In one corner we have a beautiful hand made plate of Katsuo, (a plate of thinly sliced skipjack tuna, seared on the outside and completely raw in the middle, served thinly sliced with ponzu citrus or garlic and ginger). In the other corner, a juicy, perfectly done slab of gorgeous salmon baked to flawlessness on a slab of cedar with bourbon glaze.

Cooked fish vs. Raw Fish. What’s the difference?

This debate, or fight, has been going on for years and there are some differences between each. We’ll look at this from both sides.

Round 1: Is eating raw fish safe and healthy?

The Negatives: There are several practical reasons for cooking fish at home. Cooking your fish at home kills bacteria and any parasites that may cause disease. Parasites do not all cause obvious or acute symptoms but may cause harm over the long term. Parasitic infections in humans have been major health issues in many tropical countries, many of them transmitted by infected drinking water or improperly cooked food: including raw fish.

Raw fish can harbor bacteria that can cause food poisoning. A normal rather healthy person, while unpleasant, could soldier through a bought of food poisoning with minimal medical help. Some bacteria, however, such as Listeria, Virbio, Clostridium and Salmonella are potentially far more harmful and have been detected in raw fish. People with weak immune systems, the elderly, young children, HIV patients, and pregnant or nursing women should avoid eating raw fish as they are far more susceptible to infections and are at high-risk.

The Positives: Not all raw fish storage and handling is made equal, and despite the frightening findings above, not all raw fish are harmful. One U.S. study found that only about 10% of imported, raw seafood, and, even lower—3% of domestic seafood tested positive for Salmonella.

Additionally, roughly only 12 women in 100,000 in the U.S.A get infected from bacteria on raw fish.

Eating raw fish from highly qualified, wild-caught sources that are well researched and reviewed or eating sashimi or sushi from an expert sushi chef at a restaurant with high health-code standards, greatly reduces the risk of bacteria infections, parasites, food poisoning and the risk of eating a fish that may be mislabeled. Reputable fish markets and sushi chefs are a boon to reducing any health risks to eating raw fish. Skip the grocery aisle for homemade sushi, sashimi, or raw fish meals and find your local fishmonger.

Round 2: Raw or Cooked: Pollutants are possible.

Unfortunately, whether you prefer to consume your fish raw or thoroughly cooked, the risk of it being polluted remains, as organic pollutants or industrially produced chemicals do not disappear when cooked. Fish are known to collect persistent organic pollutants (POPs) that are toxic, especially farmed fish as contaminated fish feed seems to be a contributing issue. In the case of Mercury, it binds to the meat and cooking will not get rid of it.

Round 3: Are there actual health benefits to eating raw fish instead of cooked?

The Positives: There are a few health benefits to eating raw fish. Occasionally when cooking fish, contaminants may form when fried, grilled or baked that were not present in its raw form. An example of this is fish cooked under very high heat may contain various amounts of heterocyclic amines (HCAs.) These are chemicals formed when muscle meat is cooked using high temperature methods such as pan frying or grilling directly over an open flame. In laboratory experiments, HCA’s have been found to be mutagenic, meaning, they can cause changes in DNA and that may be an increased risk in cancer.

There is evidence that also suggests that the amount of Omega-3 fatty acids, responsible for helping developing brains, heart health, maintaining brain health, skin health, and so much more may be reduced when cooking fish. Omega-3 is essential in keeping our cardiovascular system healthy.

Raw fish often avoids using, and thus assists you in avoiding chemicals in preservatives found in processed foods, lowering the risks of allergic reactions, digestive and respiratory issues synthetics associated with synthetic preservatives can cause.

Fish is filling, and it’s naturally a lower calorie meat, so it’s a smart choice for those working on eating healthier and less fat. Raw fish has a robust, rich flavor which means cutting calories without cutting the taste. The other benefits of raw fish that have nothing to do with health is not having to cook, saving time and lowering the amount of dishes to clean, and the ability to appreciate raw dishes’ cultural diversity.

The Negatives: When you’re DIYing tuna sushi at home, relying on your grocery store chain for tuna isn’t the best choice. There’s a reason many pieces of ‘fresh’ fish are already filleted at the fish counter—they aren’t fresh. To get the best of the best, you’ll have to do some extra sensory work.

  • Buy whole.
  • Body of fish is stiff
  • Eyes are glistening, not dull or sunken
  • Deep red gills
  • Fish that smells of the ocean, not overwhelmingly “fishy.” Ammonia smell takes over when fish begin to break down.
  • Specify to your fishmonger you’re looking for the freshest and for sushi, sashimi, or raw fish dishes. They may have an even fresher piece.

Round 4: The Last Round

So, what is the bottom line in this fight against cooked fish vs raw fish? Did the Katsuo win, or the bourbon glazed, cedar planked salmon?

They both win. But how?

The Raw Tuna: The person who made the amazing Katsuo dish did everything to minimize any risk of parasitic or bacterial infections in their raw tuna. They:

  • Inspected their fish thoroughly.
  • May have purchased a fish flash frozen at -31 degrees Fahrenheit (-35 c) which kills parasites. (Most household freezers cannot get that cold.)
  • Bought their tuna from a reputable supplier, market or fish monger.
  • Made sure it smelled fresh, like the ocean, not fishy.
  • Immediately made the dish as soon as they came home.
  • Did not leave fish out or away from the cold very long.
  • Remembered to thoroughly wash hands before and after handling the fish.
  • Thoroughly sanitized kitchen and utensils.

The Baked Salmon:

  • This person made sure to inspect their fish thoroughly before purchasing.
  • This person made sure to purchase wild-caught, or local fish monger/market fish.
  • This person researched where to find the best fish and what season was best, and where the fish came from.
  • Made sure the fish looked, felt and smelled fresh.
  • Did not leave the fish out long.
  • Cooked the fish immediately or that day of purchase.
  • Cooked the fish low and slow, ensuring delicate flavors and moisture remained intact.
  • Thoroughly washed hands, and sanitized kitchen utensils.

You can see that with careful consideration, arming yourself with the know-how and a little brain work beforehand, the battle between cooked fish vs raw fish is really no battle at all, and can have the hazards and risks balanced completely as long as you are careful. Keep these things in mind and you’re ready to tackle the battle of raw or cooked fish!