Cichlid Food: Guide to Best Cichlid Food & More

Cichlids are incredibly popular aquarium fish, and it’s no surprise considering how interesting, colorful, and diverse they are. Some display interesting social behaviors, while some are also known for their strong and aggressive tendencies. They are also one of the most colorful freshwater fish as well. In order to allow cichlids to have healthy interactions with other fish, display their colors, and thrive, a healthy diet is important.

Since cichlid is a diverse group of fish with over 1500 species, it is no surprise that their dietary needs vary as well. In fact, there are cichlids originating from various continents. One should not be surprised if an African cichlid from Lake Malawi to have a different diet from a cichlid from South America.

While this may seem confusing and difficult to understand, it’s actually not. Once their basic dietary needs are identified, we can easily find the right food for them. Compared to many other types of fish we’ve kept at Fish Laboratory, cichlids are one of the easiest fish to feed. Most cichlids do not require live foods, so commercial food will be readily accepted. They aren’t picky eaters. We just want to make sure the main ingredient in their food matches their dietary needs.

feeding cichlids
feeding cichlids

Types of Cichlid Diet

Finding the best food for your cichlid starts from identifying the type of diet that is most suitable for your cichlid.

The main types of diet for cichlids are carnivorous diet, herbivorous diet, and omnivorous diet.

In general, many African cichlids prefer herbivorous or omnivorous diets. South American cichlids and Central American cichlids tend to prefer carnivorous or omnivorous diets. Keep in mind that these are generalized statements, and the dietary needs of each cichlid species can vary regardless of their origin.

Carnivorous Diet

The carnivorous cichlid food comes from a wider variety of live foods in the wild as the cichlid can feed on small wildlife and other fish. There are cichlids, like the Molluscivorous cichlids, that use hunting strategies to catch their prey. Rhamphochromis cichlid species actually chase down their prey. Oscar cichlids mainly prefer food that consists of many different kinds of live food like mussels, mealworms, shrimp, and small fish. Frozen food like brine shrimp and bloodworms are also fed to these types of cichlids. The basic idea is that these carnivorous cichlids will need high levels of meat-based food that are high in protein content. Bear in mind the specific species of cichlid that you have, as each has their own unique eating habits. Some carnivorous cichlids will benefit from small amounts of plant-based nutrients, while others are strictly carnivorous and will need a more specified food.

Herbivorous Diet

Many of the cichlids are primarily herbivores. The cichlid food for the herbivorous branch of cichlid species will only need some kind of natural product that will contain all of the nutrients that it will need to survive. Any blend of algae would be great for the fish. There are also citrus fruits that can provide vitamins and minerals. The fruit’s natural juices help in digestion, which keeps the fish healthy. Any fruit like strawberries, blueberries, and grapes would make great cichlid food. Garlic is also a great cichlid food because it is beneficial for preventing any kind of internal parasites. These herbivore cichlids require a lot of fiber, some protein, and trace minerals in their daily diet. You can also use raw vegetables from your own kitchen, which helps switch up the diet a bit for them. Vegetables like broccoli, spinach, squash, peas, and cucumbers are all wonderful for cichlid food. Remember, cichlids are greedy eaters and become aggressive when they are hungry, so keep an eye on their behavior and feeding patterns.

Omnivorous Diet

There are literally over a thousand different sub-species of cichlids, which makes this guide that much more difficult. Depending on the type of cichlid you have, it may be one that can handle an omnivorous diet plan. Most cichlids have an enormous appetite, which makes these omnivorous cichlids easy to feed. Some omnivorous cichlids types include Blood Parrot cichlid, Bumblebee Mouthbrooder cichlid, Angelfish, and the Green Terror cichlid. The cichlid food that works best is almost anything since the omnivorous cichlid will readily accept live food, frozen live food, pellets, flakes, fruits, and vegetables. But it is important to mention again that this all depends on which type of cichlid you have.  Angelfish tend to prefer a diet based more on meat, whereas Oscar fish will eat plant matter, chopped zucchini, and cucumbers, as well as shrimp, bloodworms, and small insects. 

