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Why You Should Feed Your Cichlids Homemade Food (With Recipes)

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Zach has experience making homemade fish food flakes and likes to share tips for other hobbyists.

Frozen Homemade Cichlid Food.

Frozen Homemade Cichlid Food.

What Food Should You Give Cichlids?

Those already familiar with cichlids will always boast about how smart, energetic, and entertaining these aquarium fish are. Having worked in a tropical fish store and cared for a variety of cichlids myself, I can definitely vouch for how unique and rewarding these fish can be. One aspect of cichlid care has always troubled me, though, and that is the food.

"Premium" Is Not as Good as Homemade

Deceived by the "premium" or "complete nutrition" labels that accompany commercial foods, cichlid owners are wrongly led to believe that they are providing the best for their fish. Worst of all is that people fork out good money for these impostor feeds when they really could be spending less on a high-quality homemade option. This article will touch on the woes of commercial feeds, highlight cichlid nutritional needs, and also provide recipes for homemade cichlid food.

Commercial Flake Fish Food.

Commercial Flake Fish Food.

Commercial Fish Foods Have Non-Beneficial Ingredients

Most cichlid flakes and pellets will be labeled as premium, complete nutrition, color-enhancing, gold formula, etc. In theory, this all sounds great, but the reality is that these are just marketing schemes set forth to make you believe that you are using a premier product. Pellet and flake cichlid food is oftentimes packed full of various plants and plant proteins that offer very little, if any, nutritional value. This includes:

  • Corn
  • Wheat
  • Rice
  • Soy
  • Potato

With the exception of algae, aquatic plants, and some leafy greens, cichlids generally cannot assimilate plant proteins. Therefore, these agricultural additions to cichlid food are deemed unnecessary and only serve as a filler. Basically, you buy these ingredients just to have your fish excrete them right back out.

Secondary Ingredients May Be Toxic

Agricultural plant additions aren't even the worst of it, though! Secondary ingredients that show up in smaller quantities are appalling. There are simply too many different components to list, but common offenders include:

  • Manganese sulfate
  • Copper sulfate
  • Zinc sulfate
  • Ferrous chloride
  • Cobalt sulfate
  • Aluminum sulfate
  • Plus a wide variety of artificial coloring and preservatives

What's concerning here is that sulfates, chlorides, copper and aluminum have all been proven toxic to aquatic life. Now, why would it be in their food?

Commercial Foods May Contain Ash

If the information above hasn't already caused you to go into a fit of rage and throw your commercial fish food at the wall, here's some more information that just might tip you to do so: ASH! Seriously? Yes, I am dead serious. Most commercial brands of cichlid food will have a maximum percentage of ash, usually between 10 and 20%.

What is ash? Ash is basically the burned remnants of animal bones, carcasses, plant material, and any other waste products not fit for human consumption. So why in the world is it in fish food? Well, if you guessed filler material, you couldn't be more correct.

Time to Change to Homemade Fish Food?

If you're like me and pooped a sideways brick after hearing everything aforementioned, it's time for a change. Homemade cichlid food is the only way to control and guarantee the quality of food that you will be serving up to your fish.

Recipes Depend on the Type of Cichlid

Before you jump into any old fish food recipe, it's extremely important to understand the dietary differences between the two main types of cichlids.

Central American Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata)

Central American Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata)

North, Central, and South American Cichlids

Generally speaking, cichlids belonging to these regions typically consume higher amounts of animal proteins. Invertebrates, insects and smaller fish constitute a large percentage of their diet. Although consumed at a lesser rate, these cichlids also need plant material to survive. In the wild, they fulfill this requirement by eating algae and available aquatic plants.

African Frontosa Cichlids

African Frontosa Cichlids

African Cichlids

These cichlids normally do not consume near as many animal proteins as the American varieties. In fact, some African cichlids are herbivores and altogether do not consume animal proteins (Mbuna cichlids). Spirulina, other algae and aquatic plants constitute the majority of the diet of an African cichlid, with invertebrates and insects as a secondary consumption.

Cichlid Food Recipes

African Cichlid Food Ingredients

  • 1 pound whole prawns (omit for herbivores)
  • 1/2 pound spinach
  • 1/2 pound shelled peas
  • 9 oz (100 sheets) nori seaweed
  • Juice and pulp of large orange
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 teaspoons spirulina powder
  • 1/2 oz food grade agar agar

American Cichlid Food Ingredients

  • 1 pound whole prawns
  • 1/2 pound catfish fillets
  • 1/2 pound frozen shelled peas
  • 4.5 oz (50 sheets) nori seaweed
  • Juice and pulp of medium orange
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 teaspoons spirulina powder
  • 1/2 oz food grade agar agar


Both of the recipes above will follow the same process.

  1. Add all ingredients minus the agar agar to a blender. Pulse and incorporate well. You want a smooth "paste-like" consistency.
  2. Bring four cups of water to a simmer in a large pot. Dissolve agar agar completely.
  3. In small spoonfuls, add the blended mixture to simmering agar agar. (Add too much at a time and the agar will set too fast!)
  4. Stir well until all the mixture has been added. You may need to add more water if the agar is setting up too fast. I always start will smaller amounts of water to help keep the finished food more concentrated.
  5. Once the mixture has been completely added and there are no visible chunks of set agar agar, pour the liquid food onto shallow baking trays.
  6. Allow to cool in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.
  7. Slice the set food into dime-sized pieces and place in a large freezer bag.
  8. Store in Freezer.
Homemade Cichlid Food Thawing for Feeding.

Homemade Cichlid Food Thawing for Feeding.

