Tilapia may not be a household word quite yet, but the editors of the national consumer seafood magazine, "Simply Seafood," report that the farmed fish will be the seafood value of the '90s.

Its popularity is expected to keep growing: Chefs from coast to coast are promoting tilapia, and aquaculturists report that the cost of its production is fairly low because the fresh-water fish is vegetarian. Also, its mild, white flesh suits American tastes.Tilapia is now farmed in dozens of states, but most of the supply comes from farms in Latin America and Southeast Asia, where the fish - native to Africa - is less expensive to produce.

In Israel, where it is widely farmed, tilapia is sold as "St. Peter's fish." The biblical reference holds that it was tilapia caught by Peter that was used by Jesus to feed the multitudes on the shores of Galilee.

In 1993 the total U.S. tilapia supply (including imports) could be in excess of 20 million pounds. As recently as 1990, the supply was less than 2 million pounds.