Koi fish have been a staple of Chinese culture for centuries. They’re often found as decoration in homes, and are also seen at restaurants and hotels across the country.

Koi fish are a type of carp that have been domesticated. In fact, they are one of the most popular types of ornamental fish in the world. Koi can be eaten, but you might not want to.

There are affiliate links in this post. If you make a purchase after clicking on an affiliate link, I may get a commission. I also earn money from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate. —

A shady Harvard student bet resulted in the first documented “goldfish swallowing” in 1939.

Although goldfish aren’t generally served for dinner, the prank became widespread, and goldfish gulping became a common dare for unsuspecting underclassmen throughout the country.

Perhaps you’re perplexed as to why somebody would want to eat a fish that would ordinarily be kept in a bowl or aquarium. Then then, maybe you’re now staring at your koi pond and wondering whether that’s really conceivable.

Of course, koi ponds are beautiful outdoor features, and koi are revered fish across Asia.


It would be impolite to eat one, not to mention costly; the most expensive koi may cost over a million pounds.

Even if you’re not eating your pet or some of the world’s most expensive fish, the issue remains: can you eat koi, and if so, how and what is it like?

Koi 101

Of course, not every fish is the same. That’s particularly true with koi, which have been bred for decades to produce fish known for their elegance, beauty, and, most notably, their characteristic reddish-orange and silvered speckled look.

Koi are deeply tied with Japanese culture in particular, and they come in over 20 distinct forms, representing anything from love and fortune to luck and success.

Furthermore, they have a lengthy lifespan. Goldfish live for just a few years on average, while koi may live for more than a quarter century, which is a long period in “fish years.”

Because koi are freshwater fish, they are much simpler to maintain (and prepare cooking-wise, if you are so inclined). These ponds should ideally be a few feet deep.

They can consume everything from algae to other fish and even fruit, and they may grow to be quite enormous.

Is this, however, a green light to begin “fattening up” your koi in preparation for their tragic fine dining fate?

Koi are a specialized subspecies of a common Asian carp, and they are not poisonous, contrary to what you may have heard on the internet, thus you may theoretically eat them. Eating anything similar to carp would be required.

See my article on the distinctions between Koi and other carp for more information.

of Carp and Koi


Of course, this raises the issue of whether carp are really edible.

If you’re a true “a-fish-ionado” when it comes to catching or preparing fish, you’ve probably already laughed this off like a wine snob when asked about Two Buck Chuck.

Carp, like this notorious sort of wine, is known for being cheap and tasting like a rearranged version of the letters in the word “carp.”

Many fisherman and chefs have their own unique way of “carping” about how horrible carp tastes, from “mud” to “Pigs with Fins,” but is it really fair?

Yes and no, respectively.

Carp, on the one hand, isn’t the kind of fish you’d expect to see at a nice dining place. It’s quite abundant in Asia, as well as the waterways of Europe and North America, where it’s been imported as an invasive species throughout the ages.

This is one of the reasons why carp has such a terrible image among Western fish consumers.

Remember how we said that koi may eat everything from algae to fruits to other fish? The old adage “you are what you eat” definitely applies here, since the flavor of fish, even carp, is in part determined by what they’ve eaten.

Carp are an invasive species, so they’re often found in places where they’re “not intended to be,” which, as you might guess, isn’t the greatest environment for them to be eating healthy foods or foods that would bring out their full taste.

Simply said, many Western carp have that “muddy,” “oily,” or “trashy” flavor since it’s maybe part of what they consume in the areas where they’ve been introduced.

Carp are particularly widespread in lakes in the Eastern, Southern, and Midwestern United States, all of which have seen an increase in their populations owing to their invasive nature.

This means there are more carp than these freshwater regions can manage, and the waterways in which they reproduce aren’t necessarily the cleanest.

