How to Buy Tilapia Fish

Fresh tilapia is quickly growing in popularity around the globe. Rated in the top 10 of all seafood products by many countries, this breed of fish is well-known for its mild and even semisweet flavor and is easily prepared in a variety of ways. Before you try it at home, you must know how to buy tilapia fish because the difference between fresh and even a few days old can be noticeable. A fresh, straight-to-market tilapia filet can enhance your recipes and a burst of flavor to your meal.


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    Research your local fish suppliers to determine where the best quality product is available from. Ask the fishmonger at your grocery store or seafood supplier where their tilapia comes from and how it was grown. Because tilapia meat retains the flavor of the water the fish swam in, these facts are important to know. If your supplier doesn't know, this could be an indicator of poor quality and you should try another supplier.
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    Purchase tilapia live if at all possible. Make sure the fish are swimming in clear water and appear lively and healthy. The fish should be swimming in the tank as opposed to floating motionless, and their eyes should be clear and bright. If live fish are not an option in your area, choose freshly cut filets that are packed in thin layers of ice and are not frozen through. The ice should only be enough to keep the meat cold, not to freeze it solid.
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    Smell the fish or filets before buying. Fresh tilapia should remind you of the sea. If it smells "fishy" or musky, it's likely an older catch, and should be avoided.
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    Inspect the eyes if you are buying the fish whole to make sure they are clear. Eyes that are slimy or murky indicate the fish is past its prime. Also check the gills to make sure they are dirt-free, and make sure the scales are clean and shiny, and not flaking or peeling.
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    Search the wrapping or packaging if you are buying filets. Tilapia meat will absorb the taste of water it sits in, so if there is standing water, it may give your filets a bad taste. Avoid purchasing filets that appear to be sitting in excess liquid.
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    Buy your tilapia as close to the time you wish to cook it as possible. Though filets can be kept at 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius) for as long as 2 days. But the longer the fish sit, the more flavor they lose. Optimally, you should be buying the fish the just hours before you will be cooking it.


  • If you are watching your waistline, consider buying fresh tilapia at least twice a week. With only 98 calories a serving, you can mix-and-match a number of ingredients to create healthy recipes and even splurge a little on side dishes since the main course is so lean.
  • If fresh tilapia filets are not available in your area, frozen filets are acceptable to purchase under the right conditions. Each filet should be individually frozen, and each should have a very thin coating of clear ice water. Look for a frozen date, which will tell you how long they have sat, and avoid buying any fish that has been frozen longer than 4 months. If the filets are frozen in an ice block or clumped together, do not buy them.
  • If you must store your fish before cooking, make sure to remove it from the original packaging once you bring it home, and rinse it thoroughly in cool water. Use a clean paper towel to pat the fish dry, then repackage it in clear plastic wrap, and seal it completely so that no air can get in. For best results, package the wrapped fish in a bowl or pan covered in ice.


  • If you are thawing frozen filets, do not let them sit on the counter. Frozen fish must be allowed to only thaw in the refrigerator to avoid the risk of bacteria or food-born illnesses.

Things You'll Need

  • Tilapia
  • Paper towels
  • Plastic wrap (if storing)
  • Bowl or pan (if storing)
  • Ice (if storing)

Article Info

Categories: Food Selection and Storage