Have you ever wondered what it might be like to bite into an eyeball?
For many westerners, just thinking about it is enough to make you shudder and cringe. It is taboo to eat eyeballs in some cultures, especially in the west.
However, in much of the rest of the world, fish eyes are considered a gourmet delicacy – maybe even the best part of the fish!
What Are Fish Eyes?
Fish eyes are the visual sensory organs used to navigate and sense movement. They are very similar (some would say, disconcertingly similar) to human eyes.
Most fish have 2 eyes, and in western cuisine these are discarded along with the viscera of the fish, the scales, and other undesirable parts, leaving just the fillets.
However, in Asia and around the world, fish eyes are valued and revered for their flavor, as well as the health benefits you can derive from eating them.
Why Do Fish Eyes Taste Different?
It is impossible to give a full description of what fish eyes taste like because they taste so different from each other.
Just like the meat of a fish tastes different, depending on the species, fish eyes have distinct flavors.
They don’t all taste the same, regardless of the fish, although the flavors have some things in common.
The flavor of fish eyes will also change depending on how the fish is cooked or prepared. Fish eyes can be eaten raw, in which case they have a stronger, fishy flavor. When they are cooked, the flavor mellows and becomes more wholesome and umami.
The taste of fish eyes is probably best described as like raw oysters, with a strong, salty, umami flavor that fills your mouth.
What Do Fish Eyes Look Like?
Fish eyes look like our own, human eyes, which is one of the reasons people who aren’t used to eating them sometimes struggle to take a bite.
Fish eyes have a retina and an iris, although the retina is usually larger and the iris much smaller than our own eyes.
Human eyes are round, but appear relatively flat, especially when compared to fish eyes. Fish eyes are truly more spherical than human eyes, and are also designed to protrude more, to give fish improved peripheral vision.
What Texture Do Fish Eyes Have?
Eating fish eyes is an interesting textural experience.
The exterior of fish eyes is almost gummy and gelatinous. The surface of fish eyes is slightly sticky to the touch.
This soft, jelly outer layer of the eyeball conceals an inner, wafer-like crunch. The interior of the eyeball is much harder, and that is also the part of the bite that releases the most flavor.
Are Fish Eyes Healthy?
They might make some people squeamish, but there is no debate when it comes to their health benefits: fish eyes are packed with important nutrition.
A Chinese tradition holds that eating fish eyes will make you smarter, and help you see better.
There might be some truth to this, especially given the rich concentrations of DHA and EPA, a pair of unsaturated fatty acids that have been proven to promote brain cell growth and stave off memory loss.
If you want to grow your brain, popping some fish eyes into your mouth can help.
There are plenty of other nutrients in fish eyes as well. They are particularly high in protein, as well as important vitamins and nutrients like vitamin A, and (of course) fish eyes contain plenty of those vital omega-3 fatty acids.
No one eats an entire plateful of fish eyes, so you probably won’t fill up all of your daily nutritional requirements on one or two fish eyes, but they do contain important nutritional compounds that can help your body and brain.
What Are The Dangers Of Eating Fish Eyes?
If you are afraid to eat fish eyes, your fear is the only thing truly holding you back.
Fish eyes are very safe to consume – they are at least as safe as the rest of the fish!
There is no reason to worry medically about eating fish eyes. They are healthy and full of nutrients, with no known adverse effects.
How Do You Eat Fish Eyes?
This depends on how the fish is prepared. In some cases, fish eyes are added to soups or stews, and you can pick them up with a spoon and pop them in your mouth.
If a fish has been cooked whole, the eyes will be there for the taking, and you’ll have to pry them from the fish’s head with a spoon. The eyes should come out easily after the cooking process.
For those who are more accustomed to eating fish eyes, the trick to getting the most flavor out of them is to let them dissolve in your mouth for as long as possible.
That way, you can experience the flavor breakdown in all of its detail, without rushing the experience.
Can You Eat Fish Eyes Raw?
Yes! Although it is more common to eat cooked fish eyes from a whole cooked fish, which have a mellower and more wholesome flavor as well as a softer texture, it is possible to eat fish eyes raw.
According to chefs, raw fish eyes taste most like raw oysters. They have a strong, fishy, umami flavor.
What Is The Best Way To Cook Fish Eyes?
There are many great ways to prepare fish eyes, including some traditional recipes from around the world.
In China, fish eyes are considered a delicacy. When a whole fish is prepared, the eyes are left in and are often given to the most esteemed guest at the table as a gesture of respect.
In Russia, a famous soup called ukha, or fish head soup, calls for the entire head of the fish to be left in the soup, eyeballs and all! The eyes are the best part.
In Sri Lanka, every part of the fish is consumed without waste, including fish eyes. Sri Lankans barbecue fish whole, including the eyes, and nothing is left over after the meal.
The best way to cook fish eyes is really left up to you, but the most common and one of the most popular ways is simply to cook the fish whole, whether that is on a grill, in an oven, or directly over the fire.
