A lesson on how the price of Nigiri sushi is determined

In order to prosper, a business wants to sell products at as high a price as possible. So how does a chef determine the price of nigiri sushi?

Naturally, the cost price is what it costs the restaurant for the ingredients while the price on the menu is the selling price. The ratio of these two prices is called the cost rate. In the case of a sushi restaurant, the ideal cost rate is 35% or less. A restaurant operating with only Omakase will have a cost rate of 40% with a focus on the quality of the toppings.

For sushi restaurants, handling of this ratio and the yield are very important. Yield refers to the part of the purchased fish and shellfish that can actually be used. For example, when purchasing a whole fish there are bones, skin, eyes, tail and internal organs that cannot be served as sushi or sashimi. No matter how good a chef is when preparing fish, the bones and skin will remain. In other words, the yield rate is the percentage of parts that can be used as sushi or sashimi. Typical fish yield rates are as follows:

Wild Maguro (Tuna): 65~75%

Buri (Japanese amberjack): 50%

Hirame (Bastard halibut): 40%

Tai (Red seabream): 35%

Akagai (Ark shell): 25%

Mirugai (Keen’s gaper): 20%

The weight of just the topping for a single piece of nigiri sushi is 12 to 18 grams, depending on the ingredients and the policy of the restaurant. The market price for rice is said to be about US$5 per kilogram, and assuming a weight of 15 grams per Nigiri, the rice for a piece of sushi is generally said to cost about US$0.05, including vinegar and salt. Even if you count the shari (sushi rice), soy sauce, wasabi, nori, etc., it’s fair to consider the cost to be about US$0.10.

Now, let’s figure out the price of Hirame, for which 3 kilograms were bought at $60 per kilogram. Assume that the weight of one topping is 15 grams.

The yield rate of Hirame is 40%, so the chef can make 1,200 grams of sushi toppings from 3,000 grams of Hirame. (formula: 3000 g × 0.4 = 1200 g). Since the weight of one topping is 15 grams, 80 pieces of sushi can be made from 3,000 grams of Hirame (1200 g ÷ 15 g = 80 pieces).

Next, we calculate the cost of one topping. Hirame is US$60 per kilogram, so US$180 (US$60×3 = US$180) for 3 kilogram. Since this volume can yield 80 pieces, the cost of one topping is US$2.25 (US$180÷ 80 pieces = US$2.25).

Add the shari price of US$0.10 to this: US$2.25+0.1=US$2.35. In other words, the cost of one Hirame nigiri sushi is US$2.35.

If the ideal cost ratio of 35% is applied here we get 2.35÷0.35 (35%) = US$6.71. For a restaurant serving mainly Omakase, 2.35÷0.4 = US$5.88.

In summary, one piece of Hirame sushi is sold between $5.88 and $6.71.

It may feel surprisingly cheap, but if you perform these calculations with Kuromaguro or Uni, it will be $60 to $90 per piece, and then you’ll feel that it is too expensive. Therefore, the total margin is secured by setting the cost rate for Kuromaguro and Uni to 80-90%, while the cost rate for Saba and Ika is set to 10-20%.

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Revision date: January 6, 2022

Tips for making great Inarizushi from a sushi chef

This Inarizushi (Inari sushi) recipe was devised by a sushi chef of a popular restaurant.

First of all, sushi rice made for Inarizushi can be used for a wide variety of uses including Uramaki and Chirashizushi, so it could be useful to learn. However, the recipe is slightly different than Nigiri sushi. The reason is that in the case of Nigiri sushi, the topping is typically one type of seafood combined with a sushi rice recipe that maximizes the flavor of that seafood. On the other hand, Inarizushi, Uramaki, etc., are filled with optional ingredients put together to enjoy multiple layers of flavors spread in your mouth. The sushi rice is essential to harmonize all the ingredients. Therefore, it is made with more sugar than Nigiri sushi. In addition to toning down the sourness of Vinegar, the sugar’s own richness works to bring out a mellow taste. Kombu is also added to the rice while it is cooking. The aim here is to create a synergy between the Inosinic acid contained in Kombu and the Umami of the other ingredients.

How to make Sushi rice

① Start by making Awasezu (the ingredients are included below). Put the Komezu, Cane sugar and salt in a saucepan and stir over low heat until the cane sugar melts. Then turn off the burner and allow it to cool.

② Next, make the sushi rice. Wash the rice and add a little less water than the measurement on the side of the rice cooker bowl. Add the Kombu and cook it to a consistency that is a bit tougher than usual. Don’t forget to take the Kombu out once the rice is done cooking.

③ Spread the cooked rice in as large a bowl as possible and pour all the Awasezu over it.

④ Use a paper fan to fan the rice while you mix it with a flat rice scoop (shamoji) by cutting through the rice at an angle, making sure not to mash the rice.

Ingredients of Sushi rice

Rice:540cc

Water:490~500cc

Komezu (rice vinegar):150cc

Cane sugar:4 tbsp and 1 tsp

Salt:2 tsp

Kombu:1 piece about 2 cm x 2 cm

How to make Inarizushi

① Spread the deep-fried tofu on a cutting board and roll it out with a rolling pin until it is completely flat. This helps to loosen the inside of the deep fried tofu so it will open easier. It might seem like a hassle, but it will help you make Inarizushi that looks even better.

② Boil water in a pot, add the deep fried tofu and boil for one minute to remove the oil. Drain it in a colander and let the deep fried tofu cool just enough to touch it before cutting it in half.

