As kids, we think of fish as the easy pets we don’t have to clean up after. They’re the easy, fun, splashy little critters that eat flakes and sinking pellets and swim on their merry way. We don’t think about things like cichlid food brands.
But what we didn’t realize as kids is that fish – like humans and other animals – have specific dietary needs.
In fact, cichlids have a unique range of dietary needs based on the species that requires a variety of different foods.
And, honestly, most of the ones I’m finding for sale are, well, sub-par at best. The reason being that most are made from ingredients that cichlids would never come close to eating naturally in the wild or otherwise.
So let’s take a look at what actually makes up the best cichlid fish food.
Best Cichlid Food Quick-Find Table
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What are natural cichlid food options in the wild?
African (and other) cichlids naturally eat a variety of different foods based on the precise eco-system in which they live.
Most species are omnivores and eat both plant matter and meat – such as other fish, insects, larvae, et cetera.
Author note: However, there are herbivores and carnivores in the cichlid family as well. Be sure to note which species you have before considering your food options.
what cichlid food do Carnivore Species eat?
Jack Dempseys, Oscars, African butterflies, and Jaguar cichlids are all carnivores who really heavily on insects, fish and crustaceans to do well.
They have a short digestive tract that’s meant to break down high-fat and high protein foods, not high-fiber things like wheat and corn – two ingredients often found as the number on ingredients in cichlid foods.
These cichlids will commonly eat:
- Smaller fish
- Crustaceans – like brine shrimp
- Insect larvae
- Other small worms
What cichlid food do Herbivore Species eat?
On the other end of the spectrum, if you observed some of the herbivore species in the wild, like Tropheus and Mbuna, you’d see them living happily off aquatic plants, biofilm, and algae.
They’re grazers with long intestinal tracts that can absorb nutrients from lower fat and protein content foods.
Herbivorous cichlids typically eat:
what cichlid food do Omnivore Species eat?
Finally, the majority of cichlids are omnivores – at least to some extent.
Angelfish, peacocks, Electric yellows, and firemouths are all omnivores for starters, and if you have one of these guys, you’ve already probably noticed that they eat just about anything that doesn’t manage to eat them first – plant or animal.
Their digestive tracts are somewhere between that of the herbivore and the carnivore, so they process most foods fairly easily.
Omnivores eat just about everything on both lists for the carnivore and omnivore diet.
What Should You Feed Your Cichlids at Home?
So, the big question then becomes, what to feed African cichlids at home? You can’t exactly go out in the backyard in Indiana and scoop up some live (insert native food) and bring it inside for your Mbunas.
But there are tons of foods on the market that you can find.
They’re not all what they’re cracked up to be though…which is why we review the top choices below.
The Importance of Proper Nutrition for Your Cichlid
We’ll look at the various foods you can feed your cichlid in a few moments, but first I really wanted to emphasize the importance of proper nutrition for your cichlid.
Top tip: Many of the foods you see advertised for cichlids are full of things we call fillers – primarily corn, soy, potato, rice, wheat, and similar grains and starches that cause bloating and upset without providing any real nutritional value.
These are used in foods – for cats, dogs, humans, and fish – because they’re a cheap way of fleshing out food sources into a bigger pile of calories without adding expensive meats.
And just like potato chips, sweetened baked goods, and other forms of junk food are terrible for humans, these fillers act like junk food for fish. It fills them up quickly but goes to waste.
And, in many cases, causes health issues beyond just constipation and bloating.
Be sure to thoroughly examine the foods you buy for your fish to make sure they don’t contain much – or any, if possible – of this empty caloric junk.
Is there any cichlid food you can find in the kitchen?
Before we get into the marketed foods, though, let’s take a quick look at other things you can supply your cichlid with for a healthy, well-balanced diet.
Author note: My first note is that all veggies and fruits or anything else should be finely chopped, fully shelled, et cetera. An alternative is blending things together to create a “popsicle” for your fish by freezing the ingredients into an ice cube tray.
Some of the foods you can feed your fish include:
- Limited chopped up/shredded shrimp
- Limited chopped crab
Just be sure that the foods you give to your cichlids match their diets. And only offer these as occasional treats and supplemental foods – instead of as the foundation for their meals every day.
