Recently we published a series of mythbusters about farmed salmon. Now we’re turning out attention to a farmed fish that may be the victim of even more myths and scare-stories: the humble pangasius.

The pangasius goes by many names including basa, swai or river cobbler. The reason for some of these names may be that the poor pangasius has experienced some bad PR over the years. But we don’t think another rebrand is needed: the truth behind some of the myths below demonstrates that this affordable, versatile fish is actually a seafood superstar.

If you’re looking for more information about the pangasius, we have a whole page dedicated to them, not to mention lots of recipes to try at home.

Just one of the ways this versatile fish can be used – see our recipe pages for more inspiration

Myth One: all pangasius is filled with water

This refers to ‘glazing’: a protective layer of water is added to the outside of the fish to protect it during shipment. But, given that water is cheaper than pangasius, there can be a temptation to add a lot of water to increase the weight, meaning the consumer gets less fish than they paid for.

This issue has made headlines in the past, and there are unscrupulous actors in any industry, but the idea that all pangasius is being pumped full of water is far-fetched. What’s more, in many regions there are strict rules about labelling, meaning that consumers can always check exactly how much fish they’re buying. Europe is perhaps the most important export market for pangasius, and the EU has strict rules meaning the weight displayed on packaging must be the weight of the pangasius without the glaze.

These rules have two effects. If you’re in the EU, of course, it will directly protect you from being misled by packaging. But because the EU is such an important market for pangasius producers, these rules make it less worthwhile to add lots of glazing to products in the first place.

A Vinh Hoan pangasius farm in Vietnam. Some misconceptions about farmed pangasius are linked to unfair assumptions about Vietnam, a major producer of the fish

Myth Two: pangasius is filled with toxic chemicals from the Mekong River

This is a particularly unfortunate myth. Many websites and news stories claim that pangasius is filled with remnants of the pesticides dropped on Vietnamese forests by the US Air Force during the war.

When scientists took these (usually unsourced) media claims and decided to test pangasius to see if they contained any of the laundry list of scary chemicals, they found ‘no food safety concern’. For many chemicals they found that Vietnamese pangasius contained less than other fish produced elsewhere in the world.

One unpleasant thing about this myth is that it is founded in a very real tragedy. Harmful pesticides really were dropped on Vietnam, and in the areas where these pesticides were stored there continue to be harmful levels of toxic chemicals affecting the people living there. As if that wasn’t bad enough, some critics now seek to use this against the Vietnamese, as evidence that their exports cannot be trusted. We think what can’t be trusted is unsourced claims. The fact is, when people actually bothered to test pangasius from Vietnam, they found no such risk existed.

Myth Three: pangasius is a garbage fish

This criticism suggests that pangasius eats anything, including literal garbage, and is therefore unsafe to eat. This has led some to claim, unfairly, that pangasius is a garbage fish, not fit for human consumption. But what a pangasius can or can’t eat in certain circumstances is irrelevant: what matters is what they are actually being fed.

As with the claims on toxic chemicals, much of these claims are based on the idea that the Mekong River is dirty, and therefore all fish processed in the Mekong Delta must be dirty as well. But in Vietnam, pangasius producers are bound by rules on food safety and hygiene. In addition, legislation covering imports requires food safety requirements to be met – again, the EU is a good example of this, and its importance as a market means its rules are likely to be followed by Vietnamese producers.

Feeding time at a pangasius farm in Vietnam: no garbage in sight

Myth Four: pangasius farmers pollute the environment

As we’ve said many times before, any claim this vague has very little value. As with all food production, some farmers will be less responsible than others, and if it isn’t done properly pangasius farming can of course affect the environment. Fortunately, ASC’s Pangasius Standard includes strict requirements on monitoring water quality, and limiting environmental impacts of feed ingredients and waste, among many others.

So, if you look for the ASC logo, you can be assured that the pangasius you’re buying is not only very underrated and surprisingly tasty, but also responsibly produced. And that’s true no matter what name you call it.


Published on
Wednesday, 16 February 2022
Confidental Infomation