③ Combine the Nijiru ingredients in a saucepan and once the sugar has melted, add the cuts of deep fried tofu. Put a lid on the pot and allow to simmer for about five minutes. Turn off the burner and let cool. If you have a wooden or stainless steel drop lid you can use that too, but if not you can use aluminum foil and a flat dish instead.

④ Squeeze the juices out of the cooled deep fried tofu, and open the saccate, being careful not to tear it. Pack the prepared sushi rice and ingredients inside. Pack the sushi rice so that the center of gravity is toward the bottom and the Inari can stand up. If you keep the bottom flat, it won’t topple over. Make sure not to mash the grains while packing the rice in. You can add any ingredients that you like. You can even cut up the ingredients in advance and mix them in with the sushi rice. If you choose not to add additional ingredients and only make it with sushi rice, you can seal the deep fried tofu. Inarizushi filled with ingredients you can see is the open version and is the standard way of making it in places like Singapore and Paris.

Nijiru (broth) ingredients

Bonito stock: 500 cc

Soy sauce: 150 cc

Mirin: 200 cc

Cane sugar: 3 tbsp and 1 tsp

This recipe yields enough Nijiru for three sheets of deep fried tofu that are about 16 x 8 cm. The sushi restaurant recipe calls for boiling a large amount of Nijiru and simmer for a shorter amount of time. However in general home recipes call to boil until the Nijiru evaporates.

Inarizushi is a type of sushi that anyone can make easily. Just take these few tips from a sushi chef and you’ll be making delicious Inarizushi. Why not try it out as an appetizer for your next party? Just for your reference.


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Revision date: January 6, 2022

Is the combination of Chablis wine and Japanese oysters match made in heaven?

White wine is generally thought to go well with fresh seafood.

For example, every Frenchman knows that Chablis wine and Belon oysters go together like peanut butter and jelly. The soil of Chablis is made of the stratum that dates back to the Kimmeridgian age and a unique characteristic is that the soil is rich in fossils of small oysters and shellfish. That is why oysters and Chablis wine are said to be the perfect pairing. However, surely there are Japanese people who sense the fishy odor when having Chablis wine and Japanese oysters (Magaki) together. Therefore, some people say that sake is definitely preferred over wine.

The reason for this is that the types of oysters in France and Japan differ.

Famous for its Belon brand name, the oyster native to Europe has a flat, rounded shell. It belongs to the genus Ostrea. To be honest, Belon oysters aren’t sweet and don’t have a distinguished flavor compared to Japanese oysters, and the salty fragrance of the sea is dulled, so it can seem less flavorful.

Meanwhile, the Japanese oyster is elongated and shaped like a raindrop. It is characterized by a smell like it swallowed the whole ocean. This is the main species farmed in Japan. It belongs to the genus Crassostrea. The taste is as if the umami components of the sea have all been concentrated together in one little shell.

Going back to pairing Chablis wine with oysters, it’s common sense in the world of flavors that items with basically similar components pair well together.

The issue lies in how wine is made. Chablis wine contains lactic acid because it is made through forced mal-lactic fermentation. Because it contains this lactic acid, it is partially fighting against the Belon oyster, which has a high glycogen content. In addition, lactic acid is called “warm organic acid”, and it has the property of becoming delicious at warm temperatures. Oysters are eaten cold, so they aren’t good for taking advantage of “warm organic acids”.

Therefore, it can be said that rather than Chablis wine, it goes well with cold organic acid white wine that is delicious when cooled to 7 or 8 degrees, for example, German Franken wine.

So then, what should be done when pairing oysters with Chablis wine?!

If you insist on pairing oysters with Chablis wine, go all out and add squeezed lemon so the citric acid will work to mask the lactic acid and succinic acid, in turn making the wine taste good even when cold. Citric acid is a “cold organic acid” that becomes delicious when cooled, and oysters rich in glycogen go well with “cold organic acid”. Cold acid-based white wine is abundant in the refreshing “cold organic acids” known as malic acid and tartaric acid. Oysters lack this cold organic acid (malic acid and tartaric acid), so adding the citric acid of lemon creates an exquisite harmony.

However, in France there was a time when a disease spread that caused the death of the Belon oyster, nearly rendering it extinct. Therefore, since the Japanese oyster has been transplanted so many times, it is said that nowadays, at least 90% are Japanese oysters hybrids of Japanese oysters.

That means the question remains among Japanese as to whether the combination of Chablis wine and oysters really is a match made in heaven or not. Personally, we’ve never heard of oysters served without lemon, so the fishy smell really isn’t an issue at all in the end.


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Revision date: January 6, 2022

What is used as a substitute for Madako (Octopus)?

Among the many sushi toppings, Pacific bluefin tuna, and actually the Madai (Red sea bream) as well, are toppings that are difficult for an amateur to tell whether it is farmed or wild. However, there is no need to worry about that when it comes to Tako (Octopus). There are no octopus farms to be found in the world, so it is a 100% wild topping.

In Japan, domestic production isn’t enough to satisfy the appetite of Japanese who like Tako, so the majority relies on imports. Imports from Africa account for 80% and the remainder is imported from China, Southeast Asia, Mexico, Spain and other places in the world.

Most of the African imports are produced by nations on the northwestern coast, with the highest number coming from Mauritania. Until 2003 the highest volume came from Morocco for many years. However, due to continued mass catches to sell to Japan, Tako numbers dropped drastically, leading to the Moroccan government panicking and outlawing fishing. For some reason, Japanese people have grown to love Tako and now consume nearly half of the Tako caught throughout the world.

