A basa fish is a type of catfish found in southeast Asia, mainly in Vietnam. The fish is valued for its appeal as a food source, especially in mass markets elsewhere in the world, including the United States. The basa fish can be caught wild as adults, but most are raised in captivity after being caught as fry.
Most basa fish farmed in Vietnam are done so by local farmers along the Mekong River. They are raised in pens that use the natural flow from the river to remove any impurities that may build up over time. Though most catfish varieties do not like strong currents, the basa fish does not seem to mind them, but actually may prefer them. This technique offers a number of advantages for the farmer and increases the reputation of the fish's flavor, if not its value as well.
Known for its mild taste and white, flaky meat, the basa fish is beginning to challenge other sorts of catfish around the world as the preferred food catfish. The method of raising the catfish in the Mekong River has helped it create a following among those who like fish. Most feel the basa fish has a "cleaner" taste than most other forms of farm-raised fish, because of new water constantly flowing in to their pens.
Consumers in the United States were introduced to the fish in 1994, after the trade embargo with Vietnam was finally lifted. Though it took some time for the basa fish to gain a following in the United States, today it has become a serious concern of domestic catfish producers. It is cheaper than domestic catfish, with no noticeable decrease in quality. This has caused some large restaurants and resorts to switch to serving the basa fish, or something that resembles the fish.
For consumers who wish to try basa, it is important to remember that not all catfish labeled as basa fish are true representatives of the species. In fact, most of them are a different species of Asian catfish called tra. These fish are hardier and easier to raise than basa fish and therefore have become the fish of choice for many farmers, even though the quality of meat is supposed to be inferior to basa fish. For those confused, the bottom line is that if you are buying imported catfish for less than $5 US Dollars (USD) per pound, then it is likely not a true basa fish, not matter what the label says.
Is Basa Fish Healthy?
Because most basa fish are farmed in the strong currents of the Mekong River in Vietnam and other Southeast Asian waterways, they are less fatty than other fish. While different varieties thrive in bank reserved cages and bottom-feeding dens, the basa is fine with swimming in crowded cages with the powerful, natural flow of the river.
Not only does the basa have less fat, but it also has fewer calories per serving than some other fish. A typical 140-gram fillet serving of basa includes:
- Calories: 206
- Total Fat: 10 g
- Cholesterol: 94 mg
- Sodium: 170 mg
- Potassium: 523 mg
- Total Carbohydrates: 0g
- Protein: 26 g
The basic nutrition facts are appealing on their own for basa, especially the 26 grams of protein for those who are trying to build macros. However, this Vietnamese fish has essential vitamins and minerals that are healthy for human consumption. The skin of the basa also has vitamin D, necessary for hair, nail, and bone strength. The entire fish carries plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, which may lower the risk of heart disease and are a healthy addition to a balanced diet.
What Kind of Fish Is Basa?
The basa fish is a specific catfish from the Chao Phraya and Mekong River areas in Southeast Asia. The particular type of catfish is called the Pangasius bocourti. The basa belongs to the Pangasiidae family of catfish. In the United States, the basa is more commonly referred to as the bocourti, rather than the basa, but it also goes by other names. You may hear this Southeast Asian fish called the Vietnamese cobbler, the pangasius, the swai, the river cobbler, or the basa pang.
Is Basa Fish Safe To Eat?
A significant concern with fish from other countries is that they are not regulated uniformly. While trade laws sometimes provide a bit of solidarity amongst regulations, there are few uniform standards. One of the main problems is the levels of heavy metals found in seafood in international waters. The good news is, basa is generally found to be within safe limits for heavy metals. However, there have been other issues of great concern.
Farming sometimes has debatable practices within international trade communities. Fish are often tested and have high levels of antibiotics. Antibiotics are overused to keep them safe from infection and bacteria from being farmed in close quarters. Feces, waste, decomposition, and water contaminants can create a damaging environment.
Basa frequently test well above safe limits for pharmaceutical drug levels for human consumption. Another reason why the fish test high for unsafe levels of drugs is the rivers and byways are dumping grounds for hazardous waste both up and downstream from basa farms.
Another potentially harmful issue is the bacteria that is transmitted in farming and processing. Vibrio bacteria, which is a common cause of food poisoning, is often linked to basa. Researchers and regulators are unsure if the basa carries this bacteria naturally or if it forms as part of processing outside the pharmaceutically controlled environment.
Is Basa Fish Expensive?
One of the reasons basa is less regulated and less controlled is that it is so inexpensive. This fish is a quality product that is known for its low cost because of ultra-farming. Buyers are comfortable with the risks involved due to the lower price point.
What Does Basa Fish Taste Like?
Basa is similar to other white fish varieties and less similar to catfish. This taste comparison may be surprising to fish connoisseurs because basa is a type of catfish. However, because it is farmed in the heavy currents of the rivers, it is far less fatty than traditional catfish.
Diners can expect the same mild fish flavor found in haddock, cod, or white fish. It is also similar in texture. Fork-firm fish fillets should flake off but have a bounce to their bite. It can be prepared in the same way as white fish varieties but at a much lower price point.
How Is Basa Cooked?
Because basa is notorious for carrying the Vibrio bacteria, proper storage, preparation, and cooking methods are integral. Be sure to buy seafood only from trustworthy venues. Store the fish at well below 40 degrees Fahrenheit to minimize the spread of bacteria. Wipe down all areas during preparation to ensure you do not cross-contaminate ingredients. Cook the fish to 140 degrees Fahrenheit or higher to reach a safe temperature for human consumption. A popular method of preparation is to poach a fillet of basa in lemon butter and garnish it with parsley.