Why is salmon so delicious?

When you put food in your mouth, the components that are dissolved by your saliva are called extract components. Extract components include mainly free amino acid and inosinic acid as well as organic-based components such as adenosine triphosphate-related substances, creatine and trimethylamine oxide. Extract components are important components that make up the flavor of foods.

When we looked up the extract component composition of the muscle of chum salmon, sockeye salmon, coho salmon and king salmon, which are all types of salmon, the component composition of chum salmon, sockeye salmon, coho salmon and king salmon are all similar.

The taste of fish is much lighter in comparison to the muscle meat of shrimp, crab and squid types of seafood. By combining extract components, shrimp, crab and squid flavors can be reproduced, but the relationship between the flavor extract components and fat in fish meat plays an important role in taste. The fat of fish gives it a rich flavor, illustrated by the fact that compared to the back meat of fish, the taste of the belly meat, which is abundant in fat to protect the organs, has a richer flavor.

The difference between the muscle of salmon and tuna is that salmon tends to have a lower inosinic acid content. Although not unique to salmon, the delicious taste of fish meat is related to the amount of inosinic acid and the amount of fat. Umami is mainly made up of inosinic acid is strongly related to fat and in case of inosinic acid content is high, it doesn’t feel “fatty” even with high-fat content. Instead, the fat makes it more pleasant and delicious.

On the other hand, when the inosinic acid content is low, a high-fat content doesn’t really translate into a pleasant taste. In the case of farmed fish, where high importance is attached to the weight of the fish when it is shipped, even if the fat content is high, if the inosinic acid level is low, then the fatty aspect does not translate into deliciousness, which is likely what leads to the opinion that the flavor of farmed fish is inferior to wild fish.

In the case of salmon variations, the inosinic acid content is low compared to tuna variations, and generally, the optimal amount of fat for delicious salmon is 4 to 6%. With tuna, the general idea is, the more fat, the more delicious, but this is not true for the taste of salmon.

Fat on animals that live above ground hardens when refrigerated. This creates an unpleasant waxy texture when eaten. However, as fish live in the frigid ocean waters, their fat doesn’t harden, even when stored at about -18℃. The most appealing aspect of salmon is thought to be that it goes well with shari (vinegared rice). The meat is soft and the fat has a low melting point, so it blends easily with shari and emits a sweetness when you bite. This is a sensation you won’t find with much other fish.

We hope this information will be helpful.

Revision date: February 9, 2021

Learn the basics of pairing sake with sushi!

First, let’s roughly categorize sake. The two main indicators that determine category are aroma and intensity. Is the aroma fragrant or mild? Is the taste mellow or sharp? This creates 4 categories, fruity (aromatic with a mellow flavor), light (mild aroma with a mellow flavor), umakuchi (mild aroma with a strong flavor) and matured (aromatic with a strong flavor).

Next, we will introduce the characteristics of each of the four categories, and the basic sushi toppings that pair well with each one.

When a fruity sake is poured into a glass, and when you take a drink, there is a sweet aroma that is almost fruity. The taste is juicy and elegant. We recommend pairing it at the beginning of a meal. However, the aroma may be overpowered by seafood, so it’s quite difficult to pair it with sushi. However, don’t be too concerned with the general theories, and instead, feel free to discover your own original pairings. We think fruity sake can be paired with robust-flavored fatty toppings such as fatty tuna and Splendid alfonsino, or rich flavored toppings such as sea urchin and conger eel.

e.g. Dassai Migaki Niwarisanbu

Light-flavored sake goes down easy and has a clean aftertaste. It is a refreshing taste. The aroma is very mild and it doesn’t linger. This type of sake goes with a wide variety of foods, and it is the best sake to drink while eating a meal of sushi. It goes especially well with delicate flavors like cuttlefish and octopus and it goes with toppings that have enjoyable aromas such as shellfish.

e.g. Hitakami Yasuke

Umakuchi sake has a subtle aroma, the innate sweetness of the rice, and a strong umami flavor. It is also characterized by the wide range of temperature at which it can be served, from room temperature to the very hot “tobikiri-kan” (55℃ or higher). The aftertaste lingers a bit, and you won’t tire of it even when drinking for a long time as part of your meal. This type of sake goes well with fatty Horse mackeral (Aji) or Japanese sardine (Iwashi). It also goes well with toppings known for umami flavors such as Japanese amberjack (Buri), oyster and salmon roe.