There are over 200 types of Tako in the world with approximately 60 types inhabiting the seas near Japan. Among these, the Japanese mainly only eat Madako, Mizudako and Iidako. Even among these, Madako makes up at least 80% of consumption.

Most of the Tako found at conveyor belt sushi is African Madako (Madako from Africa). African produced Tako is boiled on-site before being imported frozen. The cost is 20 cents or less per topping.

Amateurs can’t tell the difference between domestic Tako or African imports. However, there is one aspect that even an amateur can use to distinguish between the two. There is one condition for this to work, and that is that at least one of the suckers is in-tact. The suckers are scraped off for most toppings, but in cases where they are sliced by the restaurant, there are often suckers remaining. If the sucker is pure white, it is almost definitely from Africa. Meanwhile, domestic Tako suckers maintain a faint red color in the suckers, even when boiled. The reason the suckers turn white seems to be an effect of the food preservatives added during processing, but this has not been confirmed.

There happens to be a substitute for Madako as well.

One of these is the Iwadako from Vietnam, which grows as large as the height of an adult human. It is imported in frozen slices that can be used as raw Tako as soon as it thaws. The cost of this topping is 20 cents or less per piece. This ends up disguised as Hokkaido Tako.

There are also domestic substitutes. Yanagidako (Chestnut octopus) is mainly caught in the Pacific Ocean, from Chiba prefecture northward. The flavor is lighter than Madako, but it is also softer than Madako, so some people actually consider it to be better than Madako. If it is boiled and made into sushi, an amateur can’t distinguish between it and Madako. The legs are thin so they just need to be cut at an extreme angle in order to make the topping appear bigger. The cost of this topping is 15 cents or less per piece. It is also used as Mizudako because it is watery when eaten raw.

As you can see, there are also many substitute toppings for Madako.


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Revision date: December 21, 2021

CONTENTS

Foreword

How to read this book

History of Nigiri sushi

Classification of Nigiri sushi

1.AKAMI

1-1 Pacific bluefin tuna (Taiheiyou Kuro maguro)

1-1-1 Lean meat of tuna (Akami)

1-1-2 Medium Fatty Tuna (Chutoro)

1-1-3 Very Fatty Tuna (Otoro)

What is Harakami Ichiban

1-1-4 Meji-maguro

1-1-5 Hachinomi

1-1-6 Kamatoro

1-1-7 Jabara

1-1-8 Chiai-gishi

1-1-9 Wakaremi

What is Hagashi

1-1-10 Tossaki

1-1-11 Tenpa

1-1-12 Hohoniku

1-1-13 Sunazuri

1-2 Atlantic bluefin tuna (Taiseiyou Kuro maguro)

1-3 Southern bluefin tuna (Minami maguro)

1-4 Bigeye tuna (Mebachi maguro)

1-5 Yellowfin tuna (Kihada maguro)

1-6 Albacore Tuna (Binnaga maguro)

What are Meji, Chubou and Maguro?

1-7 Bonito (Katsuo)

1-8 Striped marlin (Makajiki)

The history of how toro sushi became a superstar!

2.SHIROMI

2-1 Atlantic salmon

2-2 Salmon trout

What is Toro salmon?

2-3 King salmon (Masunosuke)

2-4 Chum salmon (Tokishirazu)

2-5 Chum salmon (Keiji)

2-6 Cherry salmon (Sakuramasu)

Salmon is not used as a topping in Edomae sushi!

2-7 White horsehead (Shiro-amadai)

2-8 Horsehead (Aka-amadai)

2-9 Largehead hairtail (Tachiuo)

2-10 Large-eyed bream (Meichidai)

2-11 Splendid alfonsino (Kinmedai)

2-12 Red seabream (Madai)

What is Red Snapper the same as “Tai”?

2-13 Bastard halibut (Hirame)

2-14 Engawa

2-15 Marbled sole (Makogarei)

2-16 Spotted halibut (Hoshigarei)

How to tell the difference Between Buri, Hiramasa and Kanpachi

2-17 Greater amberjack (Kanpachi)

2-18 Japanese amberjack (Buri)

2-19 Young amberjack (Inada)

2-20 Goldstriped amberjack (Hiramasa)

2-21 Striped jack (Shima aji)

2-22 Japanese spanish mackerel (Sawara)

2-23 Japanese sea bass (Suzuki)

2-24 Chicken grunt (Isaki)

2-25 Filefish (Kawahagi)

When does Kinmedai taste the best?

2-26 Blackthroat seaperch (Nodoguro)

2-27 Tiger puffer (Torafugu)

2-28 Red spotted grouper (Kijihata)

2-29 Bartail flathead (Kochi)

2-30 Sevenband grouper (Hata)

What is Wasabi?

2-31 Longtooth grouper (Kue)

2-32 Japanese butterfish (Ebodai)

2-33 Red gurnard (Houbou)

2-34 Devil stinger (Okoze)

2-35 Green ling (Ainame)

2-36 Red barracuda (Kamasu)

How to use soy sauce under the watchful eye of a Sushi chef

2-37 Barred knifejaw (Ishidai)

2-38 Alaska codfish (Madara)

2-39 Black rockfish (Kurosoi)

2-40 Black seabream (Kurodai)

2-41 Bighand thornyhead (Kichiji)

2-42 Japanese bluefish (Mutsu)

How to Jukusei?

