What Does Mackerel Taste Like?

Mackerel is a popular fish enjoyed by many across the world, but if you haven’t yet tried it, you might be curious about its taste. As a type of oily fish, mackerel has a unique flavor profile that sets it apart from other types of fish. Its taste can be described as rich, full-bodied, and with a hint of natural sweetness. The rich and bold flavor of mackerel makes it a versatile choice for various culinary creations.

When comparing mackerel to other fish, its taste can be likened to that of salmon or sardines. However, mackerel has its own distinct characteristics that make it stand out among other fish. Its texture is firm and flaky, which adds to its appeal. Additionally, the fat content of mackerel contributes to its rich, savory taste, making it a popular choice for those who appreciate robust flavors in their seafood.

Key Takeaways

  • Mackerel has a rich, full-bodied taste with a hint of natural sweetness
  • Its flavor can be compared to salmon or sardines, but with its own distinct characteristics
  • The firm texture and high fat content contribute to its bold flavor and culinary versatility

What is Mackerel?

Mackerel is a type of fish that belongs to the Scombridae family, which is mainly characterized by their streamlined bodies, rounded tails, and small finlets behind the dorsal and anal fins. This family of fish encompasses other well-known species like tuna, bonito, and some Spanish mackerels. Due to their distinctive taste and health benefits, mackerel has become a popular choice for seafood enthusiasts.

When it comes to taste, mackerel offers a unique flavor profile that sets it apart from other fish species. Its taste can be described as oily, firm, and rich, with a pronounced savory flavor. The inherent oiliness of the fish might pose a stronger taste compared to some of its Scombridae counterparts, but this quality also helps keep the meat tender and moist when cooked. Mackerel’s flavor can be enjoyed both in fresh and canned forms, making it an easy addition to a variety of dishes.

When you cook mackerel, different methods can enhance the flavor and texture of the fish. For instance, grilling, broiling, or smoking mackerel can result in a delectable smoky note that complements its natural oiliness. Similarly, simple yet effective methods like pan-searing or baking preserve the natural taste of the fish while still imparting a subtle crispiness. To complement your mackerel, it is common to pair the fish with flavors that accentuate its aromatic richness, like citrus, herbs, or spices.

One key advantage of including mackerel in your diet is the numerous health benefits it offers. Mackerel is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are linked to improved heart health, reduced inflammation, and better brain function. Additionally, this fish is packed with essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D, vitamin B12, and selenium, making it a nutrient-dense choice for those who value a balanced diet.

In conclusion, mackerel and its distinctive taste provide a scrumptious and nutritious alternative for fish lovers. While its oiliness might not appeal to everyone’s palate, its unique flavor profile and potential health benefits are certainly worth exploring for adventurous eaters.

Distinctive Features of Mackerel

Mackerel is a popular fish known for its distinctive taste and texture. When you try mackerel for the first time, you’ll notice that its taste can be best described as strong and full-flavored. This is primarily due to its high oil content, which makes it a very moist, tender fish that easily absorbs flavors. The oiliness of mackerel means that it retains its moisture during cooking, making it a versatile option for various cooking methods and dishes.

The texture of mackerel is another important aspect to consider. You’ll notice that it has a firm yet flaky texture, which is a signature of this fish. The firmness makes it perfect for grilling or pan-frying, as it holds up well under high heat and does not fall apart easily. On the other hand, its flaky texture means that the flesh will separate easily into tender chunks when cooked, contributing to a delicious and satisfying eating experience.

Since mackerel has a rich, oily flavor, it is best paired with bold, acidic, or tangy accompaniments that help to balance out the taste. Some common pairings might include lemon, vinegar-based marinades, or fresh herbs like parsley and dill. Experimenting with different seasonings and flavors is a great way to find the perfect combination that suits your taste preferences.

In summary, mackerel is an oily, firm, and flaky fish that offers a strong, full-flavored taste. Its distinct texture makes it suitable for a range of cooking methods and dishes. By pairing it with bold and complementary flavors, you can achieve a well-balanced and delicious meal.

The Taste of Mackerel

Fresh Mackerel

When it comes to the taste of mackerel, freshness is a key factor. Fresh mackerel has a delicate, mild taste that is not overly fishy. It has a subtle sweet undertone that complements its slightly oily texture. The flesh of mackerel is tender, flaky, and moist, making it enjoyable for many seafood lovers.

You may also notice the presence of a mild saltiness when eating mackerel, which can be attributed to its natural habitat in the sea. The flavor of mackerel is often enhanced with various seasonings and cooking techniques, such as grilling, broiling, or pan-frying with herbs and spices.

