Tilapia is not a name for a fish but a general term for more than a dozen cichlids. At the same time, pangasius refers to various imported freshwater basa fish, also called swai in the USA.
Tilapia and pangasius are freshwater farming whitefish for consumption in the global market. These two fish have similar characteristics and originated in tropical regions. They quickly adapt to various production systems and can also accept low-quality feed. However, the differences between them are far more significant than their similarities.
The Origins Difference
Pangasius: It first originated from Upper Laos and is a native to the Mekong river, which includes China, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Tilapia: It is native to Africa and is today one of the most widely bred fish globally. The Nile and Mozambique species are the most commonly bred ones.
The Identification Difference
Pangasius: They belong to the catfish family, have dark gray or black fins, are silver in color, and have no scales. The young ones have a black stripe that runs along the lateral line, and another stripe runs below the lateral line. They also have shiny, iridescent skin, which is why they are also called Iridescent Sharks. Fully-grown adult Pangasius are uniformly gray and do not have either stripes or iridescent skin. The adults can grow up to 4 feet in length and can weigh a maximum of 97 lb. The Pangasius can live for 20 years or more.
Tilapia: Tilapia has a small head but a tall profile. It is generally bluish-gray and has light vertical stripes. Meanwhile, tilapia has a thick body and a light-colored belly. This fish can grow on an average of 2% of its body weight. They are likely to gain 1 pound for every 1.5 pounds of food they consume. They can grow to an average of 18 inches in length and weigh up to 1 pound. The Nile or Black tilapia, Blue tilapia, and Mozambique or red tilapia are most commonly bred. Although the names imply different colors, the color of the edible portions remains the same.
The Diet Difference
Pangasius: They are omnivores and eat all kinds of live, fresh, flake foods. They eat brine shrimp, blood worms, live crickets, and worms. However, as they grow older, they lose their teeth and tend to become more herbivores.
Tilapia: They have the eating habits of a herbivore. They eat algae, which they filter through the tiny combs in their gills. On fish farms, they are generally fed other vegetable matter and grain. They also serve as a biological control to aquatic plant menace.
The Habitat Difference
Pangasius: They mostly live in freshwater and prefer large bodies of water and a tropical climate, similar to their native Mekong river. They can also tolerate brackish water with a salt concentration of 0.7% – 1%. They also have an additional respiratory organ, helping them breathe in an environment with inadequate oxygen.
Tilapia: These are some of the most adaptable species and can be found in many freshwater habitats like lakes, wetlands, shallow streams, ponds, rivers, and lakes. Only a few species of Tilapia are tolerant to brackish water.
The Mating and Spawning Difference
Pangasius: It takes 2-3 years for them to reach sexual maturity. It is a migratory species that moves upstream to reproduce. The mating season starts in May or June because of the high water level during the flood season. The eggs will be attached to the roots of trees growing along the river. After a day of reproduction, the eggs grow into larvae and descend down the river. A single female can lay more than 50,000 eggs each time and lay up to 4 eggs during the breeding season.
Tilapia: They grow rapidly and reach sexual maturity within six months. Spawning begins when the water temperature is above 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit). The male uses his mouth to dig a nest at the bottom of the pool, then mates with the female, and after that, the female lays eggs in the nest. The male then fertilizes the egg. The female holds the eggs in her mouth and hatches until they hatch. The “fry” stays in the female’s mouth and is often released to feed themselves. When threatened, they even seek shelter in the female’s mouth. This lasts about three weeks and is called mouthbrooding.
The Taste Difference
Pangasius: The best quality fillets of this fish have white flesh. However, the average quality is either light pink or beige. After cooking, the flesh turns white and has a moist, sweet taste, a mild flavor, and a delicate texture.
Tilapia: It is also known as the “aquatic chicken” because it breeds easily and does not have a fishy taste, instead of a bland taste. It has no taste of its own, but it adopts the taste of whatever ingredient.
The success of pangasius and tilapia as imported freshwater fish and their rise in the list of widely consumed seafood indicate a shift in food preference from traditional to more modern or exotic. The nutrition of these two fishes is similar and has been widely accepted by consumers worldwide.