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Are Goldfish Safe for Human Consumption?

Nicole Cosgrove

Goldfish are those gentle, quiet pets calmly and harmlessly swimming around in their bowls — and are they edible? Ignoring the most obvious question of why you’d want to eat them, technically, goldfish are indeed edible. But whether they’re safe for human consumption is another question altogether.

For one thing, goldfish are a highly inefficient food source — they are tiny, full of scales, and almost impossible to debone, they don’t offer much caloric value, and most likely, they won’t taste that good. While it’s true that goldfish are essentially a domesticated version of wild carp, much has changed since their domestication!

So, while it is technically fine to eat a goldfish, there are a few reasons that you really shouldn’t. Let’s look at why eating a goldfish is probably not a good idea.

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Goldfish are technically edible

Being descendants of carp, goldfish are technically edible fish, although if you’ve ever eaten a carp, you’ll know the “muddy” flavor that they have. Carp are bottom feeders and will taste like what they eat. If they live in a healthy, clean environment, they may taste fine, albeit not as good as many other fish varieties, but if their environment is dirty and polluted, they won’t taste good at all.

With goldfish, you can expect much of the same — they’ll taste like what they eat. Try tasting one of those little pellets that you feed them every day, as this will give you a good idea of the flavor to expect!

Carp are also notoriously difficult to debone, even larger varieties. The larger the carp is, the better they generally taste. With goldfish, they will be almost impossible to clean and debone, and their small bodies will not have much flavor at all. They are simply not worth the effort.

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Image Credit: JuanCarlosPalauDiaz_Shutterstock

Are goldfish safe to eat?

It’s important to remember that your goldfish do not come from a freshwater pond or river and are most likely raised in captivity in a pet store. A pet store does not raise fish to taste good or even be safe to eat; they raise them as pets, and food safety is likely the last thing on their minds!

On the whole, goldfish are probably safe to eat if they are properly cooked — goldfish can harbor intestinal worms and mycobacteria, none of which are something that you want to consume! These parasites will not be visible on the goldfish, and you won’t know if they were present. Even a cooked goldfish poses risks, though, as some bacteria may survive the cooking process.

Plus, goldfish are cute! With all the other potential fish on the menu, a goldfish should be the last choice on your list.

They were once bred for meat

Believe it or not, goldfish were initially bred for meat. They were viewed as dinner long before they were seen as pets. The wild ancestor of the orange goldfish that we know and love today used to be silver and was once one of the most commonly eaten fish in China. Nature is always full of surprises, though, and every once in a while, a beautiful orange goldfish would appear, and admirers began to keep these fish, known then as “chi,” in dedicated ponds safe from predators.

This led to the gradual domestication of goldfish, and they became distinct from their chi ancestors. These beautiful, colorful fish gradually became sought after in private ponds, in which they began to crossbreed naturally, and humans then began developing them purposely for desired traits.

eggfish goldfish_Csaba Nagy_Pixabay
Image Credit: Csaba Nagy, Pixabay

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Final Thoughts

Technically, goldfish are edible and are generally safe to eat. They may harbor potentially harmful parasites, though, and even thorough cooking may not be enough to ensure their safety. Besides this, goldfish are tiny and difficult to process and most likely, will not taste very good. Compared with all the other varieties of fish to choose from, goldfish are an inefficient source of food, to say the least, and are best kept as pets and off the menu!


Featured Image Credit: dien, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.