Why does it taste a little bland when you had tuna at high-class sushi restaurant?

Tuna at top-end restaurants is light in flavor. Its Akami (red meat) has an indescribable acidity with a delicate harmony between the shari vinegar, the nikiri soy sauce, and wasabi. However, on the other side of the coin, it feels almost like a waste to eat it without a sense of luxury. Of course tuna with delicious akami, also has delicious fatty tuna (toro). And you’ll never get tired of it. It would be easy to polish off 10 pieces as a light snack. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the high fat content that makes it so easy to eat. However, it is because of that popular belief that many people feel that the big chain store farmed fish with lots of fat is more delicious than luxury natural fish.

 


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Revision date: April 16, 2019

Reevaluating the serious risk to health posed by farmed salmon!

Before continuing, please read the exclusive articles in major media and research papers.

The red tide (algal bloom) frequently occurs off the coast of Chile and it is resulting a large amount of salmon deaths. In 2015 27 million salmon died in a mass event, of which 25,000 tons were powdered and then fed to the healthy salmon (according to the UK’s Guardian reports).

Chilean fish farmers are using large quantities of antibiotics to control fish diseases. They use 500-700 times more antibiotics than Norway does. 80% of antibiotics imported into Chile are intended for the fish farming industry. Faced with the risk of bacteria resistant to antibiotics emerging, as highlighted by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Chilean National Fish Service is calling for a reduction in the use of antibiotics. (Extract from Le Monde diplomatique Japanese edition)

The bright color of salmon is something that you would never see a long time ago, but is now commonplace. It is likely due to the Canthaxanthin pigment mixed into their feed. Salmon is in fact a white fish. The salmon that is caught in Japan is called “Shirozake” or white salmon and its flesh is not a pink before it goes out to sea. Once it is out at sea, it swims around consuming small plankton and crustaceans such as shrimp and krill. Its body then takes on a pink color due to the intake of natural coloring of Astaxanthin. This Astaxanthin has antioxidant effects and it is noted for playing a part in relieving fatigue and preventing aging. However, the synthetic pigmentation that creates the salmon pink does not provide the same health benefits.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave approval for genetically modified salmon on November 19th, 2015. This genetically modified salmon is called “AquAdvantage salmon.” It grows faster than regular salmon and its body length is almost double. There are groups opposing the sale of this salmon, including US citizen group Center for Food Safety, the Japanese Seikatsu Club, and the European parliament. There are still many unknowns regarding the safety of this type of fish for human consumption, and a number of issues are still being debated. The discussion has been featured in “Nature” magazine.

Endosulfan is a type of organochlorine compound, like Dichloro Diphenyl Trichloroethane, Dicofol, Heptachlor, Chlordane, Mirex, Pentachlorophenol, and is known to be extremely toxic, but the EU approved Endosulfan for use as feed in Norway’s salmon farming industry in 2013.

Researchers analyzed the risk-benefit ratio based on levels of contaminants like dioxins, PCBs and chlorinated pesticides versus omega-3 fatty acid levels. While farmed salmon is higher in omega-3s, it is also significantly higher in these toxins (about 10 times) which can produce birth defects, lower IQ, and cause cancer. They determined the following based on origin of the salmon: “consumers should not eat farmed fish from Scotland, Norway and eastern Canada more than three times a year; farmed fish from Maine, western Canada and Washington state no more than three to six times a year; and farmed fish from Chile no more than about six times a year. Wild chum salmon can be consumed safely as often as once a week, pink salmon, Sockeye and Coho about twice a month and Chinook just under once a month.” (Extract from The Journal of Nutrition)

There is a saying, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. It is unlikely that big media outlet and research organizations would join forces to circulate incorrect information. Furthermore, this is not a problem that only affects certain countries like Chile or Norway. It should be considered as a problem for the entire farmed salmon industry.

On the other side of the debate, there are articles such as the following. Norway’s NIFES (National Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research) sampled 13,180 farmed fish (of which 90% were salmon) and monitored them for medicines, substances that are prohibited by law, and other pollutants, publishing their report on August 17th 2015. In their latest report, it concluded that Norwegian farmed fish were safe and that illegal and undesirable substances were not observed to exceed standards. Further, it seems that they have confirmed decrease in most of the pollutants analyzed in the investigation.

But the fact is that, according to these articles, while the chemicals did not exceed standard values, they were certainly found to be present in farmed salmon. The other extreme would be to say that eating natural un-farmed salmon will not expose you to the potential risks from these types of chemicals.