Apart from these things, you can also buy freeze-dried foods and other options, but you can also house edible aquatic plants in your tank.
There are many that they’ll enjoy eating, which will add fiber and additional nutrients to the main staple of the fish food you give them at regular feeding times.
How Often Do You Feed Cichlids?
Speaking of those feeding times, most experts recommend feeding them two to three times per day.
If you feed them three times a day to begin and they look less than hungry when the next feeding time comes, you should cut back to just twice daily feedings.
How Much cichlid food do they eat?
The general rule of thumb with feeding fish is either giving them approximately the amount of food that matches the size of their eyeballs, or how much they can eat within 1 to 2 minutes steadily.
If you see any food go uneaten, be sure to remove the excess immediately to avoid the issues related to overfeeding.
Overfeeding can be dangerous for fish in a couple of ways, specifically that rotten food creates ammonia, which is toxic for your fish, and too much food eaten can make your fish ill just like it can in humans.
Constipation – which is prevalent with starchy foods made with wheat and fillers – can cause discomfort in the short-term and serious health conditions in the long-term.
Types of Cichlid Food
So, now the question is what kind of cichlid food should you buy as the main staple for your cichlid’s diet?
Pellets – one of the two most common types of fish food – are made of mostly wheat, soy, corn, et cetera.
If you want to use these pellets, be sure to find ones that list meat and protein ingredients first and starchy ingredients further down the list.
Cichlid flakes are the other most common food type for fish. These are similar to pellets in that they are made from fillers mostly.
I have yet to find a good cichlid flake I’d recommend because the very nature of the food almost demands wheat and soy.
Frozen And Live Food Cichlid Food
Frozen and live foods for cichlids will usually involve brine shrimp, shrimp, crab, lobster, crayfish, larvae, and other worms.
If they’re frozen, they need to be thawed before feeding to your fish, though, so only pull out the amount you need at a given feeding, since re-frozen foods can carry bacteria and diseases you don’t want to expose your cichlid to.
Freeze-Dried Cichlid Food
Freeze-dried food is typically a great option for snacks and treats for your cichlid. Things like bloodworms and other insect larvae, brine shrimp, and similar critters do well in this form.
Freeze-drying food also helps to prevent diseases and microbes from making their way into your fish tank.
Gel Food for Cichlids
The best staple cichlid food is the gel food option. These come in powder form. You mix the powder together with hot water and let it cool and store in the refrigerator – or as directed – for feedings for the next several days.
Spirulina and Seaweed
A nice supplemental food for your cichlid is a spirulina or seafood wafer.
These are made from plant matter and are an excellent choice for your herbivorous little cichlids who thrive on algae.
How to Choose the Best Fish Food for Cichlids
There are a few specific things to keep in mind as you look for the best food for African cichlids. These start with the type of species, but it also involves a few others.
Fillers consist of corn, wheat, potatoes, soy, and similar grains and starches.
Basically, if it’s something that makes you feel bloated and nasty after eating a bit of it, you shouldn’t feed it to your fish.
These guys don’t have the advanced digestive systems that we do – and we can barely digest these foods!
So make sure that anything you buy for your cichlids has these ingredients at least several rungs down the list or gone altogether.
Make Sure It’s for the Right Species of Cichlid
A huge thing that impacts the value of a given food for your specific fish is whether or not it’s designed for your fish’s digestive tract.
If your scaly pals are herbivores, they shouldn’t be eating fish and insect-based foods.
If they’re carnivores, they should get meaty treats and dinners instead of algae wafers.
Omnivores can have a staple of either, but need to have a balance with both the high meat protein content and the high plant matter foods.
Go with Brands That Other Aquarists Trust
Finally, if you’re new to this thing, you want to make sure you’re going with brands that other aquarists trust.
Some brands have been around for ages but aren’t keeping up with the knowledge base on food ingredients for cichlids. Others are new but paving the way in healthy new ways.
If other experts (like us) are trusting a given brand with high-praise resulting from purchases, chances as the food they sell will be healthier than the random one-off options.
Always think about the source of reviews, too, and whether or not both experts and hobbyists recommend them.
Author note: And if you’re curious about the products in adverts, be sure to check for legit reviews on the products instead of just assuming they’re a good choice because they’re advertising well.
