What Are The Best Spices For Tilapia?

Tilapia differs from salmon and other oily fish in that it is not particularly flavorful. While this means that it is not as highly regarded by seafood lovers, it has one benefit: tilapia is the perfect blank slate for a wide variety of seasonings. It will take on and be enhanced by almost every seasoning in your spice cabinet. The ones listed below are some of the most popular and show up in many tilapia recipes; however, they are not the only ones. Feel free to try others not mentioned here. 

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The most important thing that paprika does is enhance the color of tilapia. Tilapia is not just a relatively bland fish, it is also white and uninteresting to look at. The bright red of paprika stands out and instantly makes it more appealing. While paprika’s flavor is secondary to its looks, it is still an important part of what this spice brings. You don’t use paprika alone; paprika’s mild fruitiness makes an excellent background note to more pungent spices. 

Lemon pepper

Sour citrus fruit goes well with seafood and lemon is arguably the best choice, though lime is preferred in Mexico and the West Indian islands. Lemon pepper is lemon zest plus black pepper, which means you get the fruity astringency of lemon plus a very gentle heat from the pepper. 


If you want heat along with attractive red color, you might want to combine your paprika with a little cayenne. If you want a lot more heat, switch them out altogether. Cayenne pepper has a lighter red color than paprika but is just as attractive when sprinkled on pale tilapia. Note that cayenne doesn’t have the fruity and flavorful character of paprika, just the heat. 


Basil pairs well with citrus fruits including lemon and it works as a seasoning for tilapia as well. Basil works well with tilapia because it does not need a long cooking time to impart its flavor to food and tilapia is a fast-cooking fish. Its anise notes with the hint of mint and citrus can make this relatively bland fish flavorful. 


Thyme brings some of what you get from basil but with an added savory edge. Thyme is stronger and not as sweet as basil. Thyme gives what is a relatively light fish a more robust, umami quality. For a mild citrus note, try lemon thyme instead of the common thyme. 

Black pepper

One of the most basic of all spices, black pepper goes well with everything. Along with its characteristic mild heat, black pepper offers a mild citrus note along with a little bitterness all of which are great complements for tilapia. For best results, grind your own peppercorns just before seasoning your fish.


Celery’s herbaceous flavor profile is a great addition to tilapia and pairs well with the other spices on this list. Celery is also an intensely savory seasoning that ups the umami flavor of baked or steamed tilapia. 


Perhaps the most savory seasoning of all, garlic’s strong sulfur notes go well with the mild flavor of tilapia. Garlic makes tilapia richer and intensifies the meaty properties of all the other seasonings. 


Most descriptions of tarragon’s flavor liken it to anise and licorice. It is light, bright, and perfect for mild proteins like tilapia. It is popular in French preparations for fish, many of which work with tilapia. 


Fennel is another fish-centric herb with a strong licorice note. Along with being a great seasoning, finely chopped fennel fronds enhance the look of tilapia.