What is swai fish?

I see this always in my supermarket (frozen and at Wegmans here in NJ) but I have no idea what type of fish or what it even tastes like. I was going to buy it, but I figured I would first ask my pals here and see if it is worth it or not.

196 Answers

  • coolaugustmoon May 20, 2021

    Short answer, Southeast Asian catfish. Longer answer involves the catfish family tree. It is is not bad, buttery even.

    • GH1618 May 20, 2021

      Here’s the summary from Blue Ocean Institute:


      • Bacardi1 May 20, 2021

        It’s an Asian catfish, & while not bad-tasting (I’ve tried it), I beg you NOT to buy it.

        For starters, all fish coming from Asia are raised under circumstances that are unbelievably frightening at best as far as health concerns. For seconds, markets that purchase this crap do so because it’s cheap, thereby undermining our local fresh farm-raised catfish.

        Please, PLEASE do NOT BUY “SWAI”!!! You’re undermining your own health, plus your local, & HEALTHIER, catfish farmers.

        • PSZaas May 20, 2021

          The swai sold in local supermarkets here in upstate NY is all locally-farmed.

          • Bacardi1 May 21, 2021

            Are you absolutely sure about that? Because according to the U.S. Farmed Catfish Association, there are no Swai farm-raised anywhere in the United States. It’s all imported.

            • PSZaas May 21, 2021

              You might be right. The sign at my local supermarket says “locally farmed,” but I’m thinking that’s only true if you’re living in Vietnam, since I can’t find any hint that there’s farmed catfish anywhere in the NE.

              • law_doc89 Mar 2, 2021

                Swai is a negotiated import treaty term. It CANNOT be swai if it is from the USA.

                • PSZaas Mar 5, 2021


          • Querencia May 31, 2021

            Aren’t vendors required to publish the country of origin of fish? I see that some places do it and it certainly is printed on packaged seafood like frozen scallops and shrimp. I will not buy ANY seafood coming from China, having seen enough newspaper stories of filthy conditions and total lack of regulatory law. I like to think that Thailand is a bit better but invite comments from any who know this not to be true and I will give that up too. I noticed just today at Jewel (big chain in Chicago) that swai of mysterious origin was $3.99 lb while US-farmed catfish was $8.99 lb—there must be a reason.

            • mrtunk Aug 17, 2021

              I hope you realize that you are throwing out unverified propaganda (LIES) fabricated by a scared and greedy Catfish Farmers of America (CFA) in an attempt to stifle foreign competition.An independent study reveals that many Vietnamese fishery farms are cleaner and more efficient than some of our local CFA farms. Get educated on the issue.





              • Uncle Bob Aug 17, 2021

                Three things I don’t/choose to put in my mouth…..Chewing tobacco, Chicken Shit, and Fish from the dooky ditches (their tributaries) and sewage lagoons of SE Asia…..However if you choose to promote, import, enjoy, etc………..

                Fun & Bon Appetit!!

                • Bacardi1 Aug 18, 2021

                  A huge DITTO!!!!!

                  • dpumpkin Apr 28, 2021

                    Just curious if you have personally travelled to SE Asia and have witnessed this? Thanks, Di

                  • ratgirlagogo Aug 19, 2021

                    You do realize that the Monterey Bay Aquarium report you linked to recommends AGAINST purchasing swai, basa, and Asian-farmed catfish:

                    “Basa, Pangasius and Swai are used interchangeably when referring to two species of farmed river catfish from Asia. Catfish farmed in the U.S. is considered a “Best Choice,” as it’s farmed in a more ecologically responsible manner.”

                    • kmcarr Aug 19, 2021

                      Huh?? The MBA Seafood Watch guide (mrtunk’s link) classifies these as a “Good Alternative”. Yes, they do identify American farmed catfish as a “Best Choice” but absolutely are NOT recommending against purchasing Asian Swai (Basa, Pangasius).

                      • tdreese Jan 28, 2021



                      • Violapie Jan 19, 2021

                        We had it for dinner this evening for the first time and we’re not impressed. Never again.

                        • kalama Sep 18, 2021

                          You need to know how to prepare this fish to get the best results

                          • louvog Nov 20, 2021

                            There’s no way that anyone should be eating swai. yes, it’s something cheap from S.E. Asia, that even they would never eat. I spoke to a woman who was preparing to buy it – she was excited that it was $1.99 lb. and stated that it tasted good but her Cat Wouldn’t eat it. Why on earth would a human eat something that an animal won’t. Yes, I’ve been to S.E. Asia and NO, we should not be buying and eating that crap. I have been protesting for years against selling Talapia, Swai, and other fake fish to Americans.