However, that’s not really practical. The global production of farmed salmon is 2.5 million tons a year, approximately three times the 800,000 tons of naturally fished salmon. No matter what way you slice it, the option of farmed salmon isn’t going away anytime soon.

Related Links

UK’s Guardian reports

Reuters reports

Le Monde diplomatique reports

Nature reports

Academic reports


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Revision date: March 1, 2019

What is Red Snapper the same as “Tai” (Sea Bream)?

In the United States, Sea Bream is often called a Red Snapper. However, strictly speaking, this is not correct.

Biologically, Snapper is a generic term for all species in the snapper family. Over 100 different species of snapper inhabit tropical coastal waters. Red snapper is mainly fished in the Gulf of Mexico.

So, what is the fish that Japanese sushi restaurants call “tai”?

They say there are over 300 different species of fish with “tai” in the name, making up 10% of Japan’s fish. When we say “tai” in Japanese, we are referring to “madai” or red sea bream. Red sea-bream is categorized in the “madai” (Pagrinae) subfamily.

Incidentally, relatives of the sea bream often served at sushi restaurants include red sea bream (madai), crimson sea bream (chidai) and yellowback sea bream (kidai). While “kinmedai” (Splendid alfonsino) and “amadai” (horsehead tilefish) have the name “tai/dai” in them, they are not part of the same family as “tai” (sea bream). Splendid alfonsino is a type of deep-sea fish.

Red sea bream and red snapper look similar, but when served as sushi, their texture and flavors are entirely different. So if you come to Japan, please try and eat natural red sea bream (madai). There is no “zatsumi” (overpowering bitterness) and it has a slight sweetness to it. This is the taste of sea bream, known as king of the white fish. Just for your own reference.


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Revision date: January 29, 2019

Sushi chefs are also extremely particular about the salt they use.

Salt is as important an ingredient in sushi as vinegar is. Special, natural salt is always used in sushi. This kind of salt has not only sodium, but also trace amounts of various minerals including potassium, calcium and magnesium. Types of natural salt include that made from seawater or lake water or rock salt and each restaurant selects the type of salt they use carefully.

For example, rock salt from Mongolia, Chile or the Andes will differ from solar salt found in Tosa or the Brittany Guérande. There is an amazing variety of salt selected by each sushi chef based on how well it goes with his own toppings and shari (vinegar rice).


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Revision date: November 19, 2018

What is Kakushiaji?

Kakushiaji refers to a technique where a single seasoning (For example, sugar, vinegar, soy sauce, salt, etc.) is added to a dish. The Kakushiaji contrasts with the finished dish’s flavor, and is added in an amount too small to notice when served. This produces a clear improvement in flavor.

Examples include adding a little salt to heighten sweetness, or adding a little vinegar to a simmered dish. Sometimes these combination of flavors can be quite surprising, like adding a touch of chocolate to a curry.


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Revision date: November 7, 2018

What is Umami?

Umami describes the delicious taste of savory flavor essences. For many years, people held to the belief that humans can taste only four basic flavors (sweet, sour, salty, bitter) unitil a japanese chemist named Kikunae Ikeda discovered a fifth flavor (glutamic acid) in the early 20th century.

The main umami ingredients are glutamic acid in seaweed, inosinic acid in dried bonito and meats, succinic acid in shellfish, guanylic acid in shiitake mushroom.

Many ingredients contain a wide variety of umami essences. In combination, they create a  synergistic effect which produces an even more potent savory flavor.


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Revision date: October 31, 2018

What is the difference between Bafun uni and Ezobafun uni?

While they are very similar to Green sea urchins (Bafun uni), Short-spined sea urchins (Ezobafun uni) are a size larger and have thick spines.

Green sea urchins are 5cm in diameter and Short-spined sea urchins are 10cm in diameter. Green sea urchins are distributed from the southern areas of Hokkaido down to Kyushu. Short-spined sea urchins are mainly distributed in the Hokkaido and Tohoku areas. The most commonly eaten green sea urchins that are Short-spined sea urchins in Japan.


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Revision date: October 15, 2018

Do you know the difference between “Nami (並)” “Jo (上)” and “Tokujo (特上)”? Of course you know that Tokujo is the best deal when you order, right?

When you go into a sushi restaurant and look at the menu, you’ll see the terms “Nami (並)” “Jo (上)” and “Tokujo (特上). Japanese people know from the kanji that “Tokujo” is the best, but generally they don’t know what the specific differences are.

