Should you cook fish eyes?

As a chef exploring new ingredients, you may have wondered if fish eyes are edible and worth cooking. Fish eyes, also called fish lenses, are increasingly trendy to serve in some cuisines around the world. But are they safe and tasty to eat? Here’s a look at the pros and cons of cooking with fish eyes.

The appeal of fish eyes

What’s driving the interest in fish eyes as an ingredient? Here are some of the main reasons they intrigue adventurous eaters and chefs:

  • Novelty – Fish eyes are uncommon in Western cuisine and have a unique texture.
  • Intriguing appearance – Fish eyes look exotic and can make a dramatic plated presentation.
  • Nutritional value – Fish eyes contain healthy fats, protein, vitamins and minerals. They are rich in omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA.
  • Umami flavor – Fish eyes are savory and pack an umami punch from glutamate, nucleotides and other compounds.
  • Sustainability – Using byproducts like fish eyes reduces food waste and makes the most of harvested seafood.
  • Cultural tradition – Fish eyes are eaten in Asian countries like China and Japan. Serving them can provide authenticity.

For adventurous eaters and sustainably-minded chefs, the novelty, nutrition and umami richness of fish eyes are big draws. Let’s look closer at the pros and cons of cooking with this unique ingredient.

Potential benefits of eating fish eyes

What are the main advantages of incorporating fish eyes into your cooking?

Nutritious content

Fish eyes are packed with important nutrients:

  • Protein – Fish eyes contain high-quality protein. Protein provides amino acids that are vital for building and repairing muscle, skin, bones and blood.
  • Healthy fats – Fish eyes are rich in omega-3s EPA and DHA. These fats have anti-inflammatory effects and provide other health benefits for the heart, brain and eyes.
  • Vitamins and minerals – Fish eyes supply vitamins A, D, E and K as well as iron, zinc, magnesium and more.

Eating fish eyes can be an easy way to boost your nutrient intake and get health perks.

Powerful umami flavor

Fish eyes contain compounds like glutamate, nucleotides and amines that confer savory umami flavor. Umami is considered the fifth basic taste. It makes foods highly palatable. Fish eyes can lend a flavor boost to dishes and give depth of flavor.

Sustainable choice

Fish eyes are often removed and discarded as waste in seafood processing. Keeping and eating fish eyes makes use of more of the animal and prevents byproduct waste. Choosing sustainable options like fish eyes helps reduce the environmental impact of your food choices.

Adventurous eating experience

For diners looking for a novel eating experience, fish eyes can provide excitement. The unusual, eye-catching appearance makes for interactive, Instagrammable dishes. The unique texture provides sensory interest. Serving fish eyes shows creativity and innovation by the chef.

Potential downsides of eating fish eyes

What are some of the drawbacks and concerns about serving fish eyes?

Novel appearance

One of the biggest obstacles is the unappetizing look of whole fish eyes, with their cloudy lenses, blood vessels and fibers. The striking appearance can gross out squeamish diners. Chefs need creative plating strategies if serving whole eyes.

Unfamiliar flavor

If not cooked carefully, fish eyes can have a mushy consistency and fishy flavor some find unappealing. Their taste might be too unfamiliar for diners not raised eating them. Experienced cooking is required to make fish eyes tasty.

Potential contaminants

Fish eyes may accumulate heavy metals like mercury. Older, larger predator fish tend to have higher mercury levels. Choosing smaller fish eyes and consuming fish eyes only occasionally can reduce this risk. Proper handling and cooking is needed to avoid bacterial contamination.

Choking hazard

The collagen fibers surrounding fish eye lenses can make them a choking risk, especially for children, elderly diners and those with swallowing disorders. Chefs need to carefully trim and slice fish eyes to reduce this danger.

Sustainability concerns

Some worry that increased demand for new menu items like fish eyes could put pressure on fish stocks. Chefs should source fish eyes only from sustainable, responsibly harvested seafood. Tracing the origin and type of fish eyes serves is important.

Are fish eyes safe to eat?

While eating fish eyes may seem unappetizing to some Western diners, they can be safely consumed and provide nutritional benefits. Here are some tips for safely serving fish eyes:

  • Source fish eyes from reputable sustainable suppliers, and choose smaller fish species.
  • Handle raw fish eyes carefully to avoid contamination, and discard any eyes that smell unpleasant.
  • Cook fish eyes thoroughly to at least 145°F internal temperature to kill microbes.
  • Clean and trim fish eyes carefully, removing all fibers and veins.
  • Cut fish eyes into thin slices to make them less of a choking risk.
  • Eat fish eyes and other seafood in moderation as part of a varied diet to limit mercury exposure.

