Can You Eat Goldfish? (And Why You May Not Want To)

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Can You Eat Goldfish? (And Why You May Not Want To…)

can you eat goldfish
Goldfish are affordable, unique, and beloved pets worldwide. Pictured are two veiltail goldfish.

While you may think of goldfish as short-lived, temporary pets that might be fun to watch every once in a while, they can bring much more into your life than that! Investing your time into caring for pet goldfish in your outdoor pond has some wonderful advantages – some obvious, and some surprising!

Goldfish are easy to take care of, fascinating to watch, and they won’t cost you an arm and a leg like some other pets will. They also make great first pets to teach young kids about roles and responsibilities in life. They won’t cause you any allergies like dogs and cats might, and you won’t need to worry (as much) about them when you go out of town! Goldfish also have a rich and fascinating history, and are woven into the fabric of many cultures across the world.

While other fish species are considered popular among many cuisines worldwide, you might want to think twice before eating goldfish. While they are technically edible like any other freshwater fish, there are many reasons why they aren’t the greatest option to cook up for your dinner plate.

A Little History of Goldfish in Culture & Cuisine

Several large goldfish in a pond with lilypads
Goldfish were originally dingy-colored and bred for food, but genetic mutations resulted in the first brightly-colored goldfish that were protected by monks in monastery ponds.

Surprisingly, goldfish have a long and rich global history! They are essentially a domesticated version of wild carp from East Asia that have been bred over many, many years to have a specific coloration and shape. Over a thousand years ago, these fish were first domesticated in China. Here, they were commonly bred for food by the Chinese. Not too long after this, Japan followed suit and began similar domestication practices in the 16th century. In the coming years, goldfish began to gain popularity as an ornamental aquarium species across Europe, and by the 19th century they were established in the United States as well.

While goldfish have historically been bred for eating, they have also held a very high spiritual significance. In the 9th century, it was common practice for fishermen to keep any brightly-colored goldfish they caught in order to release them into Buddhist “mercy ponds.” In these sacred ponds, the fish were cared for by monks and protected from predators, be they birds, cats, or humans.

An aquarium from 1856 with goldfish, roach, and minnow fish.
By the 19th century, goldfish were firmly established in the United States. Shirley Hibberd, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In the decade of 1884 to 1894, the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries gave away free goldfish to promote them! These fish were becoming very abundant and popular in the United States. The government was handing out around 20,000 goldfish each year until the program was brought to a halt.

In the Midwestern region of the United States, goldfish farming began to gain popularity in the late 1890s. The state of Indiana had the largest goldfish farm at the time, which was established in 1899. Today, the same operation has multiple locations and they have raised and sold ornamental goldfish and koi for over 90 years! While goldfish have not been bred for food in the United States, they have been woven into the cultural fabric of the nation due to their beauty and ornamental value. Today, they are commonly won as prizes at county fairs all across America, and they are known to be one of the best first pets for young children to care for! Additionally, they are beloved additions to aquariums and outdoor ponds all over the world.

Why You May Want to Eat Goldfish

30 pound goldfish caught in wild
Some anglers seek out large wild carp, like this 30 pound one (which looks very similar to a goldfish!) caught in southern France. Photo by KoiQuestion / CC BY-SA 2.0

There may be a few reasons that you find yourself curious to find out what a goldfish tastes like. Maybe the popular snack cracker has planted the idea in your head, or maybe you love the taste of other fish, and want to taste a goldfish out of sheer curiosity! Whatever the reason may be, goldfish are technically edible and eating one won’t likely cause you any long-term health issues. That being said, there are some risks involved, whether you eat a goldfish raw or cooked.

At restaurants, you will see fish like trout, tilapia, salmon, and tuna on the menu, but it is very unlikely that you will ever see goldfish as an option. This is because they are not the healthiest or tastiest fish option, and there’s a stigma against eating them. However, you may still somehow come to the decision to cook up a goldfish, or even try one out raw.

Fried carp on a plate
It’s very unlikely that you’ll see goldfish on a menu, but some restaurants serve carp, which is a part of the same family as goldfish. Mindaugas Danys / CC BY 2.0

The trend of “goldfish swallowing” has grown in popularity over the past decade. This involves taking a live goldfish and swallowing it whole. It is a fairly common dare or bar trick, but doing this can lead to health complications, not to mention it’s a slow and stressful way for the fish to die. Live goldfish are very likely to carry harmful parasites, including intestinal worms that can be transmitted to humans!

