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What is Mahi-Mahi?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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Mahi-mahi, or “mahimahi” as it is more traditionally written, is a type of saltwater fish commonly found in warm coastal waters around the world. Cooks in the United States tend to associate it with Hawaiian cuisine, and the word mahi is Hawaiian for “strong.” The fish is very popular in the Hawaiian Islands, but it is also found in Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, and even some parts of Australia and New Zealand. It has a mild flavor and can be prepared many different ways, and it is a staple part of many island-themed meals.

Availability in the Marketplace

This fish is widely available at markets and grocery stores throughout the world, though finding it fresh is often harder than finding it frozen. Most connoisseurs agree that the best way to enjoy the fish is fresh from the ocean, though this is often impossible in non-coastal regions. Many major commercial vendors will “flash freeze” the fish once they are caught, which makes them much easier to transport over longer distances. Stores can either defrost them and sell them as fresh fillets or keep them in the freezer section for customers to buy and use at their leisure. Once defrosted, fillets usually need to be eaten within a day or two.

Taste Profile

Mahi-mahi is known for its firm white flesh and generally sweet flavor. Most people describe it as less “fishy” tasting that most other species, and there are many different ways to prepare it. Its dry, flaky texture makes a good base for many different sauces, crusts, and flavors. A single fish can yield quite a few servings, which makes it economical for fishermen and grocers alike. This has improved its popularity in many parts of the world.

Cooking Tips

There isn't really a wrong way to prepare mahi-mahi. Breading fillets in crushed macadamia nuts and Japanese-style panko crumbs gives the fish a distinctively Hawaiian flavor, particularly when served alongside tropical fruits or braised in something like pineapple juice or mango nectar. Teriyaki marinades and glazes are also popular, as are more simple preparations. Most cooks agree that the fish is delicious with little more than a drawn butter glaze and a squirt or two of lemon juice.

Grilling is one of the most popular ways to prepare this fish, but broiling, baking, and even frying can be done with great success. The fillets’ tender flakiness also makes them an ideal addition to dishes like ceviche, a sort of cold — and often raw — shredded fish salad, or they can be used in the filling for things like fish tacos and gourmet fish sandwiches.

Health Properties

Medical professionals all over the world often recommend fish as a part of a healthy diet, and mahi-mahi is no exception. Fillets are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, well known for being “good” fats that can help do things like lower overall blood pressure and improve cardiovascular strength. The fish tends to be low in fat but rich in vitamins and minerals, like calcium, iron, and potassium. Eating the fish raw is usually discouraged because of the risk of bacterial infection, but as long as the fillets are very fresh and have been well cleaned, there is rarely any problem. Just the same, most food experts recommend cooking it until the fillets reach an internal temperature of at least 145°F (63°C).

Life in the Wild

Known scientifically as Coryphaena hippurus, mahi-mahi is a somewhat large fish known for its fighting ability and strength. Most are capable of swimming great distances in the open ocean, which probably accounts for the species’ wide geographic dispersal. Early Hawaiian fishermen named the fish in honor of how very difficult they were to catch — most early reports describe men struggling to capture and kill the animals. This made them a prized delicacy.

Mahi-mahi are generally viewed as a very attractive fish. Their scales are usually a combination of gold, blue, and green that reflect sunlight in shallow waters and can be quite striking. Both males and females have a somewhat flattened and squared-off head, though the males do tend to have larger foreheads and more protruding eyes than their female counterparts. The typical specimen weighs about 20 pounds (9.07 kg), although some can be quite a bit larger, especially the males — a number of reports claim that people have made catches weighing over 50 pounds (22.68 kg).

The fish have an average life expectancy of about four years, and their diet is made up primarily of small fish and crustaceans. They’re often near top of the aquatic food chain but are hunted regularly by sharks and other large sea life. In modern times, their numbers have been significantly depleted by the commercial fishing industry.