Best Cichlid Food

There’s a variety of fish food that you can choose from. Many are marketed specifically as cichlid fish food. When choosing the best food for your cichlid, start by determining the dietary needs of your particular cichlid. Regardless of what type of dietary needs your cichlid has, there should be more than one good option available. Choose the best options with high-quality ingredients and good nutritional value.

Here are some of the best cichlid food:

Hikari Cichlid Gold

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Hikari Cichlid Gold is a pellet formed, fish flavored cichlid food that brings out the gorgeous colors of the cichlid. It has high levels of protein, which improves the growth rate of the fish, and is high in beta-carotene and NS Germ, which make the bright colors shine. This cichlid food is appropriate for all life stages of the cichlid. Hikari Cichlid Gold offers a Vitamin E rich pellet food for your breed specific cichlid. 


  • Won’t cloud up the water
  • Rich in essential nutrients
  • Promotes growth and strong coloring


  • Can cause water to become smelly

Dainichi Cichlid Food

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Dainichi Cichlid Food is a small pellet that is fish flavored. It is one of the more expensive cichlid foods, but it is very much worth the price. This cichlid food is incredibly healthy for your fish as it is encapsulated with a special coating of vitamins and minerals. Dainichi Cichlid Food offers top-notch quality food that is digested well, which leaves less waste to clean up in the tank. The colors will be long lasting with this kind of cichlid food. As it is good for any aged cichlid, the 3mm small pellets give huge nutrients to your cichlids. 


  • High quality food
  • Promotes long lasting colors
  • Contains vitamins E and B


  • A bit more expensive

Omega One Cichlid Pellet

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The Omega One Cichlid Pellet is an Alaskan seafood flavored pellet that is great for cichlids and other kinds of fish. This cichlid food gives the perfect balance of seafood, ocean kelp, and spirulina to keep your cichlids happy and healthy. The Omega One Cichlid Pellet keeps your tank clean because it does not contain as much starch as other fish foods. This is a fantastic treat for your cichlids as it boasts an absence of pre-processed proteins to provide a higher quality than many other cichlid food options. 


  • Reduces water pollution
  • Better quality food, no pre-processed proteins
  • Loaded with Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids


  • Some cichlids do not like it

Ron’s Cichlid Food for African Cichlids

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Ron’s Cichlid Food for African Cichlids is a juvie flavored food made specifically for African cichlids, tetras, and most other types of tropical fish. This cichlid food has 100% natural and premium ingredients that keep your cichlids healthy with extremely vivid colors. Made for juvenile and fully grown fish, Ron’s Cichlid Food for African Cichlids helps with growth, promotes a healthy metabolism in your fish, and is high in protein. This cichlid food is free of fillers, which sometimes give digestive problems to fish. This is a good medium level cichlid food that will brighten the color of your fish.


  • Free of hormones, fillers, and pigments.
  • Veteran owned and made in the USA
  • High in protein


  • A bit expensive
  • Can cause odor
  • Some cichlids do not like it

New Life Spectrum Cichlid Formula

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New Life Spectrum Cichlid is a fish flavored sinking freshwater food that comes from a mix of South American krill, herring, squid, and New Zealand mussel proteins, as well as algae meal, spirulina, garlic, and other natural anti-parasitic ingredients. New Life Spectrum helps to magnify the colors of all of your cichlids, no matter the breed size. With this cichlid food, you will be able to give your cichlids an all-natural balanced diet that will promote growth and colorization. 


  • Wide variety of ingredients
  • Made in the USA
  • Good value for money


  • The pellets may be too small for some
  • Pellets do not always sink to the bottom

Northfin Cichlid Food

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Northfin Cichlid Food is a krill flavored cichlid food that comes in pellet form and specifically used for any fish with sensitive stomachs. This cichlid food has no filler, hormones, or artificial pigments included and offer quality ingredients like krill meal, Omega-3 DHA herring meal, organic kelp, and spirulina. This Canadian based food is a slow sinking food and is great for keeping your fish waste low and their digestive systems happy. Northfin Cichlid Food is quality food that is not too large for your cichlids.


