What Does Eel Taste Like?

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Nobody has ever eaten an eel for its looks. Eel’s true beauty comes from the mesmerizing way they cut through the water. But with its long slimy body and a face only its mother would love, full of sharp, pointy teeth, nothing about it says appetizing. Yet the Japanese adore it so much they all eat it on the Midsummer Day of the Ox.

Eel has a light sweet taste, devoid of fishiness. With firm yet tender flesh, its texture is similar to lobster or catfish. How eel tastes is heavily impacted by how it is cooked since it easily absorbs flavors. For example, eel responds beautifully to being smoked.

It is rare to find someone who has tried eel and not found it delicious. But you’re here to find out if you want to give eel a try, so read on!

What Does Eel Taste Like?

There are two main types of eel: unagi (freshwater) and anago (saltwater). Both have a sweet taste, but the freshwater eel has a bolder flavor than the milder saltwater eel. Both have firm yet tender flesh, but the most significant difference is the skin – saltwater eel skin is tougher.

What Does Unagi Taste Like?


Unagi is the most desired type of eel in Japan. They consume 70% of the global catch. The preparations of this Japanese delicacy date back thousands of years. It is said that it provides extra stamina against the heat, which is why it’s the featured food on Midsummer Day of the Ox.

Unagi has not as sweet as its saltwater cousin but has a bolder, richer flavor. This lends itself well to the popular barbequed filet preparation, known as kabayaki, which involves a sweet soy sauce.

Its firm texture, bold taste, and ability to meld well with sauces make it well suited for sushi and pickling. When fried, the outer skin becomes crunchy.

What Does Anago Taste Like?


Despite anago having tougher skin, it has a softer taste and texture. It is, however, the sweeter of the two.

Two very popular ways of serving it are deep-fried tempura or sushi. These are typically served with eel sauce made up of soy sauce, sake, mirin, and sugar. Eel sauce is incredibly versatile and is delicious on foods such as eggplant and chicken. It brings out the natural sweetness of food without tasting sugary.

Does Eel Taste Fishy?

Eel does not have a fishy flavor or aftertaste like other types of fish have. By itself, it’s rather bland with any lingering flavors coming from the sauces or smoking process.

Does Eel Taste Like Snake?

Despite the eel resembling a sea snake, the two do not taste the same. Snake is incredibly lean with a slightly earthy and gamey flavor that reminds some of quail or gamey pork.

Eel, on the other hand, is fatty. While it is a healthy fat, like salmon, it gives eel a rich texture and taste.

Is Eel Raw In Sushi?


Eel is traditionally grilled or steamed for sushi, although some places fry it. In Japan, preparing eel is a specific profession, so specialized chefs prepare it. Thus, sushi chefs do not typically cook the eel themselves; they use the already cooked eel to complete their dish.

Eel’s flavor can easily be marred by imprecise cooking. Poor preparation can also make the typically tender and succulent flesh anything but.

The toxic component of eel blood comes from a protein that causes muscle cramps. While this hardly sounds serious if it is a person’s calf or bicep, it is when that muscle is a person’s heart.

Is Eating Eel Safe?

Cooked eel is safe to consume, but raw eel can be toxic since its blood is poisonous. This is handy for eels in the wild, as it quickly discourages predators from eating them.

In preparation for cooking, the eel’s blood is drained away. Next, the eel is cleaned and filleted to be cooked and served hot or cold.

Is Eating Electric Eel Safe?

Electric eels are not eels but part of the carp family. While they are technically edible, not many people eat them. This is due to their ability to release electrical volts, making them not much fun to catch – so few do!

Even if you did successfully catch and kill an electric eel, there isn’t a lot of meat despite their size. This is because they have three large organs that take up the bulk of their insides. These organs are what produce their voltage. Electric eels also have a lot of bones, little meat, and next to no nutritional value.

While eel is popular in Japan, it has a global appeal. While you’re most likely to find eel in sushi, here are a few dishes from across the world you might want to try.

Anguilla alla Bisentina

This is a braised eel dish from Lazio in Italy. It involves puréed tomato, garlic, rosemary, and sage, with a touch of spicy pepper.

