Shiba shrimp (Shiba-ebi) is distributed south of Tokyo Bay on the Pacific Ocean side, south of Niigata Prefecture on the Sea of Japan side, and along the coast of China. It lives in sandy mud at depths of 10 to 30 m in inner bays, and grows to about 15 cm in length. The shell is thin, without stripes, and light yellowish-gray in color. They are also called Akahige (Aka means red and hige means antennae.) in some regions because of their red antennae. The season is from November to March. It was once caught in large numbers off the shiba coast of Tokyo Bay, hence the name shiba-ebi. It is important to note that Shiba shrimp lose their freshness quickly and the heads darken quickly, so they should be cooked on the same day or the heads should be removed. The main production areas are the Ariake Sea in Kyushu and Mikawa Bay in Aichi Prefecture. Its scientific name is Metapenaeus joyneri (Miers.1880).
What does Shiba shrimp (Shiba-ebi) sushi taste like?
Shiba shrimp is generally used in seafood tempura, Chinese cuisine, etc. When made into sashimi, it has a light and elegant taste, but the texture and sweetness are not quite enough.
It is not a typical ingredient for Nigiri sushi, but it is indispensable at sushi restaurants. It is used as an ingredient in Oboro and Tamagoyaki. Rarely, you will see sushi chefs making Gunkanmaki, but it looks grayish-white and not very tasty, and the delicate taste of Shiba-ebi is masked by the flavor of the nori seaweed.
Japanese spiny lobster is found along the Pacific coast south of Ibaraki Prefecture and is distributed as far as Taiwan. Its length reaches up to 40 cm. Its well-known production areas include Chiba, Wakayama, Shizuoka, and Mie prefectures. Its Japanese name is Ise ebi.
It is very special to the Japanese. With its stately beard, armored appearance, and bright red color when boiled, it has long been regarded as a symbol of good luck, an indispensable part of celebratory occasions. It is also a symbol of longevity.
What does Japanese spiny lobster (Ise ebi) nigiri sushi taste like?
To be honest, it seems a waste for Nigiri sushi, as it is often used in cooking due to its good appearance. However, its flesh is resilient, and in particular, it contains glutamic acid, which is an umami component, as well as glycine and arginine, which give it a sweet taste, on a level with Kuruma prawn. It can be served raw or as Yushimo-zukuri, which brings out its sweetness and is delicious as nigiri. Some sushi chefs also use Kobujime, so adjusting the moisture content is a key point in preparation.
The name “Ise ebi” comes from the Ise Peninsula, which includes the Ise region, where it is often caught. The taste of fish caught in this region is good, and Chiba Prefecture currently boasts the largest catch of Ise ebi.
However, imported products such as Australian spiny lobster (Jasus novaebolandiae Holthuis) and Rock lobster (Jasus edwardsii (Hutton,1875)) from Australia and New Zealand are much more widely distributed. Rock lobster is distributed only in the southern hemisphere and looks different from Spiny lobster. The Rock lobster is different from the Spiny lobster in appearance, and the Spiny lobster has a transmitter that produces a sound, while the Rock lobster does not.
Both conveyor belt sushi and premium sushi have versions of sushi made with raw sweet shrimp or botan shrimp. However, in Edomae Sushi, boiled shrimp is always used. The use of raw shrimp in sushi started in the Kansai region. Moreover, in the Kansai region, there are many restaurants that make sushi with live Kurumaebi known as “Odori or Kassha”. However, this way of eating may be declining nationwide. It is probably because there is increased texture when boiled, so it tastes better.
Going back to Odori, “Odori” means “dance” in Japanese and it is said that this name came from the fact that shrimp twitches on the sushi rice and looks like it is dancing. If you look up the roots, it seems that this method of serving started at a sushi restaurant in Kyoto City in the early Showa period. It spread throughout the Kansai region, but although Odori may look easy to make, the method is actually quite elaborate.