Canned Mackerel

Canned mackerel, on the other hand, generally has a more pronounced fishy taste compared to its fresh counterpart. The process of canning can lead to a saltier flavor, as canned mackerel is often preserved in brine or oil. This preservation method can bring out a stronger, more assertive essence that some might find to be an acquired taste.

However, canned mackerel retains its tender and flaky texture, as well as its sweetness. To mitigate the fishiness of canned mackerel, you can easily incorporate it in various dishes, such as salads, pasta, or sandwiches, which allows the mackerel’s taste to meld with other ingredients and flavors.

Comparisons with Other Fish

Mackerel Vs Tuna

When comparing mackerel and tuna, you’ll find that mackerel has a stronger, more pronounced flavor. Its taste is often described as rich and oily, whereas tuna has a milder flavor, more akin to a meaty texture. Both fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, but mackerel has a higher fat content which contributes to its bold taste.

Mackerel Vs Salmon

Mackerel and salmon are both oily fish, rich in nutrients and flavorful. However, mackerel has a distinct and often fishier taste compared to the mild, buttery flavor of salmon. Additionally, mackerel tends to have a firmer texture, while salmon is often tender and flaky when cooked properly.

Mackerel Vs Sardines

While both mackerel and sardines are small, oily fish, their flavors are quite different. Mackerel boasts a stronger, more assertive taste, whereas sardines have a subtler, more delicate flavor. In terms of texture, mackerel can be a bit firmer, while sardines are typically softer due to their smaller size and thinner bones.

Mackerel Vs Anchovies

Anchovies exhibit a more intense, salty flavor compared to the richer taste of mackerel. They’re often used as a condiment or flavor enhancer rather than a standalone dish, unlike mackerel, which is commonly served as a main course. In terms of size, anchovies are smaller and their bones more delicate, whereas mackerel is larger and firmer.

Spanish Mackerel Vs King Mackerel

Spanish mackerel and king mackerel are two distinct species, each with its own unique taste and texture. Spanish mackerel offers a milder, sweeter flavor and a more tender texture, making it popular for grilling or searing. On the other hand, king mackerel has a stronger, more pronounced flavor and firmer flesh, which lends itself well to smoking or baking. Both varieties are high in Omega-3 fatty acids and other essential nutrients, although king mackerel tends to have a higher mercury content.

Nutritional Content of Mackerel

Mackerel is a highly nutritious fish, packed with essential vitamins, minerals, proteins, and healthy fats. In this section, we’ll discuss the nutritional aspects of mackerel that make it a great addition to your diet.

Vitamins and Minerals

Mackerel is rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals that support various bodily functions. Some of the key nutrients found in this fish include:

  • Vitamin D: Mackerel is an excellent source of vitamin D, which is essential for maintaining healthy bones and supporting immune system function.
  • B vitamins: Mackerel contains several B vitamins, including B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B6 (pyridoxine), and B12 (cobalamin), which are important for energy production and maintaining a healthy nervous system.
  • Phosphorus: This mineral is crucial for strong bones and teeth, and mackerel is a good source of it.
  • Copper: Essential for maintaining healthy blood vessels and nerves, mackerel provides an ample amount of copper.
  • Iodine: Mackerel is a good source of iodine, which is needed for proper thyroid function and hormone production.

Protein and Fat Content

Mackerel is an excellent source of high-quality protein, with about 18-20 grams of protein per 100 grams of cooked fish. This makes mackerel a great option for maintaining and building muscle, as well as supporting overall health.

The fat content of mackerel is one of its most notable attributes. Mackerel is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to numerous health benefits, particularly in supporting heart health. Omega-3 fats help to reduce inflammation and can contribute to improved blood lipid profiles by lowering triglyceride levels. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish, particularly fatty fish like mackerel, at least twice a week to help maintain a healthy heart.

It is important to note that mackerel’s fat content does vary depending on the specific species of mackerel you are consuming, as some have higher levels of healthy fats than others. In general, though, incorporating mackerel into your diet can be beneficial for providing essential nutrients and promoting a healthy lifestyle.

Health Benefits and Risks

Mercury Levels

Mackerel is known to have varying levels of mercury, depending on the species. While most mackerel species contain low to moderate levels of mercury, it’s essential to be cautious with your consumption. High levels of mercury in fish can accumulate in your body over time and potentially cause health issues.

