The Hilsa fish, also known as Ilish or Hilsa herring, holds a special place in culinary traditions and cultural practices. It is a highly sought-after fish known for its delicate flavour, distinctive taste, and smooth texture. Found primarily in the rivers and coastal waters of the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, the hilsa fish has become an integral part of the local cuisine in countries like Bangladesh, India, and Myanmar.

Hilsa has a rich history and cultural significance, making it a subject of admiration, inspiration, and artistic expression. This article explores the various aspects of hilsa fish, including, physical characteristics, culinary uses, nutritional value and culinary methods. By understanding the multifaceted nature of this remarkable fish, we can appreciate its value and contribute to its preservation.

Description Of Hilsa Fish

The hilsa fish has distinct physical characteristics that contribute to its allure and recognition. 

  1. Shape and Body Structure: Hilsa fish has a slender, elongated body with a streamlined shape, well-adapted for swift swimming. It possesses a compressed body profile, tapering towards the rear, allowing it to navigate through swift currents with ease.
  1. Size: The size of hilsa fish can vary depending on factors such as age and habitat. They typically range in length from about 30 centimetres (12 inches) to 60 centimetres (24 inches). However, larger specimens can reach up to 75 centimetres (30 inches) in length.
  1. Weight: Hilsa fish can weigh anywhere between 500 grams (1.1 pounds) to 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds). Some exceptional individuals may even exceed these weights.
  1. Shiny Silver Scales: The hilsa fish is characterized by its shiny silver scales, which cover its body. These scales reflect light, giving the fish a lustrous appearance. The silver sheen is particularly striking when the fish is caught under sunlight or artificial light.
  1. Prominent Gill Plates: Hilsa fish possess large and distinct gill plates on the sides of their heads. These gill plates, also known as opercula, are bony structures that protect the delicate gill filaments responsible for respiration. The presence of these prominent gill plates is a defining feature of hilsa fish.

Nutritional Value and Health Benefits

Hilsa fish not only delights the palate but also offers numerous nutritional benefits. Here’s an overview of its macronutrient composition and richness in essential vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids:

  1. Protein: Hilsa fish is an excellent source of protein, containing approximately 21 grams per 100 grams. Protein is essential for muscle growth, tissue repair, and overall body development.
  1. Fat: Hilsa fish is relatively high in fat content, consisting of healthy fats that contribute to its distinct flavor and texture. It contains around 14 grams of fat per 100 grams. The fat content contributes to its rich and moist nature.
  1. Carbohydrates: Hilsa fish is low in carbohydrates, with minimal amounts present. This makes it a suitable option for low-carb diets.
  1. Vitamins: Hilsa fish is a good source of various vitamins, including vitamin A, vitamin D, and several B vitamins such as vitamin B12, niacin, and riboflavin. These vitamins play crucial roles in supporting vision, promoting bone health, maintaining healthy skin, and aiding in metabolism.
  1. Minerals: Hilsa fish is rich in minerals that are essential for maintaining overall health. It contains notable amounts of calcium, phosphorus, iron, and selenium. These minerals contribute to bone strength, blood cell production, and antioxidant defence.
  1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Hilsa fish is renowned for its high content of omega-3 fatty acids, particularly eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These essential fatty acids are known for their potential benefits in reducing inflammation, promoting heart health, supporting brain function, and improving overall well-being.

The nutritional composition of hilsa fish makes it a valuable addition to a balanced diet. Its protein content contributes to satiety and muscle development, while the presence of healthy fats and omega-3 fatty acids offer potential cardiovascular and cognitive benefits. Additionally, the presence of vitamins and minerals further enhances its nutritional value, making hilsa fish a wholesome choice for those seeking a nutrient-rich seafood option. 

Health Benefits of Hilsa Fish in Detail

Hilsa fish, known for its unique flavour and culinary significance, also offers a range of health benefits due to its nutrient composition. Here are the detailed health benefits associated with consuming hilsa fish:

Heart Health

Hilsa fish is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, specifically EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Research says that they help reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure, decrease triglyceride levels, and improve overall cardiovascular health. Regular consumption of hilsa fish may reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.

The omega-3 fatty acids found in hilsa fish can help regulate cholesterol levels by increasing levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good” cholesterol) and reducing levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad” cholesterol). This helps maintain a healthy lipid profile and reduces the risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease.

Brain Function

Studies show that the omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA, found in hilsa fish play a vital role in brain function and development. They are essential components of brain cell membranes and help support cognitive function, memory, and learning abilities. Regular consumption of hilsa fish may contribute to improved brain health and a reduced risk of age-related cognitive decline, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Furthermore, scientific research indicates that omega-3 fatty acids have also been associated with improved mood and mental well-being. They may help reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and mood disorders by regulating neurotransmitters and reducing inflammation in the brain.

Eye Health

Hilsa fish contains nutrients like vitamin A and omega-3 fatty acids that are beneficial for maintaining healthy eyes and vision. As per research, vitamin A is crucial for proper vision, and its deficiency can lead to night blindness and other eye-related issues. Additionally, studies indicate that omega-3 fatty acids, specifically DHA, are found in high concentrations in the retina and play a protective role against age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and other vision impairments.

