their eggs in their mouths until they hatch. The males will eat the young, females won’t.
The fish can grow up to 3 pounds ( 1 1/3 kg), though they are usually sold to market at 1 1/2 to 2 pounds (700 to 900g.) They are then usually sold to consumers in fillets, fresh or frozen.
Any Tilapia raised in the US are sold live. That being said, fresh Tilapia in America largely comes from Costa Rica, with some coming from the southern US and a small amount from else in the continental US. In the southern United States, farming is regulated so that they won’t get into the waterways there and compete with native fish. In the northern US, Tilapia have to be raised in indoor pools because they die in water temperatures less than 50 F (10 C), though the though Oreochromis aureus species can survive down to 45 F (7 C.)
A great deal of the frozen is imported from Indonesia; the rest from Taiwan and Thailand. In fact, the fish is so prolific in Indonesia that it was regarded as a pest until they realized that Americans would eat it.
The price is pretty much stable throughout the year.
At first, farm-raised Tilapia was known to have a muddy taste, but now lessons have been learned about maintaining high water quality to avoid their getting that taste, because the fish really absorbs flavour from the water it is raised in.
Tilapia (imported from Taiwan) is used in Japan for sushi.
In Asia, some frozen fillets are treated with carbon monoxide to give them a pinkish hue, to make them look like red snapper in sashimi.
Tilapia flesh cooks up semi-firm, white or pinkish and mild-flavoured.
The reddish-skin sub-species may occasionally have a reddish tint to its flesh. If cooked un-skinned, the flesh of this species may turn brown when cooked.
It can be cooked in any way that you would cook fish
The skin is edible and tender, but some find its taste bitter.
Fresh Tilapia can be stored at 32 F / 0 C for up to 2 weeks. Frozen has a shelf life of 6 months.
Tilapia are native throughout Africa. Fish farming of them was first done in antiquity in Egypt and Israel.
Introduced into America in the late 1960s to minimize algae build-up in farms for other fish, because Tilapia consume a great deal of algae.
They have naturalized themselves in parts of Queensland, Australia, and in canals in southern Florida. They are regarded as a pest in both places.
In Swahili, called “ngege.”