Today I’ll explain what each set consists of. If you order “Nami” for one person, this is the typical course:

Tuna Akami: 1 pc. Salmon: 1 pc. Shiromi (white fish): 1 pc. Silver-finned fish such as mackerel: 1 pc. Raw squid: 1 pc. Octopus: 1 pc. Egg: 1 pc.
That’s 7 nigiri pieces and there might be 4 cuts or so of dried gourd or cucumber rolls. To be more specific, the white fish may be different each day, depending on what the restaurant has. The silver-finned fish is also often changed to something like Kohada. The octopus will have been frozen. If the course includes shrimp, it will always be a giant tiger prawn.

If you’re a bit more adventurous and go for the “Jo” course, you’ll be served 9 pieces of nigiri sushi. Fatty tuna (chu-toro) is added to the lineup, which means that with the Akami that’s two of the most popular toppings. But you won’t get the salmon. Depending on the season you may be served bonito. The shrimp may be changed to sweet shrimp. Salmon roe will also be added, making the set more colorful. The thin rolls are changed to salmon roles.

When you upgrade to the “Tokujo” set it will include conger, which takes time to prepare, and the white fish will be top class flounder or sea bream. You will also be served more delicious parts of the tuna. The higher cost means you will get higher quality sushi, which is represented by the prawns and sea urchin. The egg nigiri is upgraded to a thick egg omelet and it will also include something like a blood clam. All this will go into 10 beautiful nigiri pieces and rolls worthy of an Instagram pic.

The price of “Jo” is twice that of “Nami”. So “Tokujo” at triple the price is really an excellent deal. Considering the value of the toppings, the price is unbeatable. The “Nami” set is made up of toppings in the “Nigemono” category (Nigemono includes squid, kohada, octopus and egg toppings). To put it bluntly, this set only includes toppings that are cheap and have a variety of uses.

Psychologically people tend to choose the average, so when presented with “Nami” “Jo” and “Tokujo,” an overwhelmingly large percentage of people choose “Jo.” “Tokujo” is a bit expensive, but you came to eat sushi so “Nami” isn’t going to cut it. You select “Jo,” right in the middle so you won’t be judged. The people running these restaurants know this well and they set items they want to sell the most at the “Jo” price. The items they want to sell the most are those with the best profit margins, so usually these are in the “Jo” set. This is exactly what the restaurant wants.

However, they can’t do that for the “Tokujo” set. “Tokujo” is the pride of the restaurant and they want to preserve the quality. Even if they change the type of topping, it will be a topping worthy of “Tokujo”. They don’t want to serve their most expensive dishes and have a disappointed customer.

So if you’re going to pay for sushi anyway, it’s better to pay just a little bit more for the “Tokujo” course.


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Revision date: September 17, 2018

The migrating route of Inshore bluefin tuna and fishing place!

Tuna caught in the coastal regions of the Japan Sea is notable as the best bluefin tuna in January. Iki, a small island in Kyushu area is one of the famous ports for tuna.

In February and March, the tuna auction market becomes slack due to rough weather. Just a few tunas from Nachikatsuura where is also the famous port for tuna are on the market.

In March and April, tunas become thin because their eggs need many nutrients.

In May, large tuna is seldom seen in the Tsukiji Fish Market. Even if there is, its body is really thin. “Kinkaimono” which means a shore-fish is generally considered as high-class tuna, but in this season, imported tuna is useful instead.

It is said that Pacific Bluefin tunas spawn around Japanese waters between Taiwan and Okinawa in April and May. And then, they go up to fertile, north sea along the eastern coast of Japan.

In June, “Chubo” which is young and small tuna is taken hugely off the coast of the Sea of Japan. The school of Chubo begin moving northward in this season.

In July and August, tunas can be seen occasionally but their bodies are still thin. Instead, Boston Tuna which is caught in the Atlantic Ocean and nicknamed “Jumbo” is on the market. Its fresh is softer than “Kinkaimono” and it doesn’t have medium-fatty part which “Kinkaimono” has.

In September, Boston Tunas are at their best with plenty of fat on them. The best season of Boston Tuna is limited and ends in October. But fortunately, Japanese tunas come into season.

The school of tunas split up into two groups, the one takes Pacific Ocean route and another takes the Japan Sea route and both of them move northward along the Japanese Islands. Some of them reach the Tsugaru Strait where and the season of Tuna begins from September to next January. Oma town and Toi town is famous nationwide for its catch of tuna from the Tsugaru Strait. The flavor of tuna in September is still weak but it becomes stronger in October. In November, feed of tunas such as Pacific saury or Japanese common squid with plenty of fat increase and flavor of tuna also gets stronger. In December, the peak season comes around.