                            • redbanner Dec 4, 2021

                              Relax. We eat plenty of things cats don’t, and cats don’t represent the rest of the animal kingdom when it comes to food choices.

                              I’m not sure what your definition of “fake” fish is.

                              • James Cristinian Dec 4, 2021

                                My cat didn’t like fish. He liked to sit on the counter and watch me clean speckled trout and redfish, but didn’t care for it. He did go wild for the trimmings of fajita meat.

                      • Mslola53 Jul 11, 2021

                        Oh crap…I had some reservations about Swai because it’s so inexpensive…I just endorsed it to someone else [Sorry Angelina) I don’t really care for catfish, and I found Swai to have a milder favor unlike Tilapia which has no favor at all to me…Thanks for you info

                        • kalama Sep 18, 2021

                          Swai is not Catfish, it’s compared to catfish cause it has some similarities! It’s actually one of the best tasting farm raised fish out there if prepared correctly.

                        • go606 Oct 14, 2021

                          I’ve read from many different sources quite the opposite…I’m assuming you are somehow tied to the “home grown” fish industry

                          stop the propoganda

                        • luckyfatima May 20, 2021

                          Ah, I hate to read about the health concerns. I *love* swai. I am not a fish-person. I love shell fish but for some reason fin fish is often malodorous for me and tastes too fishy and I can’t even swallow fish if it is too fishy. Swai is extremely mild tasting and the flesh is tender and creamy…a really nice texture. I use it for fish-fry and fish curries. Of the cheapo grocery store pre-frozen fish, like compared to tilapia and other usual suspects, swai tastes a million times better. I shudder to think about how dirty it must be. So that is fish advice from a person who doesn’t like fish, but just my two cents for whatever it is worth.

                          • tonifi May 21, 2021

                            Yeah…I really can’t answer as to the politics of the thing…nor do I care to. But swai (which I used to find called ‘basa’) is a channel catfish, which is to say, a BIG catfish…which means it can be cut into nice big fillets, unlike most of the other catfish I can purchase, which comes in small chunks. It is also inexpensive, mild, meaty, and I use it anywhere I would use cod (which is much more expensive) or tilapia(which often tastes muddy to me).

                            • GH1618 May 21, 2021

                              No, “channel catfish” is the North American fish. Swai is not even a member of the same family, and may not be called “catfish” for sale as food.


                              • mrtunk Aug 17, 2021

                                Ok, not only are you incorrect about “Channel Catfish” being only the North America variety, you are wrong about the two being of different Families. If you research the two different fish using the fishbase.com link you provided, you can find that the “Channel Catfish” is also native to six other countries , and are the exact same species. Further more the Swai variety is not only the same Family as “Channel Catfish”, it is also of the same Genus, differing only in Species.


                                • GH1618 Aug 17, 2021

                                  You should read more carefully; you seem to have some trouble with biological charts.  I did not write that channel catfish are found only in North America, but the native North American channel catfish, Ictalurus punctatus, is in the family Ictaluridae (North American freshwater catfishes).  Swai, Pangasian hypophthalmus, is in the family Pangasiidae (shark catfishes).  Both are in the order Siluriformes.  They are distant cousins.     

                                • liebuster May 7, 2021

                                  Swai cannot be called catfish because the US catfish farmers lobbied the US congress in 2001 to have it not labeled catfish. Then after 6 years, when swai, basa and tra gained name recognition, and the US catfish farmers were once again losing to them, they lobbied the US congress again to have swai, etc. redefined as catfish!

                                  # http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2021/02…
                                  # http://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-catfi…
                                  # http://www.huffingtonpost.com/susan-b…

                                  • GH1618 Jul 25, 2021

                                    I didn’t see in those articles anything that indicates that the catfish farmers have changed their minds about disallowing fish from the family of Asian “catfish” from being marketed as catfish.

                                    • liebuster Jul 25, 2021

                                      Sorry, my bad.

                                      “In 2021, seeing that Basa & Swai were becoming threats again to the catfish industry, the catfish lobby went back to congress with a new agenda. They had complained six years ago that if was not fair for the Vietnamese to call their fish “catfish” and lobbied Congress to make it illegal to do so. It didn’t work, so now they complained that they want Basa and Swai to be forced to be called catfish! This change would create a lot of red tape which would hurt the Vietnamese import while they scramble to implement changes established by the new law.”

                                      More info: http://www.chefs-resources.com/Is-Vie…

                                      • GH1618 Jul 25, 2021

                                        Thank you, but that’s a secondary source. I can’t find anything on the Catfish Farmers’ Association website which suggests that they have changed their position on the naming of Asian catfish. I would like to see a primary document rather than a secondhand account.