3.HIKARIMONO

3-1 Mackerel (Saba)

3-2 Horse mackerel (Aji)

3-3 Japanese sardine (Iwashi)

3-4 Japanese halfbeak (Sayori)

What is Tsukedai?

3-5 Pacific saury (Sanma)

3-6 Gizzard shad (Kohada)

3-7 Baby Gizzard shad (Shinko)

3-8 Young crimson sea bream (Kasugo)

3-9 Japanese whiting (Kisu)

3-10 Pacific herring (Nishin)

What are Uwami and Shitami?

4.NIMONO

4-1 Common orient clam (Nihamaguri)

4-2 Japanese conger (Anago)

4-3 Japanese eel (Unagi)

4-4 Squilla (Shako)

4-5 Japanese icefish (Shirauo)

Does the taste of wasabi differ depending on the grater?!

5.KAI

5-1 Ark shell (Akagai)

5-2 Japanese abalone (Kuro awabi)

5-3 Giant abalone (Madaka awabi)

5-4 Disk abalone (Megai awabi)

5-5 Ezo abalone (Ezo awabi)

5-6 Japanese egg cockle (Torigai)

5-7 Common scallop (Hotate)

What is Tezu?

5-8 Sakhalin surf clam (Hokkigai)

5-9 Japanese oyster (Kaki)

5-10 Keen’s gaper (Mirugai)

5-11 Round clam (Aoyagi)

5-12 Round clam ligaments (Kobashira)

5-13 Pen-shell (Tairagi)

5-14 Whelk (Tsubugai)

Why is sushi served with Gari?

Types of squid

6.IKA/TAKO

6-1 Bigfin reef squid (Aori ika)

6-2 Golden cuttlefish (Sumi ika)

6-3 Swordtip squid (Kensaki ika)

6-4 Spear squid (Yari ika)

Why is Nigiri sushi eaten with soy sauce?

6-5 Japanese common squid (Surume ika)

6-6 Baby Golden cuttlefish (Shin ika)

6-7 Firefly squid (Hotaru ika)

6-8 North pacific giant octopus (Mizudako)

6-9 Common octopus (Madako)

What is Sute-shari?

7.EBI/KANI

7-1 Kuruma prawn (Kuruma ebi)

7-2 Botan shrimp (Botan ebi)

7-3 Morotoge shrimp (Shima ebi)

7-4 Sweet shrimp (Ama ebi)

Learn the basics of pairing sake with sushi!

7-5 Broad velvet shrimp (Shiro ebi)

7-6 Snow crab (Zuwaigani)

7-7 Horsehair crab (Kegani)

Why did the vinegar used in shari switch from red vinegar to rice vinegar?

8.GYORAN

8-1 Salmon roe (Ikura)

8-2 Herring roe (kazunoko)

8-3 Green sea urchin (Bafun uni)

8-4 Red sea urchin (Aka uni)

Why is it that sea urchin sushi can taste bitter?

8-5 Purple sea urchin (Murasaki uni)

8-6 Short-spined sea urchin (Ezobafun uni)

Hokkaido’s main Ezobafun uni production area

8-7 Northern sea urchin (Kitamurasaki uni)

Hokkaido’s main Kitamurasaki uni production area

8-8 Herring spawn on kelp (Komochi kombu)

The secret story of how Ikura became a sushi topping!

9.OTHERS

9-1 Young Green Onion Shoots (Menegi)

9-2 Shiitake mushroom (Shiitake)

9-3 Daggertooth pike conger (Hamo)

What tea pairs well with Nigiri sushi?

9-4 Oboro

9-5 Monkfish liver (Ankimo)

9-6 Milt (Shirako)

9-7 Omelette (Tamagoyaki)

Does real Edomae sushi no longer exist!?

10.MAKIMONO

10-1 Dried Gourd Shavings Sushi Roll (Kanpyo maki)

What is Kanpyo?

10-2 Tuna Roll (Tekka maki)

10-3 Cucumber roll (Kappa maki)

What is Okonomi?

Sushi Restaurant Etiquette

Sushi Vocabulary and Jargon

Afterword

References

Cooperating sushi restaurant for photography

Copyright

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What is Toro Katsuo (Torogatsuo)?

Toro is an absolute at sushi restaurants and it’s only natural to aspire to such a position. That’s why there are so many sushi dish names that start with “Toro”. The most laissez-faire of these is Toro salmon. In this case the definition of Toro is ignored in an attempt to promote sales. Just as bad is Toro katsuo (pronounced “Toro-gatsuo” in Japanese).

Katsuo is born in the warm southern seas. When it reaches about two years old it migrates north in pursuit of Iwashi and other small fish. There are two routes taken by the Katsuo that come to the seas around Japan. One of the routes rides the Kuroshio Current (a warm current) from around the Philippines, passing by Taiwan and the Ryukyus Islands, arriving in southern Kyushu. From there the Katsuo rarely heads toward the Sea of Japan and instead the majority moves northward on the Pacific Ocean side. The Katsuo migration schedule may shift depending on the temperature of the seawater and how the schools of Iwashi and Aji (which the Katsuo feeds on) are migrating that year. The first group appears around Ishigaki Island about January, then in the seas off the shores of Kyushu and Shikoku between February and March. It then moves to the seas off of the Izu and Boso peninsulas between April and June. It reaches the open seas off the southern coast of Sanriku and Hokkaido between July and September.