A catch of tuna falls off in January and it enters the final season. The temperature of sea water gets cold and feed of tuna, squids decrease and the fishing season in this area ends.


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Revision date: August 20, 2018

Where should soy sauce be applied to the sushi?

The most delicious way to eat sushi at restaurants where the sushi chef applies Nikiri (soy sauce perfectly evaporated with sake) for you is just the way it was prepared. However, at restaurants where sauce is not applied for you, the sushi is eaten by dipping it in soy sauce. The soy sauce used for dipping is provided for you at the counter or table. Many restaurants use the same evaporation formula for the dipping soy sauce.

Soy sauce for dipping is put into a small dish for use, but don’t put in too much. It depends on the depth of the small dish, but the diameter of the circle of soy sauce after being poured should be approximately 25mm.

When dipping sushi into the soy sauce, turning it upside down (although it will be somewhat tilted) and dipping the topping seems to be the most common method. If you keep the topping on the bottom when you put the sushi in your mouth, the flavors of the soy sauce and the fish are in complete harmony and the delicious taste spreads through your mouth. There is also an opinion that turning the sushi upside down for dipping is unacceptable practice. There are also some with the opinion that whether to eat with your hands or chopsticks depends on the situation.

Make sure not to get any soy sauce on the Shari (vinegar rice). You don’t want to add unnecessary saltiness to the Shari, which has already been seasoned. It would be a terrible waste to cancel out the exquisite balance of the topping, wasabi and Shari with the saltiness of soy sauce.


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Revision date: May 28, 2018

What is Uwami and Shitami?

Large fish that are caught are always kept and transported on their side with their heads facing left from the port to the market and to the restaurant where they are served. The part of the fish facing down when in this position is called “Shitami” or the “bottom body” and the part facing up is called “Uwami” or the top body. The Uwami costs more than Shitami. This is because the Shitami takes on the weight of the Uwami, reducing the freshness and possibly causing cracks in the body (cracking occurs on the edges of the muscles).


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Revision date: May 21, 2018

Why is freshly-caught fish allowed to age?

The most delicious time to eat fish differs depending on if it is served as sashimi, as sushi, or boiled. Fresh does not necessarily mean delicious. For example, Japanese Amberjack should be used in sashimi 3-5 days after being caught, in sushi a week after being caught and it can be used in a stew or boiled once it turns black around the edges. This is because the inosine acid, which is responsible for the umami taste, increases after rigor mortis ends and understanding the timing of the peak in flavor is up to the skill of the sushi chef.


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Revision date: March 12, 2018

Why don’t I notice the fishy smell in sushi restaurants?

Many overseas visitors who aren’t used to eating fish have an aversion to fishy smells. This is actually the smell of a substance called trimethylamine and is generated by the breakdown of the umami component called trimethylamine oxide found in large amounts in fish by bacterial growth. The smell also gets stronger with the generation of ammonia as more time passes.

Bacterial growth can be controlled with refrigeration so toppings at sushi restaurants are kept cold. Trimethylamine is an alkaline, so smells can be eliminated by washing with vinegar, which is acidic. It is also possible to kill bacteria on the surface of the fish by soaking it in vinegar, reducing the number of bacteria. Basically, sushi restaurants are constantly taking measures to prevent bacterial growth and avoid fishy smells.


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Revision date: February 19, 2018

Is sushi eaten with your hands? Or should you use chopsticks?

Sushi was originally a food eaten with your hands. Even, for example, if you are in a prestigious sushi restaurant in Ginza, you can still eat with your hands. You can actually use your hands to eat the ginger too. Restaurants that prefer you to eat with your hands will provide an extra, smaller towel for cleaning your hands between sushi, along with the normal hand towel. Even then, feel free to use chopsticks if you prefer.


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Revision date: February 12, 2018

Why is sushi with tuna topping so expensive?

A purchase of raw tuna costs at least JPY 30,000 per kilogram. Furthermore, good tuna is judged not only by taste, but appearance is also highly regarded.

The surface is gradually oxidized by letting it sleep (mature) and the sushi chef makes sure that parts are cut of as they change color, when the timing is perfect for both the taste and appearance. In other words, skin is taken from the freshly purchased tuna, the meat of the fish darkened by blood (the blackened area that can’t be used as sushi toppings) is removed, the parts that have changed color are shaved off and then only the remaining, best parts used as toppings are left.

This is why the price is high.


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Revision date: February 5, 2018