In the original version of The Lorax, for example, Dr. Seuss referred to Ohio’s once-filthy rivers, with unhappy Seussian fish fleeing “in quest of some water that isn’t so smeary.” Up on Lake Erie, I’ve heard things are just as terrible.” While Seuss eventually removed the line when Lake Erie grew much cleaner, it’s easy to imagine that fish living in such circumstances don’t have the nicest taste.

In contrast, conditions in areas like China and Japan, where these fish are native, are frequently healthier for these species.

These nations don’t have clean water, but since carp, especially koi, are raised in their own waterways and their habitats are in excellent shape, the taste may be much better.

Carp in cleaner waters are also referred to as “the Queen of the Rivers” in the United States.

In this example, the oily flavor originates from the fish’s inherent oils. Regardless matter how you cut it, carp has a significantly harder texture than many other regularly eaten fish.

The Case for Koi Eating

You can understand why some people would begin to suspect that koi fish are really swimming buffets in disguise at this point. After all, although you don’t want to eat your pets, the circumstances are arguably lot better than those found in some natural lakes and rivers with wild carp.

Koi ponds, in contrast to contaminated waterways, crowded confinement, and low food quality, have cleaner water, greater space to swim, and are usually loaded with better food.

Some culinary traditions that make use of koi have taken note of this.

Bengali cuisine is known for its tel koi, a famous fish curry. It may be made in a number of ways, all of which are inspired by East Indian cuisine.

Cooking koi is quite simple, albeit it may take longer than other fish due to its rougher skin and texture. You may still steam or fry koi after the internal organs have been removed. It should only take around 15 minutes to prepare.

You could also wish to marinade it with some herbs, olive oil, and oyster sauce.

The Argument Against Eating Koi


Having said that, it’s typically not a good idea to transform your koi pond into a free-for-all seafood buffet.

While your koi, like other freshwater fish, are edible, there are still lots of reasons why you shouldn’t eat them.

To begin with, it’s just “not done.” Do you really want to butcher these magnificent, majestic animals, smother them in sauce, and put them on a plate?

Sure, swans are “technically edible,” but if you truly recommended killing and eating such magnificent (and pricey) animals, you’d undoubtedly get a lot of opposition.

Koi are the same way.

Many people don’t think it’s socially acceptable to consume the sort of koi you maintain in your pond.

Apart from the fact that killing and eating pets is unethical, these koi are a specialist subspecies that are not often linked with the common edible carp, to whom they are scientifically related but not connotatively.

After instance, the carp that are regularly captured in rivers have a drab tint and might seem uninterested. The koi we maintain in ponds, on the other hand, are known for their wonderfully gorgeous speckled coats.

Although it is shallow to base judgments on appearances, consuming something so lovely and gorgeous seems awful.

Aside from that, as previously said, koi are deeply associated with Japanese culture.

Killing graceful pond koi might be considered as culturally inappropriate (to say the least) and demeaning to Japanese people, much as you wouldn’t fry up a bald eagle or beaver, and understand why an American or Canadian would be outraged if you did.

Last Thoughts

So, where does it leave us in terms of koi consumption?

On the one hand, carp, a fish related to koi, may surely be eaten.

They may not have the world’s “cleanest” reputation, and they will never be considered the best fish in the sea in terms of delicacy, but when properly caught and cleaned, they may make for a cheap and perhaps surprise lunch, particularly when served in traditional Asian and Indian recipes.

Koi, on the other hand, are not always suitable for this. It’s simply not right, and it may be offensive, plus the fish are so pricey (in comparison to carp), that it’s not worth it.

Most koi are too large for that “goldfish swallowing” trick anyhow, but even if they weren’t, it’s usually better to let them alone to explore the depths of your koi pond.

Koi fish are popular ornamental fish that are often kept in ponds. They have a variety of colors and can be found in both fresh and salt water. Koi fish taste good, but they might not be the best choice for your dinner plate. Reference: does koi fish taste good.

Related Tags

  • can we eat koi fish
  • what does koi fish taste like
  • can you eat koi fish reddit
  • cooking koi fish
  • japanese koi fish recipe