Some well-trusted brands include:
- New Life Spectrum
Reviews of the Best Cichlid Food
Okay, we’ve talked through the ways cichlids naturally eat in the wild, the types of cichlid formula foods you can buy, what’s best for them, and how often you should feed your cichlid.
Now let’s take a look at a few of the best food for cichlids growth and bright color enhancers and health all around.
How We Chose the Best Cichlid Food
One of the biggest things I look for in food for anything – from human to flowerhorns – is what ingredients the recipe is made from.
Top tip: Since cichlids don’t need the crumbly fillers like wheat, corn, and soy, I aim to only suggest foods that have little or zero of these ingredients.
This meant my search was pretty limited. Almost everything I reviewed was loaded up with junk. Many of the most popular brands use wheat as the first ingredient in the food. This knocked all those out immediately.
I dug through review after review, customer comment after customer comment, until I finally found a few scattered quality choices for cichlid natural color enhancing food.
These are the ones that I would be willing to give my own cichlids and therefore recommend to you.
Here is that limited, but hopefully helpful, list.
Honestly, we could give this one the winner all around for best food overall to give to your herbivorous and omnivorous cichlids, but specifically Mbunas will benefit from the vegetarian profile on this one.
I looked high and low for a truly vegetarian food for Mbunas, but it was a rare sighting. So when I came across this option I was thrilled.
Repashy Super Green gel food not only meets that herbivore need, but it’s also a great quality food than average as well.
Here’s the breakdown:
- Type: Gel
- Best for: Herbivores and omnivores
- Fillers: None
- Crude Protein: 40% minimum
- Crude Fat: 8% minimum
- Raw Fiber: 8% maximum
- Moisture: 8% maximum
- Ash: 12% maximum
With a profile of spirulina algae, chlorella, pea protein isolate, rice protein concentrate, alfalfa, flaxseed, seaweed, and other high-nutrient ingredients, it’s a really fantastic option.
For herbivores, this base food is the right dietary option, especially combined with edible plants, spirulina and seaweed wafers and similar treats will keep your plant-loving cichlid happy and healthy.
Our Verdict on Repashy SuperGreen Gel Food
Not only is this a great gel food, which means no garbage fillers, but it’s a healthy option as the best Mbuna food and option for other herbivores.
And since there are no junk food elements, it’s also a great option for omnivores who will happily enjoy additional supplements to round out their diet.
Overall, you can’t go wrong with this gel food, as long as you prepare it properly.
Omnivore and carnivore cichlids need some extra tasty protein treats. And bloodworms are a good way to get that extra boost of protein into their diet in a way they’ll love.
Bloodworms Freeze Dried Treat are the right way to do it.
They’re freeze-dried, which means the toxins and parasites are treated out, and they keep well for a while.
Cichlids love these things and swim up for a carnivorous flurry, gobbling them down.
They come from one of the most trusted brands in the fishkeeping world, and since they’re an insect larva, they don’t have any of the unnecessary, unhealthy fillers like many of the other treats out there.
Here’s the breakdown:
- Type: Freeze-dried treats
- Best for: Omnivores and carnivores
- Fillers: Extremely limited
- Crude Protein: 53% minimum
- Crude Fat: 2% minimum
- Raw Fiber: 19.5% maximum
- Moisture: 4.5% maximum
- Ash: Unspecified
In the wild, cichlids would eat insect larvae like these. At home, they love doing the same. Just remember that bloodworms are a supplementary food and not a staple.
Our Verdict on Tetra Bloodworm Freeze Dried Treats
For a quick, easy way to give your cichlids a boost of protein and fiber, the Tetra Bloodworms treat is the way to go.
They’re healthy, keep well, have a minimum of fillers, and provide a quick, easy jolt of nutrients.
Plus, cichlids love them.
Be sure to only use these as supplemental foods a few times a week – probably no more than two or three times a week – and not as the staple food.
If you want to find some pellets that are reasonably healthy for your cichlid, look no further than the Omega One Super Color Cichlid small pellets variety.
These are super small – so primarily best for small cichlids, not large ones – and they semi-sink for reaching your cichlids at their swim level.