  • Quality ingredients
  • Krill flavored
  • Made for fish with sensitive stomachs


  • Pellets may sinks too fast
  • Needs to be cleared out of the substrate

Tetra Cichlid Flakes

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Tetra Cichlid Flakes is fish flavored protein-rich flakes that are specifically designed for top and mid-water cichlids. These nutritional flakes promote a healthy immune system within the cichlids and supports a longer life for your cichlids. These Tetra Cichlid Flakes promotes a healthy metabolism for easy digestion and is appropriate for all life stages of the fish. This cichlid food is backed by a full team of biologists, chemists, and nutritionists that have worked together since 1951. These flakes stay firm longer and bring out more of the fish’s colors.


  • Less waste for a cleaner aquarium
  • German company with a long history
  • Popular food type for fish


  • Not for bottom feeders
  • Often spreads and can be messy

Xtreme Cichlid Food

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Xtreme Aquatic Food is a fish flavored pellet that is specifically designed for top and mid-water feeding cichlids. The cichlid food is also made to enhance your cichlid’s colorization and make them shine in your tank. The pellets are made from krill, shrimp, fish, herring, squid, spirulina blue-green algae, green pea, rice meal, wheat flour, and distiller’s dried grains and yeast, which makes it easily digestible. These are slow sinking pellets and have a tendency to float around near the top of the tank. They are small in size to make them a good value for your money.


  • Quality ingredients
  • Brightens your fish’s colorization
  • Does not cloud water too much
  • One container is good for 6 months


  • A bit granulated
  • Sinking is inconsistent

Fluval Bug Bites Cichlid Formula

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Fluval Bug Bites Cichlid Formula is a very popular cichlid food that has an insect larvae or salmon flavor to it. It contains a nutrient-rich Black Soldier Fly larvae and is high in multiple kinds of proteins such as whole salmon which promotes healthy scales and fins. Fluval Bug Bites Cichlid Formula is packed with essential vitamins, minerals, and amino acids to give your cichlids a healthy and balanced diet. This cichlid food is a slow sinking food contains no artificial fillers, colors, or preservatives. There are different types of these formulas based on the size of your fish. There are many types of cichlid that are carnivorous, or at the very least incorporate some protein in their diet. Therefore, the insect based ingredient provides a quality source of protein for many cichlids. It is no surprise that this is a popular option amongst many aquarists.


  • Trusted brand
  • Black Soldier Fly Larvae Insect ingredient
  • Sustainable
  • Easily digestible


  • Pellets may be too large for some

Live Food for Cichlids

No doubt that many fish love the taste of live food and there are certainly many different types of live food that you can provide for your cichlids. Live food has immense benefits for your cichlids, as long as they like to eat that sort of thing. These live food options offer high protein as well as many other nutritional benefits to your fish. Live food also provides incredible benefits to your cichlids colorization and lifespan. 

There are many different types of cichlid live food that you can choose from. For example, many cichlids love the taste of live insects and will go to the top of the water to get them. Earthworms are usually a big hit with most cichlids. You can also use fruit flies, crickets, mealworms, white worms, red worms, etc.

However, you want to be very careful on the type of live food that you get for your cichlids. Depending on the species of your cichlids, they may have a specific taste that they prefer and might reject some of the live food. Additionally, pay close mind to where the live food is coming from because you want to make sure it is a quality source. Giving your cichlids live food from anywhere might contain diseases and other issues that will make your cichlids sick or worse. 

Vegetables as Food for Cichlid

If your cichlids happen to be herbivorous or omnivorous, then there are many different kinds of vegetables that would be good for the cichlids to eat. There are many vegetables that would be considered quality food for your cichlids, but be aware that you cannot just throw a salad into your tank and call it a day. Vegetables have to be fresh and washed before giving them to your cichlids. Furthermore, there is a lot of research showing that seeds within fruits or vegetables are not good for your fish, so please make sure you are doing your due diligence to ensure your cichlid’s safety and health. Also, make sure not to overfeed your fish as vegetables tend to be a rather dense meal for cichlids. If they eat too much, then they can become bloated or develop health problems.