Another route follows the Ogasawara ocean current from below the equator in the seas off the shore of Papua New Guinea and the seas around Micronesia to the Ogasawara Islands, along the Seven Islands of Izu and approaching the open seas off the Boso Peninsula. The route then goes northward to join with the routes mentioned above.

It’s the Modori-gatsuo that begins reverse migration toward the south at the beginning of autumn when the water temperatures start to drop. Katsuo has a strong appetite before returning south in preparation for the long trip. Unlike the light-flavored Hatsu-gatsuo, the Modori-gatsuo has plenty of fat and its body fattens up quite a bit. The main fishing locations for Modori-gatsuo are in the northern Pacific, such as the waters off the shore of Sanriku. This is the season when it is truly worthy of the name Toro katsuo when served raw, and nothing else should be called by the same name.


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Revision date: December 1, 2021

What is Warisu?

Warisu refers to the vinegar when doing Sujime. The fish is first washed in water, then soaked in vinegar. When working with blue-backed fish, the smell of the fish’s fat is removed from the surface with vinegar that has been used once before (and thus has a low acidity). This is called Suarai. When preparing fish with Sujime, cooled Warisu is used, made either with a 10 to 3 ratio of vinegar to ice, or the same ratio of vinegar to cold water. Vinegar with a high acidity that hasn’t been cut with water only soaks the surface of the fish (denaturing it) and the vinegar does not penetrate to the inside. In addition, if the temperature of vinegar is high, such as during summer, the skin and body of the fish soften. That’s why the vinegar is diluted (acidity is between ph 3.3 and ph 3.7) and used as chilled Warisu. After the Sujime of the topping is finished, it is important to place it in the refrigerator and allow the meat to mature slowly. For fish with strong fat, that fat oxidizes faster than the meat can mature, so it must be done very carefully.


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Revision date: November 23, 2021

What is Meki? Substitute for Kuruma ebi?

Japan leads the world in shrimp consumption by far. Most of the shrimp is imported, but it is a little known fact that shrimp is called “Meki” among importers and sushi restaurants in Japan. It is said to be a remnant from a time when much of the imported shrimp came from Mexico (pronounced “Mekishiko” in Japanese).

Shrimp can be caught within 45 degrees north or south of the equator. The caught shrimp is quick-frozen on site and then sent to Japan. Mexico was early in advanced refrigeration technology so when it became impossible to catch shrimp in the seas around Japan in the 1970s, a large volume of shrimp was already being imported from Mexico. It was around that time that importers shortened the phrase “Shrimp imported from Mexico” to “Meki”.

After that the major source of shrimp imports switched to Taiwan, which started shrimp aquaculture, and it is now also imported from Thailand, Indonesia and China. The name “Meki” stuck in the industry, despite the fact that shrimp is now mainly imported from other places in Asia.

Imported shrimp is categorized by body color tones, either brown, pink or white. The color is combined with the place of origin or country name and that is what each type of fish is called at the distribution stage. For example, they may be called Mexico brown or Guiana pink.

Well-known brown-toned shrimp include Ushi ebi (Black tiger shrimp) and Mexico brown (Yellowleg shrimp). Pink-toned types include Guiana pink (Pink spotted shrimp) and Nigeria pink ebi (Southern pink shrimp). White-toned shrimp include Taisho ebi (Fleshly prawn),  Banana ebi (Banana Prawn) , Eedeavour ebi (Eedeavour prawn) and Vannamei ebi (Whiteleg shrimp). There are many sushi restaurants that use pink and brown-toned sushi that turn into a nice red color when boiled. While the meat of white-toned shrimp is soft, it turns a whitish color when boiled and doesn’t look very appetizing. However, due to the splendid, large tail, it is perfect for tempura or fried prawns.

Next, We will touch on the characteristics of shrimp that is typically imported to Japan. All these types are actually related to the Kuruma prawn, which is representative of premium shrimp and a familiar ingredient of sushi. In other words, these imports are alternatives to make up for the shrimp consumption in Japan that can’t be covered by the Kuruma prawn. Normally the head is removed, it is frozen, packed in large lots, and then embarks on the distribution channel in Japan.

Guiana pink (Redspotted shrimp, Spotted pink shrimp /Farfantepenaeus brasiliensis)

For more information, go here.

Taisho ebi (Fleshly prawn /Fenneropenaeus chinensis)

It is found from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, the Malay Archipelago and Australia.  The species is of considerable commercial importance in the Yellow Sea, East China Sea and Korean Bight, where it is trawled. It is sold in Korea, China, Japan and Hong Kong. This is a large shrimp that reaches up to 25 cm in body length. The appearance is similar to the Kuruma ebi, but without any special pattern. The edge of the abdomen is a dark brown color. There are 28 known species related to the Kuruma ebi. In the Toyosu market, those with a striped pattern are Kuruma ebi, and those without are Taisho ebi. In Japanese it’s been dubbed “Korai ebi” is due to the fact that it is often caught in the waters off the west coast of the Korean peninsula. The soft meat has a sweetness that makes this shrimp delicious. The number of wild Taisho ebi has decreased drastically in recent years. The coloring is lighter than Kuruma prawn and Black tiger shrimp, but darker than other white-toned shrimp. This type has a long history compared to other imported frozen shrimp and such high volumes were imported from China that it was called Chinese Taisho. It accounted for the majority of the market share until farmed Black tiger shrimp started to appear on the market.

