Are goldfish edible? Don’t even think about it!

Can you eat goldfish? Is your goldfish edible? Hopefully this goes without saying, but regardless of the answer, you absolutely should NOT eat your pet goldfish! Not only is it cruel but – as you’ll find out below – it’s also pointless and goldfish are probably not very tasty.

However, people often search for the answer to this question on Google or in internet forums. Of course, in most cases, they’re just curious, rather than actually planning to eat their pet (though there are, sadly, reports of goldfish swallowing by some people). We’ve also been asked this question by people who wonder whether you can eat goldfish that are caught in the wild.

So, are goldfish edible and is there ever any reason to eat either pet goldfish or wild goldfish? We want to answer the question once and for all…

Can you eat goldfish?

The short answer is goldfish are as edible as any other freshwater fish; however, they are most likely not very tasty. Goldfish would taste of the foods that they eat – so, for example, a pet goldfish would probably taste a bit like fish flakes and pellets!

Since goldfish are a relative of carp, and carp has been a food source for many years, it makes sense that goldfish edible. However, this also suggests that the taste would be questionable, to say the least. Carp often has a “muddy” flavor, particularly when not prepared well.

Goldfish are also small and bony, which would make it a challenge to get a meal out of a single goldfish.

And finally, in our opinion, the main reason you should never eat a goldfish is that they are a pet animal. Goldfish are to be cared for and enjoyed, not eaten!

EDIT: It’s been pointed out in the comments that goldfish aren’t always pets. They can be found in lakes and rivers too – either in wild populations or as pets that have been released. So should fisherman eat goldfish if they catch them? While this may help manage wild goldfish populations and do some good in preventing them from harming native species, we’d still say no to eating them.

Even wild goldfish wouldn’t taste good, and if they are a pet that has been released then you don’t know how recently they were in a tank or pond and perhaps given medications that are still present in their bodies. Eating wild goldfish might not be cruel in the same way as eating a pet, but we still wouldn’t recommend it! If you have thoughts on this – please add a comment below.

The history of carp as food

Goldfish are decedents of carp, which come from the minnow family of fish, they are big-lipped and large-muscled fish. These fish were introduced to the Americas around 1872. There are many types of carp and are found all over The United States. There are many types of species of carp and this means they can live in various habitats around the world.

Carp is the number one species used in aquaculture and commonly used in China, which accounts for about 70% of commercially produced carp. Carp is used in many Christmas dishes for various cultures. People in Hungary use it in a soup, people in the Czech Republic fry the meat and also make thick soups with the head, and gefilte fish is common for Jewish cuisine.

Carp have been associated with a “muddy” taste due to their living environments. They tend to enjoy hanging out in shallow waters and deep pools in rivers.

If prepared correctly though, carp can be a delightful fish to eat. Carp are oily fish and have a taste that is similar to salmon. Due to them having a high oil content this makes their meat moist and flaky. If carp is caught and prepared correctly the “muddy” taste shouldn’t happen.

Preparing carp to eat

There are some things to take into consideration if you are going to enjoy eating carp. You must put it on ice immediately after catching it and you must remove and clean out the bloodline.

Since they are bottom dwelling fish, they will taste like what they eat. If they live in a low pollution water with healthy vegetation, then they can taste good but if they are living in a dirty environment then they will potentially taste bad.

Carp are a bony fish and the rib bones fork into several prongs which poses a problem when fileting.

Size affects the taste of carp as well. The larger the fish the more course, heavier texture, and stronger flavor they can have.

It is recommended that once you catch a carp and are planning to eat it, you give it some bucket time. This is when you leave your carp in a clean bucket of water without feeding it for a couple days it so it can detox the meat. Keeping it on ice is also crucial to preserve the flavor of the meat. Once body temperature rises, it increases histamine release in the body. Histamine affects how “muddy” the meat will taste. Plus, if histamine levels are too high, you can get sick from eating the meat.

Why goldfish would make a bad meal

With goldfish coming from the carp family, it is assumed that the same muddy flavor can be avoided by not stressing the fish and immediately getting it on ice. Goldfish will also taste like what they eat – and fish flakes or pellets are not an enjoyable taste.

Goldfish are also incredibly tiny compared to their carp ancestors. This means that trying to debone and prepare a goldfish would take a large amount of time for a very tiny amount of meat. It simply wouldn’t be worth the effort.

Goldfish are usually found in pet stores and – obviously – these places aren’t putting effort into making the fish taste good! They are looking at the overall health of the animal and their diet would make the goldfish taste bad.