The fish eye cooks in its own juices, and the flavor marinates and mellows while the fish cooks, for a truly incredible taste experience.
Fish Eye Nutritional Information
Specific nutrition information for fish eyes isn’t available for a couple of reasons.
Fish eyes can vary a lot. The size of the eye, as well as the nutritional content, could be significantly different for different species of fish, and the nutrition could also be affected by the way the fish is prepared.
Also, fish eyes don’t come in a “serving”, and are never eaten in significant quantities. Nobody eats fish eyes like chips or candy – they are a small part of a much larger fish, to be savored in small quantities for just a moment.
The amount of fat, protein, sodium, etc. in fish eyes is likely to be very insignificant for your overall diet, but we do know that fish eyes are high in protein, as well as vitamin A and omega-3 fatty acids.
Fish eyes are healthy, including brain-strengthening compounds like DHA and EPA, so don’t worry too much about the particulars, and allow yourself a little burst of flavor and nutrition in fish eyes.
Quick Table: 3 Fish Eye Taste Recipes
|Fish Eye Chips||80||25 Minutes|
|Russian Ukha Fish Soup With Fish Eyes||140||40 Minutes|
|Grilled Whole Fish In Banana Leaf||50||30 Minutes|
This recipe was initially for prawn crackers, but has been adapted for fish eyes! If you have 5oz of these, along with 3.5oz of calamari eyes, or you can get them from your local fishmonger, you’ll be set.
The taste of fish eyes is distinct from the texture, and by blending these together and turning them into chips, you can avoid the squeamishness of biting directly into an eyeball, while getting the entire flavor experience.
Calories Per Serving: 80
Preparation Time: 25 Minutes
There are a million recipes out there for ukha, a Russian soup that uses every part of the fish, including the eyes! This is a particularly good recipe, which can be adapted to your taste.
It calls for a 1/2 pound of fish heads, which should include more than a few eyes.
The great thing about ukha is that it is such a delicious and flavorful soup that you’ll want to make it even if you don’t include fish eyes, and your family and friends will love it even if they prefer to eat around the parts you are most passionate about.
Calories Per Serving: 140
Preparation Time: 25 Minutes
One of the most popular ways to enjoy fish eyes is the best part of a whole cooked fish.
When you cook fish whole, it not only absorbs the flavors you surround and fill it with in the form of vegetables, herbs, and spices – it also cooks in its juices, absorbing and fortifying its flavors.
This recipe for a whole grilled fish wrapped in a banana leaf comes from Vietnam, but recipes like this are popular across Asia.
If you haven’t had a grilled fish in its entirety, shared with friends and family, you owe it to yourself to have that beautiful dining experience. The delicious, marinated fish eyes are just the cherry on top!
Calories Per Serving: 50
Preparation Time: 25 Minutes
Frequently Asked Questions
Is It Ok To Eat Fish Eyes?
In many western countries, it is considered gross or taboo to eat the eyes of any animal.
The source of this taboo is debated, but it could have something to do with the western concept of the eyes as the gateway to the soul, or as a particularly human feature that reminds us of what we have in common with animals.
However, it is just as likely that westerners simply grew up on a diet of entirely farmed animals, with so much excess that there was no necessity to use every part of the animal.
The popularity of fish fillets over whole-cooked fish likely led to an even further distance between people and the fish they eat.
Don’t let cultural taboos stop you from enjoying delicious and nutritious food! It is perfectly OK to eat fish eyes, and as more people stretch their culinary imaginations, it is becoming more common around the world.
What Does Cooked Fish Eye Taste Like?
Raw fish eyes have been described as similar to the taste of raw oysters, with a strong fishy taste and a powerful pop of umami flavor.
Cooked fish eyes have a mellower, more balanced flavor, and a softer texture. There is still a cartilaginous crunch at the center of each fish eye, but the flavor is milder and the umami flavor is less fishy and more wholesome.
What Happens To Fish Eyes When Cooked?
Fish eyes change when they are heated, in both flavor and texture.
The flavor shifts from a bright, strong, fishy flavor to a more subtle, mellow burst of umami.
The texture also changes, from that of a firm grape or olive to something softer and more malleable.
You can even tell how well-done a fish is while cooking it by looking at the eyes, which change as the fish cooks.
Translucent eyes resemble raw fish and indicate that the fish is undercooked. Opaque eyes are perfectly cooked and indicate that the fish is probably done and can be removed from the heat. By the time fish eyes are sunken, the fish is at least a little bit overcooked.
Are Fish Eyeballs Hard?
Fish eyes are really made up of multiple parts, with different textures. The outer parts of fish eyes are gelatinous and soft, like the flesh of a grape.
The exterior of a fish eye is slightly sticky to the touch. The interior part of the eye is harder, with a crunch that has been compared to a wafer.
No part of a fish eye is really “hard”, like the pit of an olive, for example. You can bite through a fish eye without too much difficulty, especially if it is cooked.
However, there is a crunchy center to fish eyes you will need to bite through to get to most of the flavor.
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