Let’s introduce the common recipe here. First wash the live Kurumaebi with fresh water and start by bending the head with your hand while detaching it from the body, then peel off the shell. Next, peel the skin off the abdomen and cut the abdomen open vertically. Fresh shrimp is difficult to peel, so it is important to do it very carefully. Next remove the veins from the back and sprinkle on just a bit of mirin and vinegar, then lightly rinse off with ice water. After that, parboil just the tail in boiling, salted water to make it look attractive.
Then make the sushi with the open side facing up. The direction is important because it is easier to tell that the shrimp is dancing when it is arranged this way. To finish, sprinkle lemon juice over the shrimp meat. This stimulates movement of the body.
Now let’s discuss how a customer eats Odori. It goes without saying that since the shrimp is still alive, the moment you dip the topping in the soy sauce, the shrimp twitches in its death throes, convulsing violently. Apparently the customers are greatly pleased to see this. We don’t recommend the faint of heart to order this dish.
Incidentally, eating only the shrimp in this way is called “Odorigui”. In China there is a dish in which living shrimp is soaked in Shaoxing rice wine or fermented alcohol, made drunk, and then eaten once it has settled down. These sorts of methods may be considered cruel in some western countries.
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.
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)
It found around the northern coast of Australia from the New South Wales-Queensland border to Shark Bay in Western Australia, it is mainly caught by trawlers between Exemouth Gulf, Western Australia and Brisbane, with the bulk of the catch coming from the Gulf of Carpentaria. It weighs between 18 to 30 g per shrimp 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. It is available year round with peak supply in April.
Mexico brown (Yellowleg shrimp, Brown shrimp /Farfantepenaeus californiensis)
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.
Australia ebi（Endeavour prawn/Metapenaeus endeavouri）
It is available wild-caught, they are bottom-dwelling marine prawns, found from southern New South Wales, around the northern coast of Australia to Shark Bay, Western Australia. It is commonly 22-30g and 7-14cm in body length. It mainly caught from March to November.
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.
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.
Black Tiger is in the category of the largest shrimp that is part of the Kuruma Ebi family and grows to be up to 30 cm. Black Tiger gets its name from the fact that it looks black before it is heated and has stripes like a tiger. The official name in Japan is “Ushi Ebi” but the reason is unknown. The Black Tiger is cultivated heavily in places like China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand and India. It started to be imported from Taiwan in the 1980s to compensate when Japan’s shrimp consumption could no longer be covered by Kuruma Ebi. At the peak, it accounted for 40% of Japan’s shrimp imports. There is a strong impression of shrimp being imported, but small Black Tiger can actually be caught in Japan from Tokyo Bay southward.
Black Tiger has a strong sweetness and firm meat but maintains its plumpness even when cooked with heat. It is known for the red color that appears when heated. The appearance and texture when eating Black Tiger is said to be similar to Kuruma Ebi, which is known to be a shrimp of luxury, so it is a very popular shrimp in Japan. It is used not only as a sushi topping, but in a wide variety of dishes, such as for deep-fried shrimp or Tempura.
For sushi restaurants, shrimp that has been boiled and had the head and shell removed is imported in vacuum-sealed bags. Once defrosted, it can be used as a sushi topping without any further preparations. At conveyor belt sushi restaurants it was even once presented as Kuruma Ebi.
One problem with Black Tiger, which is the mainstream farmed shrimp, is that it has little resistance to illness, and cannot be farmed in the same place continuously. Therefore, Black Tiger farming volume has dropped and currently Vannamei Ebi (Whiteleg shrimp) is becoming a major force in shrimp farming.
One type of shrimp that is used for nigiri sushi when still raw is Botan ebi. Needless to say, it is an extremely new addition to the Edomae sushi topping list. Interestingly, there are two types of domestic shrimp that are called Botan ebi in the Toyosu Market.
One is called by its Japanese name, Toyama ebi, with a length of 25 cm, lives in the sea at depths of 100 to 400 m, and is normally caught in Funka Bay of Hokkaido on the Japan Sea side. It actually isn’t caught in Toyama very often despite being called Toyama ebi. At the cheapest it still costs US $20 per kilogram, and in rare cases can exceed $200 per kilogram. In the Toyosu Market, it is called “Torabotan” because of the tiger stripes on the shell (“Tora” is Japanese for tiger).