e.g. Shinkame Junmaishu

The moment matured sake is poured into a glass, it gives off a condensed aroma reminiscent of dried fruits. As the amino acids and sugars have changed over several years, it has an interwoven complex flavor and aroma. The aftertaste lingers and it is characterized by its smooth texture on the tongue. This sort of sake goes well with potent and fermented crucian sushi.

e.g. Daruma Masamune Koshu

Overall, the most important thing is that neither the sushi nor sake overpowers the other, and that the flavors and aromas harmonize in your mouth, without fighting each other. For example, sushi with a clear, rich flavor and a high umami content should be paired with a full-bodied sake, and subtle delicate-tasting sushi should be combined with a smooth and refreshing sake. That’s the basics.

Main Types of Sake

Generally Japanese sake is made from rice and water, but it can be divided into two major categories depending on whether extra alcohol is added or not. Sake without added alcohol is called Junmaishu (純米酒). When alcohol is added, it’s called Honzojoshu (本醸造酒) or Futsushu (normal sake).

Ginjoshu (吟醸酒) and Daiginjoshu (大吟醸酒) sakes are extremely rare as they were originally made as entrants in competitive exhibitions. A lot of careful work goes into the production from the selection of the rice used, high-precision milling, making of yeast and yeast mash, all the way to the final preparations.  If the milling percentage is 60% or less then it is ginjoshu. At 50% or less, it is Daiginjoshu and you can find variations of both Honjozoshu (sake without added saccharides and 120 liters or less seed alcohol per ton) and Junmaishu (sake without added alcohol or sugar). The Honjozoshu variations are just called Ginjo or Daiginjo sake, but the Junmaishu versions are called Junmai Ginjo and Junmai Daiginjo sakes.

Alcohol is added to Honjozoshu before the pressing process in order to bring out the fragrance and attain a pleasant balance. The additive amount is always the same and remains within 10% of the weight of the raw rice used. The milling is also kept to 70% or lower. While it is more fragrant than Junmaishu, the flavor is clean and refreshing, making it pleasant to drink.

Futsushu (ordinary sake) is sake that uses rice with a milling percentage of 70% or more, with distilled alcohol that uses 10% or more white rice, or non-distilled alcohol added as a raw ingredient.

Sake Glossary

On the label of sake, various characteristics are printed – how to brew, press, heat, stock and so on. It is sure that you can be more delighted to taste sake after knowing them.

Sake-brewing rice (酒米):It means rice cultivars suitable for sake making.

Rice polishing ratio (精米歩合) :It is the weight percentage of white rice to brown rice.

Sake meter value (日本酒度):It is used as a general indicator of dry- and sweetness in sake. However, sweet and dry are sensory perceptions, where SMV is simply a reflection of specific gravity, so the two do not always appear to correlate. The sugar glucose is sweet, but, the more other sugars influence the SMV, the less sweetness will be apparent. Further, the sense of sweet or dry is affected by the level of acidity. The higher the acidity, the drier the sake will taste. Sake with low acidity tends to taste sweeter.

The average Sake meter value range is from 0 -+5. Sake sweeter than the zero mark (that is to say in the minus range) is considered ama-kuchi ; that which reads more than +5 may be said to be kara-kuchi. According to the Tax Agency’s market survey of sake products in 2012, the average values for various types of sake were: futsu-shu +3.7; ginjo-shu +4.3; junmai-shu +4.

Acidity (酸度):Those organic compounds which register as acidic are called organic acids, and these comprise almost all the acids found in seishu. 73% of sake acids are produced by yeast during the main fermentation, with about 17% coming from shubo, and the remaining 10% from steamed rice and koji.

Organic acids are important components of sake taste, giving acidity (sourness) and umami, with volatile acids also contributing to the aroma. In order of volume, there is most succinic acid, followed by malic acid, lactic acid, citric acid and acetic acid. In moromi, succinic acid is produced in the greatest amounts, followed by malic acid, then lactic acid. At the yeast starter stage, most lactic acid is produced, followed by acetic acid and succinic acid.