Cardiovascular Health

Mackerel is a nutrient-rich fish that offers numerous benefits for your cardiovascular health. It is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to reduce inflammation and lower blood pressure. These essential fatty acids also help regulate cholesterol levels and prevent the formation of blood clots.

Including mackerel in your diet can be beneficial to your heart health, mainly due to the presence of antioxidants, such as selenium. These antioxidants help protect your cells from damage caused by free radicals, improving overall heart function and reducing the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Keep in mind that moderation is key, as consuming excessive amounts of mackerel may lead to unwanted health consequences due to the presence of mercury and cholesterol. Nonetheless, incorporating mackerel into your diet can provide numerous health benefits when consumed responsibly and in moderation.

Cooking Mackerel


Baking is an excellent way to cook mackerel, as it allows the flavors to develop and the fish to cook evenly. Start by preheating your oven to 425°F (220°C). While the oven heats up, prepare your mackerel by cleaning and gutting it, if not already done. Season the fish generously with salt, pepper, and your choice of herbs and spices.

Place the mackerel on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil for easy cleanup. You can also add a few slices of lemon for extra flavor. Bake the fish for 15-20 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 145°F (63°C) and the flesh flakes easily with a fork.


Grilling mackerel imparts a delicious, slightly smoky flavor to the fish. Begin by preheating your grill to medium-high heat, around 400°F (204°C). Clean and oil the grates to prevent sticking. Prepare the mackerel by gutting, cleaning, and seasoning it with salt, pepper, and your favorite herbs and spices.

Place the fish on the grill skin-side down and cook for approximately 4-5 minutes per side, or until the internal temperature reaches 145°F (63°C). Be sure to carefully flip the fish only once to avoid it falling apart. Serve the grilled mackerel with a squeeze of lemon and your choice of side dishes.


Frying mackerel is a quick and easy way to enjoy this flavorful fish. To start, heat a few tablespoons of oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. While the oil heats up, prepare the mackerel by gutting, cleaning, and seasoning it with salt, pepper, and your preferred herbs and spices. You can also coat the fish in a light dusting of flour to create a crispy exterior.

Gently place the fish in the hot oil skin-side down, being careful to avoid splattering. Cook for 4-5 minutes on each side, or until the internal temperature reaches 145°F (63°C) and the fish turns golden brown. Remove the mackerel from the skillet and place it on a paper towel-lined plate to drain any excess oil. Serve your fried mackerel with a fresh salad or steamed vegetables and enjoy the bold flavors of this versatile fish.

Recipes Involving Mackerel

Mackerel Salad

Mackerel salad is a delightful and healthy dish that can be a perfect addition to your meal. To make this dish, first, prepare your salad greens, such as lettuce, cabbage, and spinach. Then, add in thinly sliced vegetables of your choice, like cucumber, radish, and red onion. For extra depth of flavor, mix in some capers and fresh herbs like mint and parsley.

Next, you’ll need to prepare your mackerel. Remove the skin and bones, and then flake the fish into bite-sized pieces. If you’d like a richer flavor, you can lightly pan-fry the mackerel with a bit of lemon juice and olive oil to enhance the taste. Once cooked, add the mackerel to your salad and toss gently.

Serve the mackerel salad with a light lemon-based dressing made of lemon juice, olive oil, and a pinch of salt and pepper. This healthy and delicious dish can be enjoyed on its own or as a side for a more substantial meal.

Sushi with Mackerel

Mackerel sushi, also known as saba sushi, is a traditional Japanese delicacy that you can easily make at home. To prepare the mackerel for sushi, you will need to marinate the fish in a mixture of rice vinegar, salt, and sugar. This will not only remove excess moisture from the fish but also impart a delicate sweetness and acidity to it.

Once your mackerel has marinated, you can proceed with making the sushi. Start by preparing your sushi rice and slice the marinated fish into thin slivers. For an elegant presentation, place the mackerel slices on top of small mounds of sushi rice. You can add a dab of wasabi paste or a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds as a finishing touch to your mackerel sushi.

Serve the sushi with the classic accompaniments of soy sauce, pickled ginger, and wasabi. This sushi with mackerel is perfect for those who are tired of the typical tuna or salmon options and appreciate the unique flavor that mackerel offers.

Mackerel with Lemon and Herbs

For a simple yet flavorful dish, try mackerel with lemon and herbs. Begin by seasoning your mackerel fillets with salt and pepper. In a baking dish or pan, lay your fillets and coat them with a mixture of olive oil, lemon juice, and minced garlic. Then, generously scatter fresh herbs such as thyme, oregano, and parsley over the fish.