The other Botan ebi is the Humpback shrimp, which is found on the Pacific Ocean side at depths of 300 m or more and has a length of 20 cm. The main production sites are Suruga Bay, Chiba prefecture and Kagoshima prefecture. The catch is so unstable, and at one point it was almost non-existent, making this shrimp so rare that the Toyosu Market brokers have nearly forgotten about it. The price is even higher than Toyama ebi. In Toyosu, it is called “Honbotan”.
All Botan ebi look beautiful, have a pleasant texture and a mellow sweetness that goes perfectly with shari. Even at high-end sushi restaurants, there is no distinction between the two, and they are both served as Botan ebi.
Considering this, being served substitutes for Botan ebi is unavoidable. About 800 tons of the Spot prawn, found in the northern Pacific Ocean, is imported to Japan from the U.S. and Canada annually. The Spot prawn is a close relative of domestic Botan ebi and they can only be told apart by examining the head closely. It is sometimes called Ama ebi or Botan ebi in the U.S. and Canada. Furthermore, one does not taste better than the other. Especially when eaten raw, the sweetness is intense. The peak season is from April to October, and during this time it is imported live, fresh and frozen.
In the Toyosu Market, it is called Spot ebi and separated from Botan ebi, but is used as Botan ebi in various restaurants and inns. The price is a little lower than the domestically produced but is definitely still an expensive shrimp.
Cultured shrimp like Black tiger is imported to Japan from India, Vietnam, Indonesia, and other places and it used in a lot of nigiri sushi. The shrimp used in sushi rolls is generally the giant tiger prawn. It is used because the price is cheap and it becomes a beautiful vermilion color when boiled. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the sweet taste normally associated with shrimp.
On the other hand, the Kuruma prawn (kuruma ebi) that is offered at Edo-style sushi restaurants has a rich aroma and sweetness than spreads over your tongue. It is also becoming more popular to boil it just before serving it to the customers. By doing this, the warmth enhances the sweetness of the shrimp.
The old Edo-style sushi restaurants will also ferment the shrimp in eggs scrambled with sweet vinegar (yolk soaked in vinegar) for several days. When the Kuruma prawn is soaked in the egg, its umami is enhanced and its pleasant acidity is delicious.
By the way, when you boil the shrimp, it normally bends towards the belly. Crooked shrimp cannot be used for sushi, so a few cuts are made in the ventral to stop it from bending and it is cut along the muscles or from head to tail and skewered before boiling. You still have to be careful it doesn’t bend when you peel off the shell. Therefore, even just the way a Kuruma prawn is boiled demonstrates the skill of a sushi chef.
Crustaceans like shrimp and crab are sushi toppings overflowing with their distinctive sweetness.
Except for Kuruma ebi, Ebi and Kani (shrimp and crab) were introduced as sushi toppings after WWII. The sweetness of shrimp is stronger when eaten raw. There is still a sweetness remaining in boiled shrimp, but it’s weaker. Instead, the umami gets stronger and the texture is also completely different than when served raw. When boiled the fiber is more apparent and it can be bitten clear through. Kuruma ebi is one of the traditional sushi toppings of the Edo period.
The umami of shrimp is sweeter than that of crab. The sweetness comes from the amino acids contained in the extract: glycine, arginine, alanine, propurine, and betaine. In particular, Kurumaebi and amaebi are particularly rich in glycine. On the other hand, umami is related to ATP decomposition-related substances.
Crab wasn’t originally an Edomae sushi topping. However, there is a special sweetness that oozes from the gaps in the fibrous body. The umami of crab is the amino acids in the extract component. Among crabs, hairy crabs have the most amino acids, while those of snow crabs, a high-end winter delicacy, are less abundant than those of hairy crabs, and therefore less rich in flavor. Nucleic acid-related substances are mainly CMP, but ATP-degrading substances such as AMP and inosinic acid are also involved in the umami taste. The main component of sweetness is glycine betaine, a sugar alcohol-based component.
*Japanese terms will be italicized on sushi ingredients page.
Aburagani－Blue king crab (Paralithodes platypus (Brandi,1850))