How to Use Your Homemade Food

  1. Take out as many cubes as your fish will be able to completely eat in 1–2 minutes' time.
  2. Place in cup and add room temperature water. Allow the food to thaw for 1 hour before adding to the tank.
  3. Clean any uneaten food from the tank after 2 minutes.
  4. Due to the high nutritional value, feed only once a day four times weekly.

Fasting Your Cichlids

Not feeding (fasting) for one day a week will allow the cichlid's digestive track some time to process and purge.

  • Supplement African cichlids with fresh lettuce, spinach or zucchini for the two other days and allow them to fast for one day.
  • American cichlids can be fed frozen blood worms or daphnia the other two days of the week and should be fasted for one day as well.

The Proof Is in the Pudding

Well, in this case, the proof is in the agar agar. After moving your fish to a homemade diet, you'll see the results almost instantaneously:

  • The cichlids are generally not as aggressive because they get the proper amount of nutrients.
  • Colors are enhanced greatly! Fresh food contributes to higher pigment levels ingested by your fish. More pigments = more color.
  • A more complete diet helps aid in a happier and healthier life for your fish.

Still don't take my word for it? Have a look at the benefits of each ingredient below:

  • Whole Prawns: Adult whole prawns serve as a high nutrition animal protein. The shells are left on and blended into the mixture as they contain valuable chitin. Chitin is not digested by the fish, but instead provides a great deal of digestive stability and prevents constipation.
  • Catfish: For American cichlids, catfish provides another source of animal proteins. It's always good to keep varying proteins in the diet, and catfish is the perfect non-oily fish to do so with.
  • Shelled Peas: Frozen peas are a great option. They provide valued green proteins and also are a preventative against bloat and constipation.
  • Spinach: Being from the leafy green family, fish can more easily digest spinach over plants such as corn, soy, potato, etc. Spinach contains a very high amount of vitamins and antioxidants, most of which are of direct value to cichlids.
  • Nori Seaweed: An ocean originating seaweed that is full of minerals and nutrients. It is a must for plant proteins.
  • Spirulina Powder: A freshwater alga that is consumed naturally by African cichlids. It is very high in plant proteins and is very valuable for continued cichlid health.
  • Orange: It sounds strange, but cichlids are actually very keen on citrus fruits. The juice and pulp are added to the recipes to aid with digestion (acids in the orange). Oranges also provide a wide variety of vitamins including vitamin C.
  • Garlic: Even stranger than the orange may be garlic. It's really not that odd though. Garlic helps to stimulate a fish's appetite and also acts as a preventative against internal parasites.
  • Agar Agar: This naturally derived gelatin from red algae constitutes the "glue" that binds everything together. This makes it much easier for the fish to consume and for you to handle. I don't use regular gelatin because it is composed of warm-blooded animal proteins that are hard for fish to digest.

How Much Does Homemade Cichlid Food Cost?

Now that we've reached the end of this article, you're probably sitting back in your chair and asking, "Well, how much is this exactly going to cost?" I'll admit, the initial costs are going to be higher than just going to the store and buying your regular pellet food, but it will pay off in the long run.

To give you an example, I spent $30 to make the American Cichlid recipe. It seems like a lot, but the food lasted a solid 9 months. In that same amount of time, I would have spent close to double that amount in pellet/flake food. Finally sound like a good deal?

I'd like to thank you for reading my homemade cichlid food recipes and also wish you the best of luck in your aquarium adventures. Please be sure to check out these other fine cichlid articles:

If you're also interested in making all natural flake food, be sure to check out Making Flake Fish Food.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2011 Zach


Ruturaj on June 08, 2020:

Uncooked terrestial veggies have so many anti nutrients. Meat is necessary for herbivore to live in a glass box where they can't graze of plants all day to get enough nutrients. Ash means minerals, calcium and phosphate from bones, scales and shells, minerals from spirulina, homemade food will produce some ash as well. Fish food companies can use leftover parts and have more ash and they can use more fillers to reduce ash. Ash doesn't indicate anything without looking at ingredients. Use of whole krill, whole shrimp, whole fish, spirulina produces some ash and those are quality ingredients. Try feeding something like northfin or NLS.

rugidid on October 03, 2019:

you haven't seen north fin then check that out!

Zach (author) from Colorado on January 03, 2013:


It sounds like you have the right plan. Good luck to you

bobbymac29649 on January 01, 2013:

I have a 'Lake Malawi Mix" that I got from the LFS. All approximately 1 - 1 1/2 inches. I am 100% certain one is a yellow lab. Two are yellow. Look like pictures I've seen of Johanni female.

Two that are orange

Two blue ones. One is brilliant blue with 3 yellow spots on it's anal fin.

Should I mix up a batch of your herbivore diet and then give them the occasional live baby brine shrimp?



Barbie on October 05, 2012:

I am thrilled to find a homemade recipe I just really hope to find all the right stuff to make it. I have kind of a strange question though I have two tanks each with different size Cichlids, I have a Tiger Oscar and a Red Oscar, I am fairly sure my Red is a male as he is building a nest but my Tiger is still small. How large does my Tiger have to grow before I can safly add him/her to the other tank withour fear of being eaten? I have a new tank for when it is safe to add them together. My Red is about a foot long while my Tiger is very small 3 inches. Thank you for your knowledge.

Zach (author) from Colorado on May 23, 2012:

Quite literally, throw your ingredients in the blender and give it a whirl! You'll have a thick paste that can then easily be worked into the agar agar without much issues at all!

If you're referring to the stage where the paste is added to the agar agar, remember to take it slow. The agar will set up very quickly, so be sure to add small amounts of your food mix and allow the agar to warm again before adding more. Good luck to you!

matt on May 22, 2012:

just wondering how you go about blending the mix. I'm having some trouble.