Banana ebi (Banana Prawn /Penaeus merguiensis)

Weighs between 18 to 30 g per shrimp. This shrimp comes from Australia and is colored like a banana. The meat is soft and has a sweetness. Sometimes it is also sold as Taisho ebi. The body is thinner and slenderer than the Black tiger shrimp.

Mexico brown (Yellowleg shrimp, Brown shrimp /Farfantepenaeus californiensis)

For more information, go here.

Vannamei ebi (Whiteleg shrimp, Pacific white shrimp/ Litopenaeus vannamei)

For more information, go here.

Ushi ebi (Black tiger shrimp, Giant tiger prawn/ Penaeus monodon)

For more information, go here.

Australia tiger(Brown tiger prawn /Penaeus esculentus)

This is a reddish-brown colored shrimp with a striped pattern from Australia. It is often imported with the head intact. The meat has a sweetness and the soft coloring is also nice. It is used as an alternat to Kuruma prawn. Most are caught in the wild, especially in Australia’s Gulf of Carpentaria.

Nigeria pink ebi (Southern pink shrimp, Candied shrimp/Farfantepenaeus notialis)

It occurs at depths from 3 to 700 m, common at depths from 10 to 75 m, inhabits bottom mud or sandy mud, and sandy patches among rocks in marine environment. Juveniles are found in estuarine environment. Also inhabits lagoons. It is often used for sushi because of the soft meat, good flavor and nice coloring. This is one of the highest grades of imported shrimp.

Mexico ebi (Northern brown shrimp, Brown shrimp /Farfantepenaeus aztecus)

Maximum standard length: 22 cm. It lives in bottom mud or peat, often with sand, clay or broken shells. Adults inhabit in marine environment. Juveniles inhabit in estuarine and marine environment. There are 13 types of brown-toned Kuruma prawn in the world and the names get confusing.

King ebi (Eastern king prawn /Penaeus plebejus)

Adults are found in marine environment while juveniles are found in estuarine environments. It is found over sandy bottoms at depths of 2-350 m or deeper.

Finally, the shrimp introduced in this section is consumed not only in Japan, but all over the world. Judging by the images on social media, takeout sushi and the frozen shrimp sold at Costco are made from one of the types of shrimp described here. If you’re going to learn about sushi, it’s important to learn the types of shrimp used in sushi.


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Revision date: January 4, 2022

What is Sekisaba?

Sekisaba (関サバ) and Sekiaji (関アジ) are ‘designer’ fish known for their high prices. Of them, Sekisaba is a premium fish that can go for as high as US $50 per fish. So, what kind of fish is Sekisaba and what’s the difference between it and normal Saba (Mackerel)?

Sekisaba is a Saba caught in the Hoyo Strait with a fishing pole by a union member of the Saganoseki branch of the Oita National Federation of Fisheries Cooperative (JF Oita). In other words, Sekisaba is not a type of Saba, but a premium fish created by differentiating the fishing method.

Sekisaba started to become known all over Japan between the late 1980s and early 1990s. Until then, Sekisaba was only known as a commonplace fish that was caught incidentally with Aji and went for US $2 per fish.

However, the Saganoseki branch of JF Oita applied for the first trademark ever in the industry and then grew the brand through methods such as tagging each individual fish by hand. This resulted in recognition of its taste as “Saba that can be enjoyed even as sashimi” (while Saba is generally a fish that loses its freshness easily and not eaten raw), catapulting it to a national constituency  After that, the thorough quality management and branding paid off and the price jumped to 10 times that of normal Saba.

The first difference between Sekisaba and normal Saba is that Sekisaba is caught carefully, one at a time. The use of ground bait is also banned so that the Sekisaba won’t eat anything but the natural diet (avoiding odor). Each fisher is only allowed to use fishing lures they make from fish skin or ragworms. Fish caught in this way are let out into a live holding tank on the ship and brought to the fishing port alive. After arriving at the port, the tank on the ship is checked, the fish size is looked at from the water surface and the approximate weight is measured. This method is called “Tsurugai”. This is because when the fish is placed on a scale, it struggles violently and can injure itself. The fish are allowed to calm down in the tank for a day at the fishing port. At the time of shipping, Ikejime is performed, in which a knife is put into gill parts, the spinal cord is cut, and then it is submerged into saltwater and the blood is let out. After that a processing method called Shinkeijime is performed in which a wire is inserted into the spinal cord to put the fish in a state of asphyxiation. Therefore, there is little damage to the fish, maintaining the freshness.

The Hoyo Strait where Sekisaba is caught is rich in plankton, which the Sekisaba feeds on, and the flow of the tide is fast. The reason Sekisaba meat firms well and is fatty year-round is thanks to the good environment of the sea it is raised in.

If you come across a Sekisaba that so much work has been put into, try it as sashimi, not Nigiri sushi. This is because Saba, which has a peculiarity to it, is unpopular among some people. However, Sekisaba doesn’t have this off-taste and doesn’t taste like Mackerel, so even people who don’t care for fish should be able to find it tasty.


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Revision date: October 25, 2021

Hirame isn’t thought of as a high-end fish in the US!?

Hirame is a high-quality fish that goes for at least US $50 per kilogram. It can even exceed US $80 per kilogram, depending on the timing and the fish’s body. Hirame is a typical white meat fish when winter is approaching and a great sushi topping to start off a meal. Also, the taste is so delicate that the original flavor can be cancelled out just by adding too much soy sauce. How the chef expresses this delicate taste is a tribute to his skill and something that foodies look forward to.

