What Does Smelt Taste Like? A Delicious Fish You May Miss

Like tilefish, smelt is considered one of the least fishy fish because of its small length and lean meat. With a humble length and little in weight, it is hard to believe this fish can be a strong ingredient in a wide range of famous recipes in the world, specifically in North America and East Asia cuisine. 

If you’re new to this kind of fish and wonder, “What kind of fish is smelt?” and “What does smelt taste like?” Let me share with you some interesting facts about this small fish. 

What Is A Smelt?

Smelt is a member of the Osmeridae family, commonly residing in Northeast Asia, North America, North Pacific Oceans, North Atlantic, and many rivers and streams in Europe. The typical smelts that you can find in the markets are freshwater smelt fish like rainbow smelt and American smelt.

Their first appearance in the U.S was in 1912 when people planted many rainbow smelts in the Crystal Lake of Michigan. The smelt fish then expanded to the Great Lakes and changed the whole local habitat of other fish species like sea lamprey and lake trout. 

Like salmon, smelts tend to stay at sea, but they can go upstream to fresh water in breeding seasons, except surf smelts which tend to stay solely at sea. 

When buying smelts, they are usually frozen because of their high perishable quality. You can find them two-finger wide, with a silvery and herring-like look. Smelt’s color can range from pale green to olive with a broad silver-colored strip on both sides. Normally, they are gutted and headed before placing them on the store’s shelves.

The average smelt can reach a size of 8 inches or 20 centimeters in length. Sometimes they can even grow up to 28 inches or 70 centimeters. With a small size, the silvery fish are known for their recreational usage, which is netted with dip nets by anglers to attract bigger fish like salmon, lake trout, and striped bass. 

Still, is smelt only used as bait? Do people process smelt for cooking purposes? Let’s find out more about the cooking aspect of this 6-10 inch fish.

Can You Eat Smelt?

According to researchers, because of their small size, smelt has a generally low content of mercury level, which is safe for people to consume an abundance of smelts per portion. This species of smelt is also a high source of many healthy nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids. Still, they’re not the only reasons people love serving this fish.

With their tasty texture and extraordinary flavor, you can eat the whole parts of a smelt, including their meat and bones. Smelts are used for baking, frying, and broiling to bring out their amazing features.

What Does Smelt Taste Like?

what does smelt taste like

Many people find smelts have an odor of fresh cucumber instead of fishiness. When eaten whole, smelts have a soft texture with a mild taste varied among melt types. Smelt also contains less meat content with a super oily and fatty percentage on their body. Particularly, the freshwater smelt has higher oil than saltwater smelt. 

So, what does smelt taste like exactly? Does it smell good? Let’s get into the details!

When preparing fresh smelts, you should see translucent pink meat without any discoloration areas. Unlike other fish with a noticeable fishy odor, smelts have a fresh cucumber smell, perfect for anyone who doesn’t like the fishy smell on their clothes.

Because of their small length, cooking small, silvery-green fish gives you such convenience because they can fit their whole body in your frying pan. Smelts have a mild and sweet flavor with exceptionally tender consistency from the meat to the bones when cooked. 

The delicate flavor and crunchy texture can vary with different cooking methods. If you love the sweet taste of fish meat, you can bake or broil a handful of fish. In this way, the smelt becomes amazingly tender with soft white meat that you can enjoy their meat and bones completely.

Smelts are popular for frying fish because of their low meat ratio. You can put them in a pan full of oil and fry them from head to tail. As a result, the batter-covered flavors become extra crispy with a mild flavor of fish that you can use as an amazing snack to munch on.

How To Eat Smelt

When preparing smelts from 6 inches in length, you can remove the head with a clean slice across the fins. That way, you can get both the guts and the heads out, leaving the meaty parts left. Once they are thawed, you can start cooking a whole batch of smelts.

The most common way people use to cook smelt is by frying them like the ole’ smelt fry. It is an iconic dish that you must try if you’re new to this small fish. The Italians are so fond of this fish that they have smelt fish fries on Christmas Eve.

To keep the delicate flavor of the fish, you should use a light batter like tempura batters. Cover their whole body thoroughly without any holes; you can fry these small smelts on your frying pan on medium heat for 2-3 minutes on each side.

Smelt can also be fried in a traditional way – coated with flour and black pepper. The result will be a flavorful, crispy, and tasty cover with soft and steamy meat inside.


Where To Buy Smelt Fish?

Smelt fish have a wide habitat in freshwater areas and seas. The most popular smelt source is from Canada’s freshwaters, from Northeast to Eastern Canada. They can be found close to rivers and shore, where they breed from April to May; however, they are sold frozen so that you can find them in the market all year round.

Is Smelt Healthy To Eat?

Although they are small with not much meat, smelt is packed with various vitamins and minerals. They contain calcium which helps improve your teeth and bones, and phosphorus that converts food into nutrients and energy in your body.

Regarding vitamins, smelts are a high source of vitamin D and B, which strengthen your bones and teeth, enhance your skin, blood flow, and brain functions. The calories inside 3-ounce smelts are super low so that you can add them to your healthy diet plan.

Do You Eat The Bones In Smelt?

Smelt has a significantly small size compared to other common fishes like catfish, salmon, and tuna. This is why their bone structure becomes super soft and tender when they are fried completely. You can easily taste their meat with a crunchy taste from the bone that goes smoothly down your throat.

What Fish Is Similar To Smelts? 

Smelts are not the only small fish that have a delicate flavor and healthy nutrients in their body. Similar to smelts, sardines and anchovies are both small fish that are low in the mercury level. They also have an amazing flavor and crispy texture that you can enjoy from head to tail, meat to bones.


What does smelt taste like?” is a common question for those who are new to smelt. With my post, you can find some useful information about this small fish. Along with some practice and experiment, your cooking recipes will be much more flavorful with the smelts fish.

Kevin Richard

Hi all! I’m Kevin. I spend plenty of time in the kitchen every day because I love cooking healthy and delicious foods for my family and friends. Cooking gives me a chance to be creative and fun. It’s also one of the most meaningful ways to express my love and take care of my little family.

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