Preheat your oven to 375°F (190°C) and bake the mackerel for approximately 12-15 minutes, or until the fish is cooked through and flakes easily with a fork. Be careful not to overcook the fish, as that can result in a dry texture.

Serve your mackerel with lemon and herbs alongside a simple vegetable side dish or a grain like rice or quinoa. This recipe highlights the natural flavor of mackerel while complementing it with bright, zesty notes from the lemon and herbs.

How to Choose and Store Mackerel

When selecting fresh mackerel, look for shiny, firm, and moist flesh with a mild, fresh scent. The eyes should be clear and bright, and the gills should be dark red. If possible, opt for sustainable choices, such as mackerel caught by pole and line or by handline fishing methods, as these methods have less environmental impact.

To store fresh mackerel, wrap it in plastic or put it in an airtight container. Place the container in the coldest part of your refrigerator, ideally at a temperature of 32°F (0°C) to ensure maximum freshness. Consume the fresh fish within one to two days of purchase.

For canned mackerel, choose products that are packed in water, olive oil, or tomato sauce, depending on your preference. Examine the cans for any visible dents or bulging, as these can be signs of spoilage or contamination. Check the expiration date to ensure the product is still safe to consume.

Once you open a can of mackerel, transfer any remaining contents into an airtight container and store in the refrigerator. Consume the leftovers within three to four days. Unopened canned mackerel has a much longer shelf life, typically between two to five years, but always take note of the expiration date on the can.

Keeping these tips in mind will help you choose and store mackerel properly, whether it’s fresh or canned, while also considering sustainability. Enjoy the delicious and nutritious benefits this fish has to offer!

Frequently Asked Questions

How does mackerel compare to salmon in taste?

Mackerel has a stronger, more distinct flavor compared to the milder taste of salmon. While both fish are oily, mackerel has a higher oil content, which contributes to its richer taste. Salmon has a more delicate and buttery flavor, while mackerel can have a bit of a fishy taste, particularly for those not accustomed to its unique flavor.

Is mackerel’s flavor similar to tuna?

Mackerel and tuna share similarities in their taste profiles as both are oily fish. However, mackerel tends to have a more pronounced flavor compared to the milder taste of tuna. Mackerel’s taste can be slightly fishier and stronger, while tuna has a cleaner, lighter flavor.

Which fish has a taste similar to mackerel?

Fish such as sardines, herring, and anchovies share similar taste profiles with mackerel. All these fish are oily and have a strong, distinct flavor. If you enjoy the taste of mackerel, you may also find these fish to be enjoyable.

What are some common dishes using mackerel?

Mackerel can be prepared in various ways, including grilling, smoking, or poaching. Some popular dishes include grilled mackerel with a lemon and herb marinade, smoked mackerel pâté, mackerel with tomato and olive sauce, and mackerel sushi or sashimi.

Does mackerel contain mercury?

Mackerel does contain mercury, like all fish. However, the levels vary depending on the type of mackerel. While king mackerel has high mercury levels and should be consumed in moderation, Atlantic and Pacific mackerel are lower in mercury and considered safer options for regular consumption.

Is the taste of mackerel considered pleasant?

The taste of mackerel can be polarizing as some people appreciate its strong, distinct flavor, while others may find it overpowering and too fishy. If you enjoy the taste of oily fish with a robust flavor, you might find mackerel to be quite pleasant. It may take some time for your palate to adjust to its unique taste, so trying different recipes and preparations can help you determine your preference.

What Does Mackerel Taste Like? + Recipe

Here's a simple grilled mackerel recipe:
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 4
Calories 263 kcal


  • 2 whole mackerels cleaned and gutted
  • 2 cloves of garlic minced
  • 1 tablespoon of grated ginger
  • 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of honey
  • 1 tablespoon of rice vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Vegetable oil for grilling
  • Lemon wedges for serving


  • In a small bowl, mix together the garlic, ginger, soy sauce, honey, rice vinegar, salt, and pepper until well combined.
  • Brush the mackerels with the marinade and let them sit for 10-15 minutes.
  • Preheat the grill to medium-high heat.
  • Brush the grill grates with vegetable oil to prevent sticking.
  • Place the mackerels on the grill and cook for 5-7 minutes on each side, or until the fish is cooked through and the skin is crispy.
  • Remove the mackerels from the grill and serve with lemon wedges.


Calories: 263kcal
Keyword mackerel, what does mackerel taste like
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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
Cassie Marshall
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