Here’s the breakdown:
- Type: Pellets
- Best for: Small, mid-level swimmers/feeders -omnivores and carnivores only
- Fillers: Limited
- Crude Protein: 38% minimum
- Crude Fat: 11% minimum
- Raw Fiber: 2% maximum
- Moisture: 8.5% maximum
- Ash: 8% maximum
The majority of the ingredients in the Omega One Super Color Cichlid pellets are healthy things for your cichlid. The first ones include whole salmon, whole shrimp, and halibut.
From there you get that wheat and gluten, but the remainder of the ingredients add some color-enhancing nutrients from fresh kelp and whole krill.
There’s less starch in here, so there’s also less ash in your water, too.
The Omega One brand is known for dealing with tropical fish needs with rich Omega 3 and Omega fatty acid 6 foods, and the cichlid pellets are no exception.
Plus these naturally occurring ingredients help boost the color of your fish while improving the fish’s immune system from every day eating.
Our Verdict on Omega One Super Color Cichlid Small Pellets
Interestingly, when reading reviews from other aquarists, I noticed a wide disparage between these being “too big” and “way too small” for the various cichlids folks are keeping.
I can’t prove anything, but I’d imagine that most of the disparage is folks getting two different Omega One brand pellets and reviewing on the same size as if they were the same.
There were also disparaging comments on how much the pellets sink and don’t sink, which also leads me to believe there were some user errors involved.
Otherwise, for me, the fish generally love these, they don’t cloud the tank, and they help to truly, and are probably the best food for cichlids colors enhancement.
So if you want to go the pellet route, these are probably your best bet since they at least have wheat and fillers lower in the ingredients list than normal – i.e. less starch and more real food for your fish.
There are a variety of treats out there that your cichlids will enjoy. However, the Northfin Food Kelp Wafers are a special treat designed with cichlids and similar fish in mind.
They use only the highest marine grade proteins and avoid artificial pigments and hormones in their formula – unlike so many things in the competition.
Here’s the breakdown:
- Type: Wafer treat
- Best for: Omnivores and carnivores
- Fillers: Limited
- Crude Protein: 33% minimum
- Crude Fat: 4% minimum
- Raw Fiber: 5% maximum
- Moisture: 9% maximum
- Ash: 12% maximum
These Canada-made kelp wafers add some tasty nutrition to your fish’s diet. Drop them in and watch them sink down to the level where your cichlids typically swim.
They’re made from certified organic kelp as the main ingredient, along with Antarctic Krill, herring meal, and spirulina for a balanced treat that fish love.
Our Verdict on Northfin Food Kelp Wafers
While these do have some fillers in them – they’re basically cookies for your fish, after all – they have more high-quality, high-nutrient ingredients than filler by far.
In fact, they use incredibly high-quality, organic kelp, Antarctic krill, herring, and other fantastic ingredients that will boost the color of your cichlids and make them happier in the process.
They’re a great supplemental food to add into your African cichlid’s diet a few times a week.
Cichlid FAQs You Might Find Helpful (or At Least Interesting!)
How many species of cichlids are there?
There are for sure more than 1600 species of cichlid that have been identified and described.
Scientists think, however, that there is a much larger number of this type of fish, ranging up to 3000 species.
Are there are rare cichlid species?
Many of the species of cichlid are endangered and difficult to find in the wild (or in the fishkeeping industry).
This endangered status for many has come about for a variety of reasons, including
- Uncontrolled fishing and hunting
- Collection for aquariums
- Water pollution in their natural environments
- The introduction of predators
How large do most cichlids grow to be?
Cichlids come in a wide range of sizes. The smallest typically come in at 0.9 inches in length, while the largest can be as long as three feet in length.
Which are more colorful, male or female cichlids?
Males are typically the more colorful of their given species.
How old can cichlid live to be?
The average lifespan of a cichlid in captivity will be between 5 and 8 years, if the cichlid is well-cared for.
This means the aquarium must be kept clean, the water chemistry must be contained, the proper diet given, and stress levels for the fish are kept low.
In the wild, depending on the species of cichlid, the fish can live between 5 and 60 years.
Where can cichlids be found in the wild?
Most cichlids are found in the Great Lakes of Africa and in the rivers, lakes, and waterways of South American.