Digital grayscale illustration of a tilapia fish

NOUN: a genus name for numerous African freshwater white fin fishes high in protein and easy to raise for the many.

ORIGIN 1849: New Latin, derived from the native Bechuana word thiape meaning 'fish'.

The History of Tilapia

As far back as 2,000 B.C., tilapia were gracing the warm and dazzling waters of the Nile River. Egyptians learned pretty quickly that this fish is extremely adaptable to any environment it is put into, so it therefore became one of the first species of fish to be farmed.

The possibility is certainly there because in 1966, King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand introduced tilapia to help feed rural areas and people that were malnourished. Because this fish reproduces every three months and grows to full size in just six months, tilapia became a clear candidate to feed the masses.

Fast forward to biblical times and there are references to tilapia as well. St. Peter’s fish is a common nickname for tilapia that is still used today. Peter fished in the Sea of Galilee, and he caught a tilapia with a coin in its mouth; this coin then paid off his and Jesus’ debts. There is also the famous story of Jesus feeding the multitudes with only two fish and five loaves of bread. Although the exact type of fish that fed the masses remains a mystery, it is rumored to have been tilapia, since it was a popular fish in the Sea of Galilee and it is a smaller-sized fish.