Bone Health

Hilsa fish is a good source of calcium and phosphorus, which are essential minerals for maintaining strong and healthy bones. Scientific findings suggest an adequate intake of calcium and phosphorus is necessary for bone mineralization, preventing conditions such as osteoporosis and improving overall bone density.

Immune Function

Vitamin D: Hilsa fish is a natural source of vitamin D, a nutrient crucial for maintaining a strong immune system. Study shows that vitamin D helps modulate the immune response, reduces the risk of autoimmune diseases, and plays a role in preventing respiratory infections, including the common cold and flu.

Vitamin B12 and Selenium: Research shows Hilsa fish contains vitamin B12 and selenium, which are important for immune system functioning. Vitamin B12 supports the production of immune cells, while selenium acts as an antioxidant and helps protect immune cells from oxidative damage.

Importance of Hilsa Fish in Culinary Traditions and Cultural Significance

The hilsa fish holds immense importance in culinary traditions and is deeply embedded in the cultural fabric of the regions where it is found. Here are some key points highlighting its significance:

  1. Culinary Delicacy: Hilsa fish is considered a delicacy and is highly prized for its unique flavour and succulent meat. Its tender flesh, rich in oils, imparts a distinct taste that is often described as buttery and mouthwatering. The fish is known for its exquisite texture and the ability to absorb flavours from spices and seasonings, making it a favourite ingredient in many traditional dishes.
  1. Traditional Recipes: Hilsa fish is prepared in various ways, reflecting the culinary diversity of the regions where it is cherished. It is commonly marinated, steamed, fried, or cooked in curries, often incorporating local spices, herbs, and ingredients. The recipes are often passed down through generations, creating a solid link between the past and present.
  1. Festive and Special Occasion Food: Hilsa fish is often associated with festive occasions and special events. It is a centrepiece of celebration during festivals like Pohela Boishakh (Bengali New Year) and Durga Puja in Bengal, where elaborate feasts featuring hilsa fish are prepared and enjoyed with family and friends. Its presence in these events enhances its cultural significance and brings people together.
  1. Social and Community Bonding: The preparation and consumption of hilsa fish often bring communities together, fostering social bonds and strengthening relationships. It is common to see families and friends gathering around a table to relish a hilsa meal, sharing stories, laughter, and creating cherished memories. The fish acts as a catalyst for communal harmony and togetherness.
  1. Symbol of Prosperity: In many cultures, hilsa fish is associated with good luck, prosperity, and abundance. It is often served during auspicious occasions, weddings, and important ceremonies as a symbol of wealth and blessings. The presence of hilsa fish in such events signifies a desire for prosperity and well-being.
  1. Art and Literature: Hilsa fish has also inspired various forms of art, literature, and poetry. Its grace, beauty, and cultural significance are often depicted in paintings, sculptures, and literary works, showcasing its influence beyond the culinary realm.

Culinary Uses and Popularity in Various Cuisines

Hilsa fish holds a prominent position as a culinary delicacy in various cuisines, especially in the regions where it is found. Its unique flavour, delicate texture, and versatility make it a highly sought-after ingredient. Here are some culinary uses and their popularity in different cuisines:

  1. Bengali Cuisine: Hilsa fish is an integral part of Bengali cuisine, particularly in Bangladesh and West Bengal, India. It is widely celebrated and revered for its exquisite taste. Hilsa dishes like “Ilish Bhapa” (steamed hilsa), “Ilish Pulao” (hilsa fish pilaf), and “Shorshe Ilish” (hilsa fish cooked in mustard sauce) are iconic and highly cherished in Bengali households.
  1. Odia Cuisine: In the state of Odisha, India, hilsa fish is known as “Ilisha” or “Palla.” It holds a special place in the cuisine, with dishes like “Pohala Hilsa” (fried hilsa fish), “Hilsa Macha Tarkari” (hilsa fish curry), and “Amba Hilsa” (hilsa fish cooked with raw mango) being popular delicacies.
  1. Myanmar Cuisine: Hilsa fish, called “nga-pi,” is widely consumed in Myanmar. It is a key ingredient in traditional dishes such as “Htamin Jin” (hilsa fish rice) and “Hilsa Fish Soup,” where it adds a distinct flavour and richness.
  1. Indian Cuisine: Hilsa fish is enjoyed in various parts of India, including the coastal regions of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala. It is used in dishes like “Pulasa Pulusu” (hilsa fish curry) and “Hilsa Fry,” showcasing its versatility in different regional preparations.

