What are Fish paste products?

Essentially, no fish cannot be processed into fish paste products using current food processing technology. However, it is important to have a stable supply of high-catch fish species, which are inexpensive, and whose meat is suitable for fish paste products. High-catch species such as sardine and Alaska pollack are the main raw material for mass-produced fish paste products. However, many of the fish paste products that are considered local specialties in Japan are originally produced using locally caught fish. Among fish paste products, fish species other than the most prolific are used when the flavor of the product varies depending on the fish used.

Now that you understand more, let’s continue with the explanation using Kamaboko (蒲鉾), the most widely used fish paste product, as an example. The preferred fish to be used as the raw materials for Kamaboko have strong Ashi, good Suwari and doesn’t Modori easily.


Ashi refers to the moderate resilience that Kamaboko has, with a crisp and crunchy texture, proving that it is a good product. In other words, strong Ashi means that the fish has adequate firmness. Types of fish with strong Ashi include Flyingfish, Japanese aulopus, Brushtooth lizardfish, Bartail flathead, Red seabream, Golden threadfin-bream, Silver croaker, Honnibe croaker, Grub fish, Spiny goby, Indo-Pacific blue marlin, Globefish and others. Generally, Shiromi fish are considered to be strong and Akami fish are considered to be weak, while freshwater fish and shrimp are considered to be weak for the most part.

Suwari refers to the ease of surimi hardening and depends not only on the difference in type of fish, but differences also occur due to temperature and pH of the surimi, freshness of the raw fish material and how the fish was killed. In other words, poor Suwari means that the fish doesn’t firm up easily. Fish well-known for having good Suwari start with Indo-Pacific blue marlin and also include Honnibe croaker, Flying fish, Brushtooth lizardfish, Grub fish, Red seabream, etc. Fish known to have poor Suwari included crucian carp, bonito monkfish, sardines, etc. Generally, fish that live in coldwater regions have better Suwari while fish that live in warm waters and freshwater fish have poor Suwari.

Modori or Hi-modori refers to the phenomenon of weakened elasticity when fish that were hardened through the Suwari process has been further heated. Modori depends on the type, freshness and season the raw material fish was caught. Fish that don’t succumb to Modori easily include Grub fish, Needlefish, Indo-Pacific blue marlin, Starspotted smooth-hound, Flathead gray mullet, Horse mackerel, etc. Fish known to succumb to Modori easily include sardine, leatherjacket, Honnibe croaker, Chub mackerel, Crucian carps, Japanese Spanish mackerel, etc. Surimi color is reflected in the finished product, so Shiromi fish with a white finish is generally preferred over Akami fish, which results in a darker finish. However, it is possible to create a white finish, even using Akami fish, with some extra work.


Because the unique flavor of the raw fish is lost during the Surimi production process, it is common to season the fish afterward, but some specialty products are produced in such a way that the flavor of the raw fish is not lost.

Until World War II, the production of fish paste products was not organized for mass production, and many factories had only a few craftsmen at most. Only locally caught fish were used as ingredients. Since there were no refrigeration facilities, the factories had to be closed during the summer months, when it was difficult to maintain quality.

After the war, when the bottom trawling fishery in the East China Sea started, raw fish such as Silver croaker, Yellow croaker, Large yellow croaker, Eellowback sea-bream, Nemipteridae, and Largehead hairtail came to be supplied cheaply and stably. Advances in cold storage technology and distribution networks have also made it possible to mechanize the production process and mass produce products.

As a result, the production of fish paste products continued to increase in both quality and quantity, and the demand could no longer be met by inshore raw fish alone. At this time, frozen surimi from Alaska pollack appeared on the market.

Frozen surimi is a raw material made by adding sugars such as sucrose and sorbitol, which prevent protein denaturation, and polyphosphate to surimi and then freezing and storing it. The basic technology for frozen surimi was developed at the Hokkaido Fisheries Experiment Station in 1960.

Frozen surimi can be classified into three categories: unsalted surimi, which has little protein denaturation during freezing; salted surimi, which can be commercialized with high ash content; and ground surimi, which is processed at a factory from raw fish.

The quality standards for the commercialized surimi are set by the National Frozen Fish Meat Association, and there are several grades of surimi in the Alaska pollack. Most of the frozen surimi produced are made from Alaska pollack, but due to a decrease in Alaska pollack production, Red seabream and Nemipteridae caught off the coast of Hong Kong have also been used as surimi raw materials.

