What is Edomae sushi?

A photo of Edomae sushi (Nigiri sushi)
Edomae sushi (Nigiri sushi) in the Edo period was about twice the size of today’s sushi.

We recently read a sushi article in one of the Food media and were amazed that there are still media outlets out there that are so misinformed. If taken dispassionately, it may be a reprinted article or an article created by a generated AI. Also, food writers who use arguments like “I live in Japan” or “I know sushi well because I have been to over 500 sushi restaurants” are not to be trusted in their articles.

Nigiri sushi originated about 200 years ago, but in fact, it can be said that no book comprehensively describes it. The only information available is the diaries of the samurai and aristocrats of the time, which are only a few lines of text. As proof of this, it is not even certain who started making nigiri sushi, and there are many theories. In other words, there is a possibility that it has been rewritten to suit their convenience.

Depending on whether sushi is classified in terms of its history or terms of its production method, the types of sushi will naturally differ. If we discuss in a confused state, we will not reach a single conclusion. Vinegar was produced by the natural fermentation of fish and grains for preservation purposes. This is the form of sushi when it originated. It must have originated in China, Southeast Asia, or somewhere in between. In Nigiri sushi, however, vinegar made from sake lees or other ingredients is added to cooked rice. Even if we focus the argument only on vinegar, there is no way to say that they are both the same food.

This article was rudimentary in that there are several types of sushi, including Nigiri sushi, Maki, Roll sushi, Inari sushi, Chirashi sushi, and Sashimi. As you already know, Sashimi is not a type of sushi. It is a typical Japanese dish. And this misunderstanding of Sashimi leads to a wrong understanding of Nigiri sushi. No one does not know what Nigiri sushi is. However, many people think that Nigiri sushi is Sashimi on top of vinegared rice (sushi rice). This is also a big mistake. Sushi topping can be made of vegetables or seafood, but without vinegared rice, it is not Nigiri sushi. We would like to remind you of this.

Moving on to our main topic, you may not have heard of Edomae sushi. It refers to Nigiri sushi, which originated in the Edo period (1603-1867), and although there have been some changes in the sushi ingredients, everything else has remained the same as when it originated. Together with maki sushi, which originated about 50 years later, it is now called Edomae sushi. The reason for the name “Edomae” is explained below.

Why is it called edomae?

So, except for the maki sushi story, Edomae sushi means Nigiri sushi. At the time when Edomae sushi originated, there was no such thing as a refrigerator, so it was not possible to refrigerate sushi toppings. It was natural to treat seafood for preservation. For example, we boiled Kuruma prawn (Kuruma ebi) and simmered Japanese conger (Anago).

Sashimi is a small piece of seafood, raw, with only the skin and bones removed. On the other hand, in Edomae sushi, the Sushi ingredients are treated in some way. We think the simplest treatment is to sprinkle salt on the seafood. This is one of the basic cooking methods practiced around the world. However, when making Sashimi, basic salt is not used. For more information on other processing methods, please check below.

Types of edomae preparations

Horse mackerel (Aji) and Mackerel (Saba), which lose their freshness rapidly, were preserved by soaking in vinegar until 50 years ago. Recently, however, they are served as close to fresh as possible. Even today, some Aji and Saba are still vinegared, but they are rare.

After the Great Kanto Earthquake, the Edomae sushi chefs lost their workplaces and went to the countryside to look for work. However, the local people did not understand the need to go to the trouble of preparing fresh seafood, and they gradually began to use raw sushi topping. Nowadays, the use of raw sushi topping is the norm in rural areas of Japan. Even the concept of “Edomae sushi” does not exist in the regions.

Conveyor-belt sushi, now a mainstream segment of the sushi industry, uses raw sushi toppings to save time and effort in preparing them, in other words, to cut costs. Or perhaps it is because farmed fish is not suitable for aging. It may be because Japan has a culture that values freshness, and fish is unusually valued for its freshness compared to meat and vegetables. Salmon, the standard sushi topping in other countries, is also used raw. It is not sprinkled with salt to reduce excess water and odor components.

Strictly speaking, these are not Edomae sushi (Nigiri sushi). They are called Sashimi vinegared rice. If we may add one more thing, there has been a shift from processing for preservation to processing to bring out the umami.

For your information.

What does Hon in front of the fish name mean?

A photo of Bonito (Katsuo)

The tastiest and most highly utilized Katsuo are Ma-gatsuo and Hon-gatsuo.Anyone can tell a fish is a different species if it looks different. However, there are cases where the appearance is so similar that you can’t just inadvertently make a mistake. That is when there are several species and the difference in value is significant. In the past, the fish was used as a fish fraud, and even today it is often used as a substitute.

So, the marketer adds the prefix Hon (本) in the name of a fish or shellfish to avoid confusion with a substitute. One of the meanings of the Japanese word “hon” is “genuine,” so this may have something to do with it.

