Yet many Hawaii people (myself included) dismiss tilapia as a ditch fish or rubbish fish. The yuck-factor is deeply rooted because tilapia thrive in the dirtiest water. Think murky, red dirt filled sugar cane ditches, Ala Wai canal, or the Ala Moana Park drainage ditch. No wonder that given the choice of a lovely moi, a silvery-blue papio or a perfectly pink opakapaka fresh from the crystal blue ocean, a mushy, bottom-feeding, dirt gray tilapia isn't even close.
Yet at the Taste of Hawaii event, Chef Alan Wong noted that he had served tilapia at the venerable Halekulani, and that farm-raised Hawaii (US-raised) tilapia should be appreciated as a sustainable fish choice.
However, tilapia is no savior super-fish. Some good information on both sides of Ditch vs. Switch are from the New York Times and About Tilapia. While US tilapia is raised in clean, open-water pens where they are not allowed to become dirt-flavored bottom feeders, overseas farms, particularly in Asia, are not regulated and can resemble more Ala Wai than open pen. So much so that Asia-raised tilapia is on the "Avoid" list of the Seafood Watch. And while tilapia is lower in saturated fat than red meat, it is also lower in heart-healthy fish oils than other fish.
So while I won't completely "switch" to tilapia, I will no longer categorically "ditch" it from the kitchen. It would work for fish tacos, cornmeal fish or even karaage fish. But I wouldn't use it for sashimi, teriyaki fish, misoyaki fish, or Omi's shoyu fish, anything that needs a sturdier, more flavorful fish.
Tell me your tilapia stories. Eat Well. Be Well.