Following basic food safety practices when sourcing, handling and preparing fish eyes reduces risks.

Do fish eyes taste good?

The flavor and palatability of fish eyes depends greatly on the species of fish and how they are prepared and cooked. Here are some pointers for making fish eyes tasty:

  • Choose high-quality fresh eyes from relatively mild, oil-fleshed fish like trout or salmon.
  • Trim extensively to remove veins, fibers and any bloody or discolored portions.
  • Balance flavor by pairing fish eyes with savory, fatty, salty, sweet or acidic ingredients.
  • Slow-cook fish eyes gently using moist heat methods like steaming, simmering or poaching.
  • Shred and sauce fish eyes after cooking and incorporate into strongly flavored dishes.

With their soft texture and umami richness, properly prepared fish eyes can have a pleasant mouthfeel and enhance the flavor of dishes like chowders and Asian noodle soups. However, fish eyes tend to be an acquired taste.

What cuisines use fish eyes?

Eating fish eyes is most common in Asian cuisines. Here are some cultures known for serving fish eyes:

Chinese cuisine

Fish eyes are an ingredient in traditional Chinese cooking. They may be served whole, used in soups or braised dishes, or finely shredded. Chinese fish eye recipes include:

  • Steamed fish head and fish eyes
  • Fish eye soup (yu yan tang)
  • Braised fish eyes
  • Noodle bowls with shredded fish eyes

Japanese cuisine

In Japan, fish eyes are eaten as part of the eyeball drinking game. Fish eye skewers (odorigui) may also be served at izakaya bars. Japanese fish eye dishes include:

  • Skewered, grilled fish eyes
  • Fish eye sashimi
  • Fish eye salad (gyoja sunomono)
  • Fish eye soup (gyoja suimono)

Korean cuisine

Fish eyes are available at Korean raw fish restaurants. They may be served whole, often still attached to the head. Korean-style fish eye dishes include:

  • Seasoned raw fish eyes (sogan-eum)
  • Spicy fish eyes (maeuntang)
  • Fish eye porridge (naengmyeon)

Scandinavian cuisine

Fish eyes are a delicacy in Nordic countries like Sweden and Finland where they are considered a sign of a perfectly cooked fish. Fish eyes may be served with boiled or baked whitefish.

How to cook fish eyes

Fish eyes need slow, gentle cooking methods to become tender. Here are some techniques for preparing fish eyes:


Gently simmer fish eyes in broth or sauce at 180°F to 200°F until softened and opaque, 15 to 45 minutes depending on size.


Steam fish eyes wrapped in parchment, banana leaves or lettuce over boiling water for 10 to 20 minutes.


Poach fish eyes in simmering 180°F broth, dashi, wine or oil for 10 to 20 minutes until firm but yielding.


Braise fish eyes in a small amount of flavorful liquid like dashi, wine, soy sauce or tomatoes at a low simmer.

Deep frying

Deep fry fish eyes briefly at 350°F to 380°F to heat through without overcooking. Use a light batter or breading.

Fish eyes can also be pickled in vinegar or included in raw preparations like sashimi if extremely fresh. Take care not to overcook fish eyes, which makes them rubbery.

Should you eat fish eyes?

Whether you want to sample fish eyes comes down to personal taste and culinary adventure. Here are some final pros and cons to consider when deciding whether to eat fish eyes:

Potential benefits

  • Unique, exotic eating experience
  • Healthy fats, protein, vitamins and minerals
  • Umami-rich flavor enhancement
  • Sustainable use of seafood resources

Potential downsides

  • Unusual appearance many find unappetizing
  • Careful cooking required to taste good
  • Possible contaminant and choking risks
  • An acquired taste – diners may not like them

The verdict on eating fish eyes

Fish eyes are not poisonous, and can be an exciting way for adventurous diners to explore a novel ingredient and texture. With careful handling and preparation, fish eyes present some good nutrition and interesting umami flavor. However, chefs should be aware that fish eyes require creative presentation and gentle cooking to be appetizing. They may not suit all diners’ tastes or culinary traditions. Fish eyes are likely to remain a niche ingredient rather than becoming mainstream. But for innovative, sustainably minded cooks, they offer intriguing possibilities to experiment with. Approach cooking fish eyes with an open mind, and decide for yourself if you savor or squint at the idea of serving these unique fish parts.

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