Controversy and Confusion About Sourcing

Until recently, mahi-mahi were frequently called “dolphin fish,” likely because of how often they can be seen swimming alongside dolphin pods and using similar migration paths. The two have nothing in common other than their habitat, however, and the name has caused a lot of people confusion. Dolphins are mammals, not fish, and are a protected species in most places.

There is a lot of controversy in the commercial fishing industry when it comes to fishing near dolphin pods, as the mammals can get caught in fishing nets or be trapped accidentally. Fishing laws in the U.S. and most of Europe prohibit operations that endanger dolphins, but these practices are not always respected around the world. Stores and restaurants have largely stopped associating mahi-mahi with dolphins to avoid consumer confusion about how the fish are sourced or what they really are, and many also have rules and best practices that their suppliers must follow to ensure that no dolphins are harmed when the fish are caught.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon960624 — On Jul 11, 2014

I was introduced to mahi mahi, and it was off the chain good! I usually love salmon steaks, but this is really really really good! Tile fish is very good too. So mahi, salmon and tile are my top three fish to switch up with. Also whiting, and trout, swai, fillet tilapia and flounder and crappie are some other fish I will eat.

By ddljohn — On Dec 15, 2012
Baked buttery mahi mahi with garlic potatoes is the perfect meal. I think I could eat this fish everyday. Mahi mahi and salmon are on top of my favorite seafood list.

It's too bad that it's hard to find fresh mahi mahi where I live.

By SteamLouis — On Dec 15, 2012
@literally45-- Actually, I think mahi mahi is not too oily and not too dry. So you can basically cook it however you like. I have grilled it and baked it before and it turned out great both ways.

Mahi mahi has a very clean flavor and it's a very firm fish. So I suggest keeping things simple. I like to grill it with some fresh herbs and then pour lemon juice on it and dig in. I just accompany it with some salad and bread. It's really good.

By literally45 — On Dec 14, 2012
@overreactor-- Which do you think is the best way to cook mahi mahi?

Is it an oily fish?

I know that oily fish are better baked and fish that lack oil are better fried. I've never had mahi mahi before so I have no idea which would be best. Please suggest!

By anon263332 — On Apr 24, 2012

Is mahi mahi a type of tuna?

By Evbo — On Mar 27, 2012

I want to put Mahi Mahi on my menu. My understanding is that it's available year round.

By anon149959 — On Feb 06, 2011

is mahimahi a scaled fish?

By anon117454 — On Oct 10, 2010

Both porpoise and dolphin are in the class Mammalia, though different families, smarty pants! I could have told you that even without my Biology degree just by doing a quick search! Mahimahi have been called the dolphin fish! Besides it is not even legal to hunt a marine mammal, much less possess any part of one in the U.S.

By anon104986 — On Aug 18, 2010

@David G: Look up dolphin and you will see that dolphins are mammals, *not* fish. Mahi Mahi is a fish that is not related in any way to a dolphin, A porpoise is also a mammal, but not a dolphin. Try to get your facts straight before posting. Thanks much.

By anon104496 — On Aug 17, 2010

mahi mahi is extremely good grilled!

By anon96780 — On Jul 16, 2010

Animal lovers are too often guided by misinformation. It's a shame because it lessens their credibility on legitimate, serious issues.

By anon73263 — On Mar 26, 2010

I was hooked on Mahi Mahi after a visit to Hawaii. Since then it has been my main source of fish with tuna, code and salmon behind.

So easy to prepare & so darn delicious.

Try it -- you'll like it!

By anon72621 — On Mar 23, 2010

Look up porpoise and then look up dolphin. Porpoises are mammals and dolphins are fish. Mahimahi are dolphins. This is not a mistake. The mistake that most people make, and apparently even the wiseGEEK, is that the porpoise is a dolphin.

David G.

By overreactor — On Feb 21, 2010

There are so many different ways mahi mahi can be prepared. It can be baked, poached, sauteed, fried, and i am sure there are others.

Mahi mahi is low on mercury, maybe because mahi mahi is relatively short lived so mercury does not have a chance to accumulate.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia...
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