Types of Fish paste products

a photo of Chikuwa


Chikuwa is Surimi wrapped around a bamboo stick and heated. The baked chikuwa is called yaki-chikuwa, and the steamed chikuwa is called shiro-tikuwa. Toyohashi-Chikuwa from Toyohashi City, Aichi Prefecture, is especially famous. It is characterized by the fact that both ends are white and only the middle area is browned.


a photo of Datemaki


Date-maki is made by adding eggs and sugar to Surimi, rubbing to a foamy consistency, and then baking. Good quality is considered to be made with sharks as the raw material fish. Date-maki is known throughout Japan as a New Year’s product.


a photo of Hamoita


Among the many types of kamaboko, yaki-kamaboko is the most common type of kamaboko in Japan. Historically, this method is the oldest.

Yaki-ita in the Kansai region is made from Daggertooth pike conger, Synodontidae, and Sciaenidae. In order to preserve the flavor of the ingredients, the process of soaking in water is shortened, and the surimi is steamed and hardened once before the surface is seared and browned.


a photo of Hanpen


Hanpen is made by adding yams to Surimi, making it foamy, and steaming it. It is characterized by the lack of ashi and a fluffy marshmallow-like texture. It is a fish paste product unique to the Kanto region, and the best fish paste products are those that use sharks as ingredients. It is one of the oldest fish paste products.


a photo of Kanikama


Kanikama is a fish paste product that has the texture, shape, color, and flavor of crab, just like crab meat. The raw material is not crab but fish surimi. The main ingredient is Alaska pollack, a white fish that has no peculiarities or odor. Other surimi such as golden threadfin-bream and largscaled saury are also used.


a photo of Mushi kamaboko


Mushi-kamaboko was already being produced around the end of the Edo period. It is most commonly found in the Kanto area, with Odawara-kamaboko in Odawara City, Kanagawa Prefecture, being the most famous.

Odawara-kamaboko is mainly made from Sciaenidae and soaked in mineral-rich groundwater to produce a white, ashi-rich product. Odawara-kamaboko is also characterized by the abundance of Itatsuki-kamaboko.


a photo of Narutomaki


Naruto-maki is made by coating the inside of white surimi with red-colored surimi, rolling it up in a bamboo screen, and steaming it. It is called this because the spiral pattern on the cross section is associated with the whirlpools of Naruto. It is used as a garnish for noodles and chirashi-sushi.


a photo of Sasa kamaboko


Sasa-kamaboko is a type of yaki-kamabo. Sasa-kamaboko from Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture, uses a mixture of Bastard halibut, Broadbanded thornyhead, and Nemipteridae as ingredients, shaped into a leaf shape, and grilled over charcoal.


a photo of Satsumaage


Satsumaage is a generic name for deep-fried surimi. The best products are made from Sciaenidae and Synodontidae. Some products from Kagoshima and Okinawa are made with brown sugar, which gives them a very sweet taste.

a photo of Yaki kamaboko


Hamo-ita is made from only daggertooth pike conger, steamed once, and then carefully baked. It is a specialty of Osaka.

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Revision date: June 29, 2023

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What is John dory (Matoudai) sushi?

a photo of John dory (Matoudai)
John Dory (Matoudai) is benthopelagic coastal fish, found on the coasts of New Zealand, Australia, the coasts of Japan, and on the coasts of Europe.

What is John dory (Matoudai)?

John dory (Matoudai) is distributed south of Honshu, in the East China Sea, Indian Ocean, western Pacific, and western Atlantic. It is found in sandy mud at depths of about 100 m, either alone or in small groups. The body is oval, with a marked lateral flattening. It has a large blackish-brown circular crest with a white border in the center of its body. John dory is called “Saint Peter‘s fish” in Western countries and seems to be revered by Catholics. Its scientific name is Zeus faber Linnaeus,1758.

What does John dory (Matoudai) sushi taste like?

The flesh of John dory (Matoudai) is light and mild, but lacking in flavor, so it is eaten with a variety of flavors. It is very tasty as a poire or meuniere, as it goes well with butter. In France, it is very popular as a standard meuniere along with sole.

It is characterized by its strong umami taste, and its liver is known to be very tasty. Sashimi is served with liver soy sauce, and Nigiri may be served with Kobujime.

Since its season is from fall to winter, it covers the same period as filefish. In Tokyo, there is also farmed filefish, and the sushi chef will use the filefish that is distributed in a considerable amount. Sushi restaurants that deal directly with fishing ports on the Sea of Japan side seem to get it by chance, but you almost never see it at sushi restaurants in Tokyo.

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Revision date: June 15, 2023

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What is Largescale blackfish (Mejina) sushi?

a photo of Largescale blackfish (Mejina)
Largescale blackfish (Mejina) lives in rocks close to the shore and look for seaweed to eat. It creates an unique, delicious flavor come with a strong sea smell and it taste out a little bit firm with slightly sweet.

What is Largescale blackfish (Mejina)?

