Swai Fish: Facts You Didn’t Know

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

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Fish has become a crucial part of the daily diet of the people around the world and swai fish has presented itself as an inexpensive and readily available option. However, before you start adding this fish to your diet, it is important to know where it comes from and some of the potential risks posed by it.

What is Swai Fish?

Swai fish is the common name of the iridescent shark, a type of catfish that is native to Southeast Asia. Bearing the scientific name Pangasianodon hypophthalmus, this fish is widely cultivated in that region of the world, and is exported to the United States. Swai is a white-flesh fish, with a flaky texture that makes it ideal for broiling, grilling or frying. The flavor is also quite mild, thus making it a popular option for those who don’t want their fish to taste too briny.

In the United States and elsewhere, swai fish is often marketed as a river-farmed catfish, but that name can be misleading. Much of the fish that is exported to other countries is bred in fish farms in Vietnam and other areas of Southeast Asia, with low levels of regulation and health standards, which is why most experts do not recommend eating swai fish.

Is it Safe to Eat Swai Fish?

Although factory-farmed fish are not inherently unhealthy, swai fish has developed a particular reputation as being below quality standards. Numerous health organizations around the world have criticized the water quality of Vietnamese fish farms, as it can be filled with bacteria and other chemical pollutants. There are many reports of swai fish being contaminated with trace minerals and heavy metals, largely due to the conditions in which they were raised.

Close up of swai fish on a white background

Even more troubling are the reports of the food being given to these fish before they are farmed and exported to restaurants around the world. Like many catfish, swai fish are not picky about the food they eat and are often labeled as bottom-feeders. As such, swai fish in Vietnamese fish farms are occasionally fed food waste and other garbage from local restaurants and from the fish farms themselves, which greatly increases the chances of toxins being introduced into the flesh of the fish. With a lack of regulation and a track record of being unhealthy or contaminated, swai fish should be avoided, despite the low price. There are plenty of other white-flesh fish and pescetarian options that are better for your overall health.

List of Recommended Fish to Eat

The most popular white fish, catfish and river-farmed fish options available for those who want an alternative to swai include:

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, and publisher who earned his English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign, Urbana (USA). He is the co-founder of a literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and calls the most beautiful places in the world his office. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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