For example, Hon-zuwaigani refers to Zuwaigani, which has a shorter fishing season and a much higher price than Beni-zuwaigani. To avoid confusion with Beni-zuwaigani, which has a similar name, the Hon is added to emphasize the fact that it is Zuwaigani.


Other fish names begin with the letter Hon.

・Hon-mirugai is Mirugai clam (Mirugai). To avoid confusion with Shiro-mirugai, which was considered a substitute for Mirugai in the past, Hon is added to emphasize the fact that it is Mirugai. Recently, however, the catch of Shiro-mirugai has been decreasing, and the price of Mirugai has skyrocketed.

・There are five main types of tuna distributed in Japan, including Minamimaguro, Mebachi, Kihada, and Binnaga, of which Kuro (kuro means black)-maguro, the largest, is considered the finest. As the name suggests, half of the fish’s body is black from the back to the lateral line, so it is so-called.

About 2 million tons of tuna are caught annually worldwide, but Kuro-maguro is only about 1% of that amount. Originally, maguro meant Kuro-maguro, but other species (Mebachi, Kihada, etc.) are now distributed, and to distinguish them from Kuro-maguro, what was originally called maguro is now called Hon-maguro.

Aka-kamasu, also called Hon-kamasu, is considered the most delicious of the kamasu family and is sold at high prices in the market. On the other hand, Yamato-kamasu, also called Mizu-kamasu, is a little less tasty, and the name seems to be used to distinguish Yamato-kamasu from Aka-kamasu.

・The official name of the family Pandalidae called Amaebi is Hokkoku-akaebi. It is widely found from the coast of Hokkaido to Toyama Bay and the eastern coast of the Korean Peninsula. It is widely found from the coast of Hokkaido to Toyama Bay and the eastern coast of the Korean Peninsula.

・Akagai is simply called Tama, Hon-dama, Hon-aka, etc. in the Toyosu market. There is also a Bachi-akagai that is very similar to the Akagai, but its real name is Satogai, which is not as red as Akagai and is smaller in size. Satogai is often mixed in with hon-dama and are called Bachi-akagai from Bachigai (it means out of place).


Finally, some seafood uses both Hon and Ma.

For example, there are four species of bonito: Katsuo, Suma-gatsuo, Marusouda-gatsuo, and Hirasouda-gatsuo. The tastiest and most highly utilized Katsuo are Ma-gatsuo (katsuo) and Hon-gatsuo (katsuo).

For your reference.

What does Ma in front of the fish name mean?

A photo of Horse mackerel (Ma-aji)
Ma-aji is the most commonly caught and represented species of Japanese Aji species.

Fish names include scientific names, standard Japanese names, local names, and foreign names.

Scientific names are the scientific names of organisms. They are written in Latin for international uniformity. They are also listed in fish-illustrated books. Standard Japanese names are defined by the Ichthyological Society of Japan. Local names are various names given to one species in different regions. In addition, when looking at English and French names, they do not correspond to species as in the Japanese standard Japanese name, and it is not uncommon for different species to have the same English name, or for multiple species to be called by the same English name. It is rare in the world that each fish species has its standard Japanese name, as is the case in Japan.

In addition to standard Japanese names and regional names, fish names unique to the Japanese language are sometimes used. For example, you have probably heard of the fish named Aji (鯵). Then is Ma-aji (真鯵) a different fish?

Actually, they are the same fish. The “Ma” in the name of a fish or shellfish indicates that it is the most representative, the most superior, or the most valuable among the many related species. The Chinese character “真” means “genuine.

For example, a total of 146 species of horse mackerels have been identified, including Japanese scad (Maru-aji), Bigeye scad (Me-aji), White trevally (Shima-aji), Amberstripe scad (Muro-aji), Red Scad (Aka-aji), Roughear scad (Oakamuro-aji), Great trevally (Gingame-aji), and Torpedo scad (Oni-aji). Ma-aji is the most commonly caught and represented species of Japanese Aji species.

There are other fish names beginning with Ma, which are briefly introduced below.

Ma-iwashi (真鰯) is a representative of sardines (Katakuchi-iwashi, Urume-iwashi, etc.).

・Kaki refers to Ma-gaki (真牡蠣). Ma-gaki is in season during the cold season and is mostly farm-raised, but there is a type of Kaki that is in season during the summer. It is called Iwa-gaki (岩牡蠣) and is characterized by its larger shells and meat compared to Ma-gaki.

・Anago with high market value are Ma-anago (真穴子), Goten-anago (御殿穴子), and Kuro-anago (黒穴子), but it is safe to assume that most Anago used in sushi restaurants are Ma-anago.

Other Ma (真) include Ma-dai (真鯛), Ma-dako (真蛸), Ma-dara (真鱈), and Ma-hata (真羽太).


Which fish tastes better, farm-raised or wild-caught?