Largescale blackfish (Mejina) is distributed throughout Japan south of southern Hokkaido, Taiwan, and the East China Sea. Its bodies are oval and flattened, and its body color is blackish purple. It is diurnal and forms schools, moving to deeper waters offshore as it grows.

It can grow up to 60 cm in length, but most of those on the market are about 40 cm in length. In summer, it feeds on animal food such as small shrimps, and in winter, it prefers vegetable food such as seaweed and nori, which means that the season is winter, as the fish’s smell of the sea disappears and it becomes fatty during the winter.

The name of this species in the Kansai region is “Gure,” and it is a popular rock-fishing target. Its scientific name is Girella punctata Gray, 1835.

What does Largescale blackfish (Mejina) sushi taste like?

a photo of Mejina nigiri sushi
Largescale blackfish (Mejina) is mildly oily and a delicious white meat fish. There is a layer of umami under the skin so we’d advise to serve seared or yubiki with the skin-on.

Largescale blackfish (Mejina) looks like red seabream (Tai), but are related to Japanese sea bass (Suzuki). The Kuromejina (Girella leonina (Richardson,1846)) and Okinamejina (Girella mezina Jordan & Starks, 1907) are members of the Mejina family, but the Mejina has the best taste.

It can be served as sashimi, grilled, simmered, or even cooked in a pot. It is relatively easy to cook because it is well suited to cooking methods that use oil. If the gall bladder is accidentally broken, a strong odor can be passed around in the air, which can make it smell even worse. Therefore, it is important to avoid damaging the internal organs when cooking it.

It is inexpensive, but because it is not caught in large numbers, it is not always available at sushi restaurants. Its flesh is a beautiful pale pink color, which is hard to imagine from the black body surface.

In winter, it has a stronger taste than red seabream, with the fat coming in closer to the mouth and a stronger umami. In the summer, it can have a slightly peculiar aroma, so it is best to yubiki (parboil) or broil the fish before serving it as nigiri sushi.

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Revision date: June 12, 2023

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What is Slender sprat (Kibinago) sushi?

a photo of Slender sprat (Kibinago)
The slender sprat is valued as food in Japan, where it is known as kibinago. These can be eaten raw, as sashimi, or cooked, as whitebait.

What is Slender sprat (Kibinago)?

Slender sprat (Kibinago) is distributed south of central Honshu, the Indian Ocean, and the western Pacific Ocean. They are found in large schools on the surface from the coast facing the open sea to offshore. Its body length is 8~10 cm. It has an elongated body shape like Japanese anchovy at first glance, and is yellowish-white overall, with a bluish back and one bright silvery-white longitudinal stripe on the body. The season is summer. In the Satsuma region of Kyushu, it is highly prized as a local dish, and sashimi, arranged in the shape of chrysanthemum flowers, is famous. In Kagoshima, it is often served with vinegared miso. The scientific name is Spratelloides gracilis (Temminck & Schlegel, 1846).

What does Slender sprat (Kibinago) sushi taste like?

a photo of Kibinago nigiri sushi
Several fillets of kibinago are placed on top of the shari, and a shiso leaf is placed between the shari and the fish. A dab of grated ginger and some nikiri shoyu is then applied.

Slender sprat (Kibinago) cannot adapt to environmental changes. They need clean underwater to survive. Even in well-equipped aquariums, there are no examples of successful long-term breeding. In addition, their freshness deteriorates very quickly after death, so in the past, only people at fishing ports were able to eat them as sashimi.

When made into nigiri sushi, the fish is eaten with several pieces of hand-opened neta (topping). It is rich in flavor and uses scallions and ginger as condiments. This nigiri sushi should be paired with Satsuma shochu, a local specialty.

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Revision date: June 8, 2023

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What is Sailfin poacher (Hakkaku) sushi?

a photo of Sailfin poacher (Tokubire)
The appearance of Sailfin poacher (Tokubire)

What is Sailfin poacher (Hakkaku)?

Sailfin poacher (Hakkaku) is distributed north of Toyama Prefecture on the Sea of Japan side, north of Miyagi Prefecture on the Pacific side, east coast of the Korean Peninsula, and Peter the Great Gulf. It inhabits shallow muddy areas at depths of about 150 meters. Body color is light blackish brown, and length reaches 40 cm.

The head is triangular in shape, and the body surface is angular, covered with spiny bony plates, and nearly octagonal in cross-section. It has a beard like a catfish. The male’s fins are exceptionally large, hence the name Tokubire (Toku means special and bire means fin), while sushi chefs call it Hakkaku (Hakkaku means octagonal) because of the shape of its cross-section. The season is around from December to February. The scientific name is Podothecus sachi (Jordan & Snyder, 1901).