In the US, Hirame is often written as “halibut” on the menu of sushi restaurants. Technically the English name of Hirame is Bastard halibut. Hailbut (referring to Pacific halibut) is called “Ohyo” in Japanese. In Japan, the engawa of massive Ohyo is often used as a substitute for Hirame engawa at conveyor belt sushi, but the two are not confused for each other. There is no mistake that Hirame is related to halibut, but they are completely different species. Incidentally, the price of Ohyo is US $3 to $20 per kilogram. It is incomparably cheaper than Hirame.

Also, depending on the restaurant it may be represented in a variety of other ways such as fluke, flatfish and flounder. These terms refer to relatives of Hirame (鮃) or Karei (鰈), but do not indicate any certain species of fish. In other words, there is generally no distinction between Hirame and Karei in the US and to go even further, all white fish are thought to be the same species.

The delicious taste of fish is dependent on the distribution of fat and the amount of inosinic acid. Therefore, fish taste better in the seasons when they have fattened up. On the other hand, people have a hard time distinguishing between types of fish when comparing the tastes of the parts with less fat. The free amino acids in fish meat differ only slightly between different types of fish. In other words, the flavor of all fish is mostly the same. It is only the amount of fat and the amount of the umami component, inosinic acid, that differ between fish, so apparently even sushi chefs cannot distinguish between fish just by eating the back part, which has a low fat content.

This is part of the reason why in the US all white fish is all lumped into the same category and to top it off, the common consensus there is that white fish has no flavor.

At sushi restaurants in Japan, generally there are at least two types of white fish on offer. It is practically guaranteed that Hirame will be in stock in winter. The light flavor unique to this white meat that spreads with each bite maximizes the aroma and sweetness of the vinegared rice. Recently, white fish with high levels of fat such as Kinmedai and Nodoguro, have become standard, high-quality white fish.

The difference between how even these sorts of white fish are handled in the US and Japan is astonishing. That said, flavorless Hirame is not consumed as sashimi or sushi even in Japan. It is served in dishes with strong flavors, like carpaccio. It’s possible that delicious Hirame is just not available in the US.


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Revision date: October 7, 2021

What is Ishigakigai sushi?

Ishigakigai is a shellfish found from Kashimanada northward, Hokkaido, from the Kuril Islands to the Aleutian Islands and even on the west coast of North America. It lives off of plankton in the shallow sandy mud bottoms of the sea at depths of about 50 meters.

Aquaculture in Hirota Bay, Iwate Prefecture, has been successful and it started to appear at the Tsukiji Fish Market starting in about 2008, distributed as Ishigakigai. According to brokers, someone in the business at Tsukiji Fish Market misheard “Ishikage” as “Ishigaki” and the name stuck in the market. While Torigai meat looks black, Ishigakigai looks whiter, so it is also called “Shirotorigai”. The official name is “Ezoishikagegai”.

It starts to become common at the market when the Japanese rainy season ends, at the beginning of summer every year, which is around the end of the Torigai season. It then disappears from the market at the end of summer. A number of sushi restaurants start using it as a substitute for Torigai all at the same time, so Ishigakigai nigiri sushi suddenly started appearing on menus. Frankly, it is somewhat conservative as a nigiri topping but is known for the crunchy texture when biting into it. It also has strong sweetness and umami, which goes exquisitely with Shari. The sushi chef slaps the meat in his hand directly before serving to stiffen it–a way to increase the crunchy texture characteristic of shellfish. Naturally this texture is evidence of its freshness.

As the season of availability is short and the production sites are limited, Ishigakigai often fetches a high price. Those up for sale at the Toyosu Market go for $2 to $4 each. Wild-caught Ishigakigai is rarely found on the market, but when they are, the price is double that of the farmed version.

A relative of the Torigai, the Ishigakigai is rich in amino acids such as taurine, glycine and arginine. It is also resilient and can live for days, even outside its shell.


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Revision date: October 5, 2021

There are strangely two types of Ama ebi

It goes without saying, that each type of fish has its very own scientific name. However, in places like the Toyosu Fish Market, there are seafoods that end up sharing a name.

The official Japanese name of ama ebi (sweet shrimp) is “Hokkoku Akaebi” (scientific name: Pandaluseous Makarov). In Japan, ama ebi lives naturally along the Sea of Japan coast and the coasts of Hokkaido, and the ama ebi sold at Toyosu market is caught from Toyama prefecture and northward to Hokkaido and southward. When made into nigiri sushi, it is harmonious with the acidity of the vinegared rice and the thick sweetness is irresistible. It really lives up to its “sweet” name.

However, what dominates the Toyosu Market is frozen shrimp of the same pandalidae family, called “Honhokkoku Akaebi” (scientific name: pandalus borealis kroyer) from Iceland and Greenland. This is distributed as “Ama ebi” at the market, but strictly speaking it is a different type of shrimp. As far as appearance goes, it is impossible to tell the difference and they say that even the flavor is the same.

The majority of ama ebi used at conveyor belt sushi is produced in Greenland and imported to Japan through China. The reason for this import circumvention is that the processing to turn the shrimp into ready-made sushi toppings is done using inexpensive labor in China. The frozen ama ebi is thawed in China, processed (head, shell, etc., are removed) and then frozen again. Of course, this process diminishes the freshness of the fish. Preservatives are used to help prevent this. For example, pigment fixing agents are used in order to reduce discoloration from fading. Furthermore, acidity regulators and antioxidants are used to prevent changes in the quality and color of the meat. Ama ebi is stored in packs of 50, imported en masse to Japan, and can be used for sushi or sashimi immediately upon thawing.