According to Tax Office statistics for 2012, the respective levels for futsu-shu, ginjo-shu and junmai-shu were 1.18, 1.32 and 1.50.

Amino acid content (アミノ酸度):The amino acids in seishu exist in the form of salts, and (together with lower peptides) displaying slight sweetness, umami, acidity and bitterness, are constituents of sake flavor. Where amino acid levels are too high, the sake is hard to drink with high levels of zatsu-mi off-flavor. When amino acid levels are low, the sake will be thinner and kirei (“clean”). Primary examples of amino acids include glutamic acid, glycine, alanine, valine, arginine and so on. Monosodium glutamate is sometimes used as an auxiliary material.

The average range of amino acids in sake is from 1.0 – 2.0. Light examples with a value of less than 1.0 can be said to be tanrei (light) sake, low in amino acids. Sake with high levels of amino acids at more than 2.0 will be full-flavored sake, often described with the adjective (noujun; tanrei and noujun may be considered opposites).

According to Tax Office statistics for 2012, the respective amino-acid levels for “regular” sake (futsu-shu), ginjo-shu and junmai-shu were 1.25, 1.30, and 1.54.

Kimotozukuri (生酛造り)

The first process of brewing sake is a pure culture of yeast to sake seed mash. Kimotozukuri is a traditional method of using lactic acid bacteria in this step. Sake made by this method is characteristic of the strong taste.

Yamahai-shikomi (山廃仕込み)

In the kimotozukuri method, the process of mixing rice and koji into a puree is cake Ymaorosi. In the meiji period, it turned out that it can also be done by a function of enzyme and yamaorosi process was abolished (haishi). This new method was called Yamahai.

Muroka-Namagenshu (無濾過生原酒)

As these sakes are not filtered and heated, you can enjoy their rich flavor. They have high alcohol content because not added water.

Nigorizake (にごり酒)

This sake is cloudy sake just made by filtering with a coarse cloth. One which is not pasteurized is called Kassei-nigorizake.

Namachozo-shu (生貯蔵酒)

Namachozo-shu is stored raw and pasteurized once when bottling.

Namazume-shu (生詰酒)

Namazume-shu is stored after pasteurized once and then bottled raw.

Nama-shu (生酒)

Nama-shu is stored raw and then bottled raw.

Hiire (火入れ)

Hiire is stored after pasteurized and pasteurized when bottling.

Fukuro-sibori (袋搾り)

The press method for premium sake like Daiginjo. To put the fermentation mash into a sake bag and drip with no pressure.

Hiyaoroshi (冷おろし)

New sake completed in early spring becomes aged well and the wildness of its taste is removed after stored during the summer. It is shipment in autumn.

Shiboritate (しぼりたて)

Sake shipped immediately after pressing in a sake brewery. It has a fresh taste.

We hope this information will be helpful.

Revision date: February 4, 2021

What is the difference between denbu and oboro?

Oboro and Denbu look the same, and the ingredients are also pretty much the same. In other words, there are no clear differences between them, but what it is called differs depending on the restaurant’s policy and the locality. There are various theories for this, but there is no clear line distinguishing oboro and denbu.

Denbu (田麩) is mainly boiled white fish that is then loosened and made into fibers, then seasoned with sugar, mirin, salt, etc., then roasted until the moisture is gone. Some are colored with red food coloring (called sakura denbu) while others are left as the brown color similar to tsukudani. The appearance is as if only the fibers of the original ingredients remain. This is why it was written with the kanji “田夫” (the literal meaning of kanji: rice patty+husband). The word “田夫” means “someone from the countryside” or “rough-cut” and refers to the way the fish is turned into a coarse form by pulling the meat apart. It is also used as a coloring for chirashizushi, futomaki (large sushi rolls), bento boxes, etc.

On the other hand, Oboro (朧) is made by using a grinding bowl to break down the meat of shiba shrimp or white fish, then seasoning with sugar, mirin and salt before removing the moisture over low heat. Oboro is used for bara-chirashi, futomaki (large sushi rolls), etc., and is also sometimes used between the topping and shari (vinegared rice) in nigiri sushi. This gentle sweetness and the shrimp aroma are essential for Edo-style sushi. Making oboro is laborious work, so there are fewer and fewer Edo-style sushi restaurants that make their own oboro.

