In the Field

Can You Eat Asian Carp?

Can you eat Asian carp?

Can you eat Asian carp? Are Asian carp edible? Do Asian carp taste good? These are all popular questions about one of America’s most troublesome fish. This blog shares the details about why the silver and bighead species of Asian carp are among the tastiest and healthiest fish in the world!

Since their introduction and escape from a variety of aquaculture facilities in the south during the 1970’s, Asian carp have become part of an ecological disaster which has infected the major river systems and surrounding wetlands of America. Asian carp are ravaging ecosystems, destroying native fish populations and wildlife habitat, and now threaten to enter the Great Lakes. Millions of dollars are being spent annually by Federal and State Governments to control the damage done by these fish, with little or no impact. The Asian carp continue to multiply and destroy all in their path!

Natural resource experts believe that completely eliminating these fish is simply impossible, and that the most productive solution to the long-term management of these fish in order to decrease their numbers, is to promote large-scale harvesting through both commercial and recreational fishing. However, it’s been very difficult to get people interested in catching these fish, primarily because there is such little interest in eating them. The Asian carp are simply lumped into the same category as the common carp and written off as a worthless “trash fish.” The general public simply doesn’t know how incredibly delicious and nutritious these fish are! People constantly ask, “Can you actually eat Asian carp? Are they edible? Do they taste good?” The answer to all those questions is a resounding YES!

In thousands of blind taste tests over the past decade, silver and bighead Asian carp have been preferred almost unanimously over other highly favored fish. Even more intriguing, health experts have discovered that these fish are among the most nutritious on the planet, even when caught from not so healthy bodies of water. Here’s why…

Fish Toxicology 101

All fresh and saltwater fish contain varying degrees of chemical contaminants such as mercury. Mercury is a naturally-occurring chemical element found in the rock of the earth’s crust, however, it becomes problematic for the environment when excessive levels of it are released into the atmosphere and is eventually absorbed into surrounding bodies of water. As a result, the fish in those bodies of water absorb the mercury, and likewise the humans who eat those fish. Again, nearly all fish contain at least trace amounts of mercury and other chemical compounds that are in the water where they’re harvested, but health risks are significantly elevated if one consumes large quantities of fish that have high concentrations of such toxins.

mercury levels in Asian carp
An example of mercury being released into the atmosphere and absorbed by a surrounding body of water.

 

Why Asian Carp are Safe and Beneficial to Eat

 The silver and bighead Asian carp have the ability to remain incredibly clean and healthy, even in not-so-healthy waters and ecosystems primarily because they don’t bioaccumulate toxins as do most other fish. The most commonly eaten fresh and saltwater fish, such as catfish, cod, salmon, halibut, tilapia, and many others, are either top-level predators or omnivores, who accumulate varying levels of toxins due to the prey fish and other food items they eat. While these prey fish, crustaceans, aquatic plants, insects, benthic worms, and other food sources have minor levels of toxins in their systems, the larger fish that eat them accumulate significant levels of toxins over time. And, in regard to time, many commonly-consumed fish can live 15 to 20 years or even much longer, such as Pacific halibut, Chilean sea bass, and rockfish who can live 50 to over 100 years!

Silver and bighead Asian carp, on the other hand, are filter feeders, who eat microscopic phytoplankton and zooplankton which only live for a matter of days. Asian carp also grow very quickly and have relatively short lifespans, all of which contributes to them being much healthier than most other fish on the market, since progressive concentrations of harmful toxins don’t accumulate to the high degree that they do in fish that are predators or omnivores.

mercury levels in Asian carp
Popular whitefish, like this Alaskan halibut, feed on baitfish and other prey items that have small amounts of mercury and other toxins in them. However, over time, those small amounts accumulate in a fish’s system and can grow to dangerous levels.

 

mercury levels in Asian carp
Silver and bighead Asian carp are filter feeders, who eat microscopic phytoplankton and zooplankton which only live for a matter of days. Thus, they do not bioaccumulate toxins to the high degree that most other fish do, making them a very healthy choice for regular consumption.

 

As far as the nutritional benefits of Asian carp, they’re low in sodium, rank among the highest of all fish in dietary protein and are exceptionally rich in antioxidants, minerals and vitamins, particularly phosphorous, vitamin B12, and zinc. These incredible fish also are among the highest in heart healthy Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids…even more so than salmon, according to some studies I found.

The health benefits of Asian carp

What’s most appealing is that the taste and texture of silver and bighead carp is a beautiful, white, flakey, mild flesh, similar to cod and even crab, which easily absorbs the flavors of whatever herbs, spices and sauces used in preparing it. Now, there are certainly challenges in actually catching and processing these fish, which are other reasons that many folks simply don’t bother with them, but those issues too are easily addressed with a little knowledge and in-the-field experience…all of which will be the topic of future blogs and videos, so be sure to subscribe to the Wild Revelation Outdoors newsletter and  Youtube channel.

If you’d like to find out lots more about these tasty but troublesome fish, check out my book, Eat the Enemy

Eat the Enemy! Turning the Asian Carp Invasion into Healthy, Delicious Cuisine. A Complete Guide to Catching and Cooking Asian Carp, Including 50 Mouthwatering Asian Carp Recipes!
Click here to order.