When it comes to what kinds of fruits and vegetables, cichlids can enjoy a wide variety of them. Algae often grow in the fish tank, and it is a great supplemental food for many cichlids. Cucumbers are a great source of food for cichlids, but it is best to cut them up into slices and stick them onto the glass of the tank. Cichlids can also eat carrots. The best way to feed carrots is to soften them up first by boiling them for a few minutes. Raw carrots are a bit too hard for cichlids to munch on. Other great vegetables for cichlids would include lettuce and spinach because it is already fairly soft and the cichlids usually love the taste. If you boil peas for about ten minutes to soften them up, then cichlids will gobble them up as well. 

If you are feeding your cichlids any hard vegetables, it might help to boil them first. It softens the vegetables and makes them easier to eat. The freshly boiled vegetables give off more of a scent than raw vegetables do. Also, you might want to consider adding a little garlic powder to the vegetables. Adding garlic makes the food very appealing to the cichlids and encourages them to eat. Most importantly, make sure to remove any uneaten bits from your tank. If the vegetables are not removed from the tank, then they will start to dissolve and affect the water quality. This can cause clouding of the water or, in more extreme cases, cause your fish to develop health issues, so make sure you are removing these uneaten vegetables from your tank after feeding.

Homemade Cichlid Food

There is a school of thought within the aquarium hobbyist community that many of the fish foods on the market are merely just basic pellets and flakes labeled with such glamorous taglines like premium, color-enhancing, or gold formula. Many people believe that these are just ploys to sell substandard fish food at a higher price while claiming it is a premier product. In response to this, there are those within the community that choose to make their own homemade fish food. By making your own cichlid food at home, you will be in control of what you feed your cichlids. But before you go looking up recipes, do a little research on what kind of cichlids you have and what they like to eat most. 

Types of homemade cichlid food

When it comes to any of the major commercial cichlid food options, there are always three ingredients that stand out if you are going to make your own at home. Those three ingredients are easy to come by and are found in any decent pack of cichlid food. The first ingredient is spirulina, which helps build the immune system in the cichlid. The second one is orange juice. It is a good source of vitamin C, other necessary vitamins, and various minerals. It has many benefits, including aiding in digestion. The last ingredient that cichlid really like is garlic. Garlic is a very good ingredient for cichlid food as it helps stimulate their appetite. 

Many different recipes exist online and throughout the aquatic hobbyist community. Making your own cichlid food can be a rewarding experience, especially if your cichlids really like your blend. The right type of food will be essential to your cichlid’s growth and color. Since they are going to need protein, it would be best to limit how much meat is in their diet, keeping it somewhere between twenty and forty percent. The rest of the food can be pieces of vegetables. 

Not everything is necessarily a good choice for your cichlids. Foods that contain sulfates, chlorides, copper, aluminum, or ash you should avoid. Many commercial products contain these items as filler for the food. Try to limit how much vegetable oil is placed into the tank. 

What is the best cichlid food for color?

The color of the cichlid can be influenced by their diet. Vibrant colors can be displayed by feeding the best cichlid food specifically designed for their color enhancement.

Currently, the best cichlid food for color is Omega One Super Colors Cichlid Pellets. These are slow-sinking pellets formulated with a variety of natural color enhancers called beta carotene. In addition, these pellets are formulated with Alaskan seafood such as salmon, herring, and shrimp. These natural ingredients are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids, which provides energy, prevent disease, and improve the overall health of the fish. Of course, a healthy fish can be expected to display more coloration. While this is considered on the best kind of food with natural color-enhancing ingredients, it is also one of the best cichlid food overall as well.

What is the best cichlid food for growth?

One of the best cichlid foods for promoting growth is the Fluval Bug Bites. This cichlid food contains major ingredients that come from both aquatic and insect sources. There are floating and sinking versions of this food available. The floating cichlid foods should be given to top feeders, while the sinking version is more suited for cichlid that feed at the bottom of the tank. Fluval Bug Bites contain extra amounts of protein that really help your cichlids grow to their fullest potential.