What does Sailfin poacher (Hakkaku) sushi taste like?

a photo of Sailfin poacher (Tokubire) sushi
Sailfin poacher (Hakkaku) is a chewy white fish with the perfect amount of sweet fat and rich flavor.

Sailfin poacher (Hakkaku) is not well-known south of the Tohoku region, but it is popular as sushi material at sushi restaurants in Hokkaido. Contrary to its appearance, it is a fatty white fish with a crunchy texture and a rich flavor and sweetness of fat that spreads in the mouth. Usually the white meat is clear, but its flesh is murky white due to the presence of lots of fat. Also, males are larger and have more fat.

However, because of this shape, the yield rate is quite low. Because there are so few of them in Hokkaido, even many Hokkaido residents know of them but have never eaten them, so they are almost never available at sushi restaurants in Tokyo.

You can find Hakkaku at Izakaya because it can be prepared any way you like: “salt-grilled,” “dried overnight,” or “deep-fried.”

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Revision date: June 7, 2023

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What is Black scraper (Umazurahagi) sushi?

a photo of Black scraper Umazurahagi)
Black scraper is a filefish with high market value but the standing stock has been decreased in the past years due to the overexploiting and environmental fluctuations.

What is Black scraper (Umazurahagi)?

Black scraper (Umazurahagi) is distributed in the Sea of Japan from Hokkaido to Kyushu, the Pacific Ocean, the Yellow Sea, and the East China Sea from the Korean Peninsula to the coast of China. It is a familiar fish caught throughout Japan. Umazurahagi are called nagahagi (naga means long) because they are longer than Filefish (Kawahagi).

They are abundant at depths of around 10m, slightly offshore from Filefish. When young, around 10 cm in length, they migrate in schools, but as adults, they are often found alone. Adults gather in coastal areas to spawn from around May to July and dive to deeper water around November.

They are omnivores, feeding on benthic organisms such as seaweeds, crustaceans, polychaetes, and even jellyfish. Its scientific name is Thamnaconus modestus (Gunther,1877).

What does Black scraper (Umazurahagi) sushi taste like?

a photo of Umazurahagi nigiri sushi
Black scraper (Umazurahagi)’s white flesh has an elegant sweetness and a crunchy, pufferfish-like texture.

Black scraper (Umazurahagi) has a blurry appearance and does not look tasty, but once peeled, it reveals a clear white flesh similar to that of pufferfish.

The price of Umazurahagi is completely different between those caught in large quantities by bottom trawling fishing and those caught by pole and line fishing. Therefore, Ikejime or live fish are used for sushi toppings.

The liver, with its rich flavor, can be raw or seared and used in nigiri sushi to make an exceptional dish. Although it is looked down upon compared to Filefish and pufferfish, it is relatively affordable and highly regarded as a topping, and is not a substitute for Filefish at all.

However, the quantity of fish received at the Toyosu market and other markets is not stable. From that point of view, few restaurants offer nigiri sushi.

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Revision date: June 6, 2023

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What is Japanese scaled sardine (Mamakari) sushi?

a photo of Japanese scaled sardine (Sappa)
Sappa (Japanese scaled sardine) and kohada (Gizzard shad) are similar, but the dorsal fins of the sappa are not thread-like and there is no black dotted line on the body side.

What is Japanese scaled sardine (Mamakari)?

Japanese scaled sardine (Mamakari) is distributed south of Hokkaido, the Yellow Sea, and Taiwan. It inhabits shallow sandy muddy areas near the mouths of estuaries in inner bays. Its standard Japanese name is Sappa, and its length reaches 15 cm. Juvenile fish can be caught in large numbers in small fixed nets, but It has little market value and are treated as small fish.

The morphology and ecology of this species are similar to that of the Gizzard shad (Konoshiro) throughout the egg, juvenile, and young stages, but the adult fish clearly differ in body color and dorsal fin shape. In Japanese scaled sardine, the blue on the dorsal side and the white on the ventral side are clearly separated and vivid. Its scientific name is Sardinella zunasi (Bleeker, 1854).

What does Japanese scaled sardine (Mamakari) sushi taste like?

a photo of Mamakari nigiri sushi
Mamakari nigiri sushi is an indispensable dish for festivals and family celebrations, and is a representative dish of the special days in Okayama.

In Okayama, Japanese scaled sardine, a close relative of gizzard shad, is called Mamakari and is highly prized. It is in season from fall to winter and is the finest Mamakari with fine texture and fat.

Fresh Mamakari nigiri sushi, lightly vinegared, has a unique Okayama flavor that is different from that of Gizzard shad (Kohada). One thing to note is that, as with other herring species, there are many small bones, so it is easier to eat them if they are pickled in vinegar. It can be said that it is a dish that refreshes the palate and whets the appetite.

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Revision date: June 5, 2023

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