Traditional Recipes and Cooking Techniques

Hilsa fish is prepared using various traditional recipes and cooking techniques, ensuring that its flavours are enhanced while preserving its delicate texture. Here are some popular methods of cooking hilsa fish:

  1. Steaming: Steaming is a favoured method to cook hilsa fish while retaining its natural flavours and tenderness. The fish is often marinated with spices, wrapped in banana leaves or foil, and steamed to perfection. This method is used in dishes like “Bhapa Ilish” in Bengali cuisine.
  1. Frying: Frying is another popular technique to prepare hilsa fish. It is often marinated with spices, coated in a batter, and deep-fried until golden and crispy. This method is used in dishes like “Ilish Bhaja” (fried hilsa fish) in Bengali cuisine.
  1. Grilling: Grilling hilsa fish imparts a smoky flavour while preserving its succulence. The fish is marinated with spices, herbs, and sometimes mustard paste before being grilled over charcoal or an open flame. Grilled hilsa fish is commonly enjoyed in various coastal regions.
  1. Curries and Stews: Hilsa fish is often cooked in flavorful curries and stews, where it absorbs the rich flavours of spices, herbs, and other ingredients. These preparations vary across different cuisines and may include coconut milk, tamarind, mustard, or other regional spices.

Traditional recipes and cooking techniques celebrate the unique qualities of hilsa fish, ensuring that it is enjoyed to its fullest potential. These methods help to highlight the delicate flavour, texture, and aroma, making hilsa fish an exquisite delicacy in the culinary world.

HealthifyMe Suggestion 

The Hilsa is a favourite with the Bengali community in India. In order to preserve the flavours of this fish, they use minimal spices to make a delectable dish. Ilish Maach Bhaja or Hilsa fry is an all-time favourite for Bengalis. It’s an easy preparation. All you need to do is marinate the fish with salt and turmeric for about 15 minutes and then shallow or deep fry this fish in hot oil until nice and crisp and golden brown. We highly recommend shallow frying or air frying the fish for health purposes. Top this with chopped green chillies and serve with rice and curries.


In conclusion, hilsa fish is not only a culinary delight but also offers a range of health benefits. Its richness in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and proteins makes it a nutritious addition to a balanced diet. The omega-3 fatty acids in hilsa fish promote heart health, support brain function, and contribute to eye health. It also aids in maintaining strong bones, boosting the immune system, and providing essential nutrients for overall well-being. Whether it’s the heart-healthy properties, the cognitive benefits, or the support for eye and bone health, hilsa fish proves to be a valuable addition to a healthy lifestyle. So, the next time you savour the delicate flavours of hilsa fish, know that you’re not only enjoying a culinary delicacy but also nourishing your body with its numerous health benefits. 

Disclaimer: The purpose of this article is just to disperse knowledge and raise awareness. It does not intend to replace medical advice from professionals. For further information please contact our certified nutritionists Here

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. What is the advantage of hilsa fish? 

Hilsa fish offers several advantages due to its nutrient composition. It is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which promote heart health, support brain function, and reduce inflammation in the body. Hilsa fish also provides essential vitamins, minerals, and proteins, contributing to overall well-being and supporting various bodily functions.

Q. Is hilsa fish high in cholesterol? 

Hilsa fish is relatively high in cholesterol compared to other types of fish. However, it is important to note that dietary cholesterol does not have as significant an impact on blood cholesterol levels as was previously believed. The benefits of consuming hilsa fish, such as its omega-3 fatty acids, outweigh any potential concerns about its cholesterol content. As with any food, moderation is key.

Q. Is hilsa fish good for the liver? 

Hilsa fish contains omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to have positive effects on liver health. These fatty acids can help reduce inflammation and improve liver function. However, if you have a pre-existing liver condition, it is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional regarding the suitability and portion size of hilsa fish in your diet.

Q. How to preserve hilsa fish? 

Hilsa fish is highly perishable and requires proper preservation methods. Here are some common ways to preserve hilsa fish:

a. Refrigeration: Store fresh hilsa fish in a sealed container or wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate it at a temperature below 40°F (4°C). Consume it within 1-2 days.

b. Freezing: If you want to preserve hilsa fish for a longer period, you can freeze it. Clean the fish, wrap it in plastic wrap or aluminum foil, place it in a freezer bag, and store it in the freezer at a temperature below 0°F (-18°C). Frozen hilsa fish can typically be kept for up to 3 months.

Q. Does hilsa fish have omega-3? 

Yes, hilsa fish is known for its high omega-3 fatty acid content. It is particularly rich in EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which are important types of omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids provide various health benefits, including supporting heart health, brain function, and reducing inflammation in the body.

Reference Links 

  1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids EPA and DHA: Health Benefits Throughout Life:
  1. Effects of Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids on Brain Functions: A Systematic Review:,from%20an%20omega%2D3%20supplement.
  1. Omega-3 fatty acids for mood disorders:
  1. The Role of Vitamin A in Retinal Diseases:,indirectly%20associated%20with%20vitamin%20A.
  1. Omega-3 for your eyes:
  1. Bone Mineralization and Calcium Phosphorus Metabolism:
  1. Vitamin D:,production%20of%20microbe%2Dfighting%20proteins.
  1. Immunomodulation by vitamin B12: augmentation of CD8+ T lymphocytes and natural killer (NK) cell activity in vitamin B12-deficient patients by methyl-B12 treatment:,an%20immunomodulator%20for%20cellular%20immunity.