Goldfish can also contain a bacterium called mycobacteria, which can be transmitted to humans. The bacteria don’t cause a change in the fish’s appearance and can also lay dormant in the animal. You wouldn’t know if the fish you are eating is infected with this bacterium or not. This bacterium is likely able to survive the cooking process which poses more health risk in eating the goldfish.

Animals shouldn’t eat goldfish either

So far, we’ve focused on the idea of humans eating goldfish. But what about other pets, such as cats? Or wild birds?

Well the answer here is very similar. Yes, a cat could eat a goldfish, but you absolutely shouldn’t let them.

Sure a cat might be less fussy about taste, but there are lots of other healthier and cheaper options than goldfish! If you have a cat, make sure to get a secure lid for your aquarium and keep your goldfish out of harms way.

Likewise, if you keep your goldfish in a pond, you’ll need to protect them from wild animals. Covering the pond with netting is one way to do this.

Summary: Goldfish are edible, but don’t eat them!

So, can you eat goldfish? Technically speaking, eating goldfish is of course possible and probably won’t do you any harm. However, it is certainly not recommended.

Goldfish are related to carp and can take on a “muddy” taste if prepared incorrectly. They are a very bony fish and take a long time and a skilled hand to debone appropriately.

Goldfish are also very small so the amount of time to properly debone and cook a goldfish would not yield enough meat for it to have been worth it.

So why would you bother? Let’s continue to enjoy these fascinating creatures as lovely pets to keep in a pond or home aquarium. Goldfish should never be viewed as a snack!

7 thoughts on “Are goldfish edible? Don’t even think about it!”

  1. Well I can tell you why I looked up this question. There is zero occasion when I would eat a pet and as a responsible pet owner I would be sure to give a goldfish an ideal (and not cruel) environment and at the end of its life span a proper send off. Not everyone is like that and my local water ways have feral goldfish threatening local fish populations and I feel humans have a responsibility to be the predator of invasive species where there is no natural predation or control. It is likely I am not the only person who fishes for food that feels this way. I would have been horrified by such a question if I did not know about that

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    Reply
    • Thanks for the comment Alex. We hadn’t considered that people might catch wild or released goldfish while fishing. That’s a really interesting suggestion. While not cruel and unnecessary in the same way as eating a pet goldfish would be – it’s probably still true that goldfish wouldn’t make a very tasty meal!

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  2. This with idiots adding goldfish into lakes and rivers only for the goldfish to crowd the other fish out sounds like a metaphor for gentrification. Maybe we should call these 30 pound feral goldfish yuppiefish as they do the same thing. They eat anything (being a version of carp), are “made of gold” (like yuppies made of money) and crowd out long time residents (like yuppies pricing others out) and screw everything up.

    Maybe we can deal with Asian Carp in the Mississippi River by gentrifying it with transported live 30 pound yuppiefish. As far as anglers eating yuppiefish (or Asian carp) see above with the hazards mentioned above. How the Asian carp got out was farmed carp got out in Year1993 when the Mississippi River flooded. They were farmed to export to Asian countries where they are eaten. Goldfish were eaten there to, and probably still are.

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  3. I looked this article up based on a news item in The Washington Post dated July 11, 2021 (https://www.washingtonpost.com/science/2021/07/11/minnesota-goldfish-invasive/), about pet goldfish ending up in lakes in Minnesota growing to be a foot long and weighing in at 4lbs. They pose a threat to the lakes and other aquatic life. So the natural thing for me was, can you eat a large goldfish such as the one in the news item and what would it taste like. Maybe a little butter and garlic? I am not talking about a little goldfish right out of a pet store. Not sure I got an answer here.

    Reply
    • Thanks Steven. We actually just provided a comment for this Refinery29 article regarding those fish in Minnesota lakes.

      The best answer is probably that it would be easier and more worthwhile to eat a large goldfish than a small one, as you would get more meat from a larger fish. However, it would still take some effort to remove the bones and wouldn’t taste great without careful preparation to improve the taste.

      As noted in the article, larger fish are also usually tougher and have a stronger (not necessarily good!) flavor.

      Finally, even if large goldfish caught from a lake make for better food than a pet goldfish, we still wouldn’t recommend eating them. Goldfish can be infected by mycobacteria – aka Fish Tuberculosis – which can be harmful to humans. Also, goldfish found in lakes could still be recently discarded pets, which may have been exposed to medication or other chemicals that you wouldn’t want to consume.

      Overall, the answer remains yes, you can eat goldfish, but there’s probably not much reason to, and it might not be a good idea.

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