How often should I feed my cichlids?

When feeding your cichlids, you should be aware that they are very aggressive eaters. They really liked to fill their bellies and will likely become very active when you approach the tank. However, you do not want to overfeed your fish, as it will cause bloating and other health problems. On average, it would be enough to feed your cichlids twice a day with smaller amounts or one slightly larger feeding per day. But it is slightly more complicated than just dumping food into the tank. For one, you must consider how much food is being given to them and at what points in the day. Also, what kind of food are you giving them? This guide has talked about pellets, flakes, and different types of live food. Some of these foods are treats for once or twice a week, while other cichlid food is a daily supplement. Many experts recommend that live food is only given to cichlids three or four times a week. Monitor your cichlids food by keeping record of their feedings and watch the fish’s behavior. Keeping this kind of feeding record will also help you to determine the causes of any diseases or illnesses that the cichlid fish might contract over time. Remember, different foods will have different reactions, especially with different cichlid species.

How long can cichlids go without eating?

Cichlid fish are very hungry and aggressive eaters. It is unlikely that a cichlid is going to understand its own captivity and its consistent food source. The hungry behavior that cichlid exhibit is based on survival in the wild. Healthy cichlids can go about a week without food. Bigger fish tend to go without food longer because they have more fat reserves and body mass. Younger fish are going to have a harder time going without food and could die sooner than a week. Regardless of lifespan, do not let your fish go too long without proper nutritional cichlid food. A lack of food for most life forms on Earth is considered unhealthy. Underfeeding your cichlids is just as bad as overfeeding them. 

However, there is a lot of talk in the aquarium hobbyist community about the concept of “fish fasting.” By not feeding (fasting) your cichlids for one day out of the week, your cichlid’s digestive track will have time to process and purge the last week’s meals. For humans, we call it intermittent fasting as we give a day to let our bodies’ digestive systems to catch up. Any time amount over 24 hours will start bleeding into to underfeeding territory. This is another point in favor of keeping a feeding schedule close by. You can easily create a spreadsheet that will keep track of schedules and types of feeding.

How much food should I feed my cichlids?

In the wild, fish spend most of their time searching for food and will eat whenever food is available. When fish recognize where their food source comes from, they will act especially excited because they are jumping at the chance of being fed, even if they do not need to eat. Biologically, humans have communication between the gut and brain that tells a person to stop eating when they are getting full. Some animals do not have this function and eat whenever they can. Fish know when they are full, but also do not really know how to stop eating. 

Therefore, when feeding your cichlids, make sure you only put in a small and fair amount that can be fully eaten in a few minutes. Less food in the tank means less cloudy water or cleanup. Plus, you avoid any possible overfeeding. This is yet another reason to keep a feeding record, so that you can record how much food of each kind you give your cichlids. 

Why are my cichlids always hungry?

Don’t be fooled. The cichlids might act hungry because they eventually figure out that you are the one that brings the food. They see an opportunity to get fed and you better believe that they are going to take it. One or two times a day is plenty for them, especially if you keep an eye on how much food you are giving them during each feeding. So do not let them guilt you into giving more food than you should. They really do not know any better.

Why are my cichlids spitting out their food? There are some clear indications that your cichlids are full and do not need any more food. Fish do exhibit specific behaviors and if you have had them long enough, you will be able to recognize these behaviors. One very strong behavior is if your cichlids are spitting out their food. This could be because of a number of different reasons. For one, they may not like the food because of its bad taste, so mark that behavior into your feeding tracker. If you do think it is the food type, then try changing the food type up and see if the behavior goes away. If you are feeding them homemade cichlid food, then perhaps something did not go right with the recipe or maybe the species does not like the food that you are giving them. Cichlids are not necessarily picky eaters, but they do have preferences, so do not be afraid to play around a little bit with different types of food within the means of the species. However, fish can also spit out food from mouth and gill problems or perhaps there’s an infection. The water quality or stress conditions within the tank could also affect the cichlid’s behavior. Keeping an aquarium is a very complex process with many variables to monitor at the same time. 

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