As this ama ebi caught in the North Atlantic Ocean is considerably cheaper than domestic ama ebi, the reality is that conveyor belt sushi wouldn’t survive in Japan without these imports.


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Revision date: September 1, 2021

Where does the name “battera” come from?

While not often seen in Tokyo, “Whole mackerel sushi” is popular in Kyoto and Osaka. This is pressed sushi made by placing vinegared saba (mackerel) on top of sushi rice and shiroita-kombu (kelp that has been lightly shaved down) on top of that, and is normally called “battera” in Kansai.

It would make sense to call it saba pressed sushi, but a customer actually came up with this weird name, “battera”.

Around 1890, there was an exceptionally large number of konoshiro (gizzard shad) fish for the year. A sushi restaurant took notice of the cheap konoshiro, butterflied it, made it into fukin-jime, then sold it in this shape that resembled a boat. Apparently it used to look more like a boat than the present-day battera.

As the Portuguese word for “boat” is “batela”, someone started ordering by saying things like, “Give me a couple of battera.” Eventually battera became the official name.

Before long, konoshiro hauls dropped and so it was replaced with saba. Also, in order to preserve moisture, sushi chefs started to wrap it in kelp sent by ship from Hokkaido. The shape now is a long, skinny rectangle and it no longer resembles a boat, but the name remains.


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Revision date: August 12, 2021

What is Masuzushi?

The origin of Masuzushi dates back about 300 years. Apparently, in 1717 it was first presented as Ayu narezushi (narezushi is a traditional food, said to be the original form of sushi and made from lactic fermentation of fish) to the third-generation feudal lord, Toshioki Maeda, by Shinpachi Yoshimura, a feudal retainer of Toyama who excelled in cooking skills. Toshioki liked the dish very much and assigned the role of vinegaring Ayu to Shinpachi. After that, it is said that the same narezushi was presented to the eighth shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate, Yoshimune Tokugawa, and that Yoshimune was extremely pleased with it.

Shinpachi’s ayuzushi was made through the painstaking process of washing salt-preserved ayu with sake, then pickling it for around 12 days, removing the rice the day before it was to be served, then adding new rice that had been flavored with sake and salt.

This transformed to the present-day Masuzushi in the late Edo period, when the amount of vinegar was increased. Hayazushi, in which vinegar is added to rice for a quick meal, became popular, and Sakuramasu started to be used instead of Ayu, These factors seem to have contributed to how it transformed into the Masuzushi we see today.

It is made by first filleting fresh Sakuramasu into three pieces and removing the skin and bones, then cutting into 3 mm thick strips. These strips are sprinkled with salt and left for 3 to 5 hours before being washed with a vinegar mixture made of salt, sugar and other seasonings (water is never used for this). The type and amount of seasonings mixed with the vinegar at this time is a secret and determines the house flavor of the restaurant or family. Sakuramasu that has marinated for 1 to 2 hours in the vinegar mixture is placed on sushi rice in the container, then held down with weights to press for several hours to complete the Masuzushi.

Long ago, it was only made with Sakuramasu caught in Jinzu River, so it was made between April and July. However, due to reasons such as a dam being built upstream and water pollution, Sakuramasu produced outside the prefecture and imported Masu (trout) is used now, and it is made year-round.


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Revision date: August 3, 2021

What is Funazushi?

Narezushi (mainly a preserved food in which fish undergoes lactic fermentation with salt and rice), in which Sushi finds its roots, can still be found even today throughout Japan. The most famous is Funazushi in Shiga prefecture.

Although it has “sushi” in the name, according to common knowledge of the day, it would be called crucian carp. The sweet and sour smell tickles your nose and it’s almost like pickled crucian carp. When you actually put it in your mouth it fills with an intense sourness and it can only be described as a really sour pickled food. However, the more you eat it, the more you somehow get used to it and in the end it becomes a favorite food that you will even crave. This effect is so mysterious that people even wonder, “Could this have been synchronized at some point with the tastes of our Japanese ancestors?”

Making Funazushi sushi is surprisingly simple. The only ingredients are crucian carp caught in Lake Biwa, rice and salt. First the internal organs are removed from the crucian carp, next it is salted and then it is shade-dried. This crucian carp is packed tightly into freshly steamed rice in a large cask. “Sushizume” refers to this precise situation, and the ingredients are packed in so there is no air inside. If air is let in, the oxygen will cause microbiota to grow. In other words, it will rot. This is the most important thing in making funazushi.

While this cask is left for eight months to two years, special microorganisms will cultivate even without oxygen. These are lactic bacteria and acetic bacteria, which work to change the entire contents into a sour flavor.

After that, the mushy rice is removed from the finished Funazushi, and only the crucian carp is consumed. However, let me reiterate, this sour flavor is intense and complicated. Comparing it to bleu cheese or camembert cheese might make it easier to understand. The taste is so intense that it makes some people sick.

Incidentally, there are records from when Hideyoshi Toyotomi advanced his army to the Korean peninsula (around 1592), that Funazushi from Oumi was presented to soldiers on the front line as a comfort food. This episode illustrates the fact that Funazushi was a dish of pride for the people of the town of Nagahama (where Toyotomi’s castle was located, now part of Shiga prefecture).


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Revision date: July 26, 2021