There are also many types of harmful bacteria that goldfish carry that are transmittable to people. These bacteria can be transmitted whether the fish is eaten raw OR cooked, so it is important to really think hard before deciding to eat a goldfish. Knowing that they are not particularly tasty, healthy, or even very safe to consume – is tasting one really worth the risk?

Why You May NOT Want to Eat Goldfish

hand feeding goldfish
Goldfish are incredibly intelligent, often bonding with their keepers and able to be trained to be hand-fed.

At this point in time, you may be interested to find out what a goldfish tastes like! Such a culturally significant fish that comes along with such a rich history probably tastes incredible, right? Well… maybe not, after all! Although goldfish were originally bred for food beginning thousands of years ago, the goldfish available to you today might not be as palatable as you may think.

Today’s domesticated goldfish typically live on a diet of algae, detritus, and highly processed pellets and flakes. Most of these flakes and pellets that you find at the pet store are made from ingredients like fish meal, squid meal, earthworms, and other unappetizing additives. If you have ever been curious enough to smell their food, you have probably withdrawn quickly in disgust! It carries a very pungent and unpleasant odor. A modern-day goldfish on this type of diet would taste similar, if not identical, to the pellets or flakes that it has eaten. At the very least, lots of seasoning would be necessary.

Catching a goldfish in the wild might be your best option if you are seriously interested in eating one. Although it is your “best” option for obtaining a goldfish to eat, it is still probably not the wisest choice. Like carp, goldfish take on the taste of the water that they swim in. If you are going to eat one, don’t expect it to be tasty like trout or tuna – even if it’s caught in the wild, a goldfish will most likely have a strong taste of mud and detritus, even when it is fully cooked. These fish are beautiful creatures to behold, but probably won’t agree with your taste buds! There are much more pleasant fish out there that are safer, more nutritious, and less controversial to have for dinner. 

Live & Let Live (To Eat Or Not to Eat?)

A man holding a goldfish bowl
Contrary to popular belief, a fishbowl is not a suitable enclosure to keep a goldfish contained in for their whole life. Tasnim News Agency, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Goldfish can bring a lot of value to your life if you keep them as pets in an aquarium or even in a backyard pond. Watching them swim around in their habitat is a very peaceful pastime for many fish owners, and they can even live for up to ten years, becoming a long-term, valuable pet companion in your life. Watching goldfish has been shown in studies to reduce anxiety, and lower blood pressure.

A common myth is that a fishbowl is a suitable enclosure to keep a goldfish contained in for the duration of its life. While they are typically sold while they are juvenile and small in size, they will not be that small forever! They grow to be much larger than many people realize, and so they require much more space to accommodate for that growth. A large aquarium can be suitable, but a backyard pond will allow the fish to grow up to its full-size potential. Your goldfish will also be much happier in a larger, more diverse habitat, and one that provides proper oxygenation and water quality (which a fishbowl simply cannot do).

Most people don’t realize that goldfish are actually pretty smart. While it is a common saying that goldfish have a three-second memory, that is simply not true at all! In reality, goldfish have a sense of time, and they can even learn their daily routines. If you keep goldfish, you might notice that they are extra spry and energetic in the morning time, right before they are fed! They can learn to anticipate when the food will come if it is done at a similar time each day. Additionally, many people know that you can train koi to enjoy being hand-fed and interacted with, but you can do the same for goldfish, too!

If you provide your goldfish with the care, devotion, and environment that they require to thrive, they will live a long, healthy, and happy life. They can bring a lot of joy into a person’s life, and become true companion animals over time. Goldfish are beautiful to behold, and have a very rich and interesting history of evolving alongside mankind. They are hardy, easy to maintain, and make wonderful pets! While other fish species are great to eat, goldfish definitely provide much more value while they are living.

2 thoughts on “Can You Eat Goldfish? (And Why You May Not Want To)”

    • Hi Jr,

      We appreciate your concern with factual information! If you look at the caption under the image, you’ll notice that we do identify the fish as a wild carp and in parenthesis note that it looks similar to goldfish, meaning it is not, in fact, a goldfish. We included the image so as to highlight that many anglers do seek out non-game fish such as wild carp (ancestors to koi and the type of fish in the image) and goldfish.


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