A photo of Natural fish

The answer to this question is obvious.

First of all, the most common argument goes something like this.

Some say that farm-raised fish are fatty, but the image of natural fish being superior has simply taken hold. Others say that farm-raised fish are raised in small fish ponds, so they are less active and less chewy, or that feeding them formula feed harms the taste and aroma of their meat. Well, all opinions can be said to be right or wrong.

It could be for the following reasons. It does not touch on the quality as well as the quantity of fat. Not all fish farms are small, and there are far more people who prefer soft flesh to chewy flesh. And we know that feed has a big impact, so formula feed has been greatly improved. It is all about the so-called superficial argument.

And as you probably know, there are fish of the same season, same species, and same freshness that are natural but separately not so tasty. It can be said that the natural one is the one that is more hit or miss.

And, as a wild guess, I would say that most people only know what farm-raised fish tastes like. In Japan, about 60% of Japanese amberjack (Buri), 80% of Red seabream (Tai), and 99% of Japanese eel (Unagi) are farm-raised. In other words, most Japanese likely eat farmed fish for these three species. The situation is similar around the world. Farmed salmon surpassed the catch of wild salmon in 1996, and currently accounts for more than 70% of total production.

This is the prerequisite for the answer so far. We then look impartially at the facts alone to come up with an answer.

A photo of fish farm

It is not difficult for a person with common sense to compare farmed hamachi and wild buri and recognize them. However, for those who have only eaten Hamachi and usually find it tasty, it may take some time to come to feel that Buri is tasty because their brain has a sense that such food is tasty. Modern people who find foods with amino acids and artificial sweeteners tasty command their brains to tell them that they are not tasty without them. When we become accustomed to foods that mask the original taste, we lose sight of the original taste. This is the true nature of convenient food. Therefore, when a fair comparison of natural Buri and cultured Hamachi Sashimi is conducted, more than 80% of people say that cultured Hamachi tastes better.

Fish have different flavors and aromas depending on where they are caught, and once you understand this, you can narrow it down considerably to the place of origin. The factors are the marine environment in which they live and the type of food they have been raised on. Natural fish can choose the food they eat, and those raised on such food have their original flavor. Fish raised in aquaculture are fed a diet that suits their needs because the emphasis is on economics. Because farm-raised fish cannot eat the food they prefer, they can’t develop their original flavors.

Nowadays, farm-raised eels dominate the eel market, and there is not a mere shadow of the natural product to be seen. Whenever we eat wild-caught eel, we always feel that farm-raised eel does not have the smell of earth and mud from the fat condensed in the skin and meat like wild-caught eel. Whether you like this smell or not, it is the original flavor of the eel. As for the quality of fat, farm-raised eel is not so bad when it is hot, but when it cools down, it feels heavy. Compared with farm-raised eel, natural eel is fatty but gives the impression of being light and smooth, which is why it has been called a specialty.

The iodine value is a number that indicates the degree of saturation or unsaturation of fat and oil. The higher this number is, the higher the content of unsaturated fatty acids and the worse the aftertaste tends to be. For example, farm-raised eel has an iodine value of 150, while wild eel has an iodine value of about 80, and contains almost no unsaturated fatty acids. Unsaturated fatty acids are abundant in Pacific saury (Sanma), Japanese sardine (Iwashi), Mackerel (Saba), etc. In short, these fish and farm-raised fish that eat food made from highly unsaturated acids will all have highly unsaturated acidic constitutions and will have a bad aftertaste. Moreover, if the fat is too strong, the fish will not even develop the aroma of the individual fish. This is one aspect of farmed fish.

Red seabream (Tai) is also available in both wild and cultured forms, but the amino acid composition and flavor compounds in both types do not vary much. Why, then, is there such a difference in taste? The only reason is the difference in flavor. The trace amount of aromatic substances in the fat of sea bream determines the original flavor of the fish. As mentioned above, farm-raised Red seabream does not have the same flavor. The question is whether the aroma is good for us or not. Of course, everyone has his or her taste in aroma. But that is where the value of the food is born. The top chefs are very particular about aroma, and they all use natural ones.

Finally, can you imagine what the results would be if you ate farmed Atlantic salmon and wild Atlantic salmon as sashimi? Probably, the farmed salmon would be superior because of its tender meat, appetizing color, and fat content (we could not find such experimental data, so this is speculation). However, what would be the result of making Nigiri sushi? The noble aroma that nature possesses is irreplaceable. In sushi, where the main focus is on enjoying the aroma, the difference is obvious.

The difference between natural and farmed fish is obvious, as the best sushi chefs never use farmed fish. The exception to this is when the fish is raised in an almost natural environment, without artificial food, so that it simply cannot escape.

All in all, the conclusion is that wild fish tastes better.

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‘We won’t serve it’: leading UK chefs join campaign to cast farmed salmon off menu

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