Caldeirada de Enguias

Caldeirada de Enguias is a traditional dish from Portugal. It is a stew that, aside from eel, has onions, potatoes, and bell peppers. Its unique ingredient is saffron.

Canh Chua

Canh Chua is a Vietnamese soup that hails from the region of the Mekong Delta. In addition to eel, it has snake, catfish, pineapple, tomatoes, okra, beans, and many herbs.

Capitone Grigliato o Fritto

Capitone Griglitato o Fritto is from Italy. It is often prepared on Christmas Eve, as traditionally, meat was avoided on this day. The dish, at its essence, is fried eel. Seasoning is minimal, such as salt and pepper, olive oil, vinegar, garlic, and lemon.

Gerookte Paling

Gerookte paling is Dutch smoked eel. It is generally served in a deceptively simple manner – with plain crackers or a roll – but it packs a flavorful punch.

Jellied Eel

As mentioned above, jellied eel is a popular UK delicacy. Eel is cut up into chunks and boiled in stock. Its fat creates gelatine that, when cooled, jellies the eel. This is eaten cold.

Neretvanski Brudet

Neretvanski brudet comes from the Neretva region of Croatia. The dish’s base is eel and frog that, after frying in spices, is braised in a tomato-based wine sauce, spiced with chili.

Is Eel Safe To Eat When Pregnant?

Yes, cooked eel is listed as safe for pregnant people to eat. To be on the safe side, confirm with the restaurant or store where you’re purchasing sushi that the fish in your sushi is cooked.

Is Eel Low in Mercury?

The American Pregnancy Association has eel listed as a fish with lower levels of mercury. This means consuming up to two 6-oz servings a week, including when pregnant, is safe.

Is Eel Healthy?

Nutritional information is generally based on freshwater eels, but the health benefits are relatively similar for saltwater eels. It is a healthy protein and an excellent source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Eel is also a good source of Vitamins A, D, and B12.

NutritionFreshwater Eel Daily Value 3.5 oz
B1 (Thiamin)15%
B2 (Riboflavin)4%
B3 (Niacin)28%

Is Eel A Sustainable Fish Choice?


There is some eel listed as a “good alternative” on the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch though most of the eel varieties/sources are listed as “avoid.” Europe considers eel “safe” to eat as long as it is from a farm approved by the Sustainable Eel Group.

Sustainability-wise, the recommendation is to eat saltwater eel rather than freshwater, as freshwater stocks are the most threatened.

Why Is Eating Eel Controversial?


The main controversy regards farmed eel. While an estimated 90% of eels consumed come from farms, this does not mean the eels are not from the wild. Humans have yet to figure out how to get eels to breed in captivity.

Young eels are caught in the wild and then taken to the farms to be raised. This greatly increases their chances of reaching adulthood and technically reduces the stress on wild stocks. Even so, none of the eels caught will ever reproduce, thus decreasing natural stocks.

Thus, the pressure on wild eel is not meeting demand, even when raised to the age of harvest on farms. As a result, global stocks have plummeted by 75% since the 1980s. So, while eel is often claimed to be sustainable because 90% comes from farms, the situation is far more complicated.

The greatest strain is on the freshwater eel population, as this is the preferred delicacy in Japan, the eel’s largest consumer. Thus, if you wish to try eel, it is suggested that you select saltwater.

Additionally, catching methods are a source of controversy. In some places, such as the United Kingdom, baby eels are caught by hand nets. But this rule is not observed by all European countries or the rest of the world. Many countries fish for eel through high-speed trawling, creating more significant damage.

Why Does Eel Cost So Much?


The eel was once a popular food among London’s poor. Now eel is a delicacy thanks to the farming process. Farmed eels are incredibly labor-intensive to care for, requiring three feedings per day. Baby eels are often raised for a year before being sold for consumption. The costs of their protein paste and pellets add up. Thus, the days of this being an inexpensive and delicious protein source the poor could fish on their own are gone.

So, What Does Eel Taste Like?

Eel is a deliciously light and sweet fish. It can be prepared in many ways, including grilled, smoked, and jellied. It is also an incredibly healthy source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Eel is considered safe to eat during pregnancy, as its mercury levels are low. However, due to its high popularity, freshwater eel stocks are dwindling, so look for saltwater eel as a delicious and cheaper substitute.

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