                                        This source is also biased, for example this paragraph:

                                        “In 2002 the catfish industry found that they had lost 20% of catfish sales to Vietnamese catfish. In response, the Catfish Farmers of America did what has become all too common in America today… they shed their integrity and lobbied, whined and complained to Congress to pass some sort of legislation which would hinder or outlaw their competition. They asked Congress to pass a law which would define market place “catfish” in the U.S. as being only the “Channel Catfish” species which they raised. It was an unethical move which unfortunately Congress supported. In 2003 Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott introduced a measure in the U.S. Senate – through an obscure amendment attached to an unrelated appropriations bill – which stated that only the U.S. species of catfish could be called “catfish” in the U.S. market place.”

                                        I don’t think there is anything “unethical” about the actions of the CFA in this matter. They are doing what all trade associations do — trying to protect and promote their business. There is nothing unethical about the naming rule. While the Asian fish are classified as “catfish” by biologists, they are not in the same family as native North American catfish. It is not unusual for culinary terminology to differ somewhat from biological terminology, because the purposes are entirely unrelated. As a consumer of fish, the distinction between “catfish” and “swai” is a meaningful one.

                                        It seems to me that the chefs who think the CFA is “unethical” have a conflict of interest. It appears that they might wish to pass off the cheap Asian fish as the real thing for economic reasons. Who is being “unethical”?

                              • Kate is always hungry Sep 24, 2021

                                My brother also can’t/won’t eat most fish for the same reason-too fishy. He liked the swai at the local fish restaurant. I then found out it was a form of catfish! He keeps kosher and I don’t have the heart to tell him what we were eating wasn’t kosher! Would really have appreciated it if it had been labeled as a type of bottom feeder.

                                • hotoynoodle Sep 27, 2021

                                  does it still count as a bottom-feeder when living in a pen eating corn/soy pellets? not being snarky, truly curious?

                                  • daviddoughty May 8, 2021

                                    Yes because the fish has no scales and kosher laws require the fish go have scales…God is a picky eater.

                                    • Kate is always hungry Sep 18, 2021

                                      Sorry for the late reply. The real issue with swai is no fins, no scales so it’s not kosher. It’s in the same order as catfish. It would be a bottom-feeder if it could be.

                                      • TroyTempest Apr 3, 2021

                                        it has fins. It couldn’t swim without fins

                                    • Tom34 Sep 27, 2021

                                      Leaving the Kosher issue out of it, I think labeling a product a “Bottom Feeder” would likely decrease sales.

                                      • hotoynoodle Sep 27, 2021

                                        lol, yes that too, but i did seriously mean the kosher aspect?

                                        • Tom34 Sep 27, 2021

                                          Good question. Most of the freshwater trout for sale in the stores are raised in hatcheries and fed a diet consisting of the pellets you speak of. Its been years since I have been to a hatchery but if my memory serves me correctly the pellets settle quickly to the bottom.

                                          • ratgirlagogo Sep 27, 2021

                                            I think it’s the lack of scales rather than the bottom feeding that makes catfish treif.

                                            • hotoynoodle Sep 27, 2021

                                              ok, google is my friend:

                                              “The Torah says that fish or any creature that lives in the water must have both scales (kaskekset) and fins (senapir) in order to be considered Kosher.”


                                              nothing about bottom-feeding.

                                          • arejaye Dec 31, 2021

                                            If it’s farm raised, it’s likely fed pellets of food just like any farm raised fish anywhere. As for the kosher thing brought up by Kate, few really give a rats butt if it’s “kosher”, which is a ridiculous concept in itself. Swai is a very good tasting fish, and if you get beyond old womens beliefs and try it, you’ll never know.

                                          • ChefDominick Apr 21, 2021

                                            I know this post is old and I hate to say it but your brother wouldn’t be eating kosher even if he was eating a piece of salmon in the restaurant.

                                            • smartie Nov 24, 2021

                                              Your brother can always google a list such as this http://www.chabad.org/library/article…

                                              I also only eat fish that are considered Kosher so I’ve used lists – some fish have more than one name, and different names in foreign countries, so it’s helpful to google.

                                              • CaliforniaJoseph Jul 17, 2021

                                                That’s not really done though, is it?

                                            • beachmouse May 21, 2021

                                              Swai aka Vietnamese catfish have a very bad reputation down here. It’s what unscrupulous fishmongers and restaurant owners will try to pass off as other much more expensive mild whitefish like grouper or snapper in the name of saving a few bucks, at least in the short term. (If you get caught by the state, it’s a $1000 fine per incident.)

                                              • mrtunk Aug 17, 2021

                                                These are the people giving Swai / Basa a bad name. Swai / Basa, really great fish in its own right.

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