We hope this information will be helpful.

Revision date: February 1, 2021

What is Fugu poison?

In most cases, Fugu (blowfish) poison is found in non-meat parts of the fish such as the liver, ovaries, stomach, intestine, skin and eyes. There are Fugu that do not contain poison in these parts, but most of the Fugu in the waters near Japan are poisonous. A mistake in preparations that allows the meat to touch the poison of the liver or ovaries results in immediate death. Therefore, the general rule is to only eat Fugu at restaurants with an expert licensed in Fugu preparation. Cases of poisoning by Fugu are nearly always a result of an amateur trying to prepare the fish.

The toxin in Fugu is a chemical substance called tetrodotoxin and even heat from boiling or frying can’t detoxicate it. Even Torafugu (Japanese pufferfish) that we find so delicious (we eat the meat, skin and testes) has poison in the liver, ovaries and intestines. The toxicity is said to be at least 1,000 times that of potassium cyanide. They say 10 people would die from the organs of a single Torafugu. In the case of Fugu poisoning, the first poisoning symptoms occur between 20 minutes and three hours after eating the Fugu. It starts with numbness in the lips, the tip of the tongue and fingertips. This is followed by headache, stomachache and severe vomiting. The victim will stagger when trying to walk. Soon they will experience sensory paralysis, speech disturbance and difficulty breathing, accompanied by a decrease in blood pressure. After that, the entire body becomes paralyzed and the victim can no longer move even a finger. Finally, they will fade out of consciousness and eventually both breathing and heartbeat cease, resulting in death. If the consumer doesn’t notice they are experiencing poisoning symptoms, they will surely die.

The strength of the toxin of the fugu also varies depending on the season. Even on an individual basis, some fish have toxins while others don’t. It’s not possible to determine this based on appearance, so it’s better to never eat the organs and eyes, which have a high probability of containing poison.

Fugu has already been successfully farmed and is on the market. No toxins have been found in this farmed Fugu. If farmed Fugu has no toxins, it’s only natural to question what factors generate toxins in wild Fugu and apparently it‘s a cumulative effect of toxins from the food chain. Fugu’s main sources of nutrition are starfish and shellfish. Starfish and shellfish accumulate poison in the body by eating zooplankton with vibrio attached to them. This vibrio creates poisons. Then, Fugu accumulates toxins in the body by eating starfish and shellfish that have toxins accumulated in their bodies. Therefore, farmed Fugu are raised on man-made feed that doesn’t contain Fugu toxins, and since they don’t ingest Fugu toxins and there is no bioconcentration, so the Fugu does not contain poison.

We hope this information will be helpful.

Revision date: February 1, 2021

What is engawa?

Engawa has both a unique, crunchy texture and delightful fat distribution and is said to be the most delicious part of hirame.

But what exactly is engawa?

Engawa is the generally used name for the meat muscle that moves the soft ray of the dorsal and ventral fins of flatfish (such as hirame and makogarei). Most people in Japan think of the hirame version when they hear the word ‘engawa’.

To go into a more advanced level of detail, there are three types of muscles that move the dorsal and ventral fins in fish: the erector spinae, the depressor and the scalene muscles. These muscles are well-developed in fish that move their dorsal and ventral fins often, like flatfish and flounder. Actually, not all three of these types are always consumed. If we look at the way hirame and makogarei are cut for preparation, the slanted muscle is taken to be used for engawa while the erector spinae and depressor are left, affixed to the fin ray, etc. In other words, to be exact, engawa is the slanted muscle of the dorsal and ventral fins.

The unique, crunchy texture comes from the high content of collagen, which is a scleroprotein. “Kakushi boucho” is used to make the crunch pleasant and is one of the skills a sushi chef must perfect. The delicious flavor is related to the high amount of fat compared to body meat. There is also a sense of elegant sweetness. Only four pieces of engawa can be taken from a single flatfish, so it makes sense that foodies love it.

The name “engawa” comes from its resemblance to the unique veranda structure of Japanese-style homes. This veranda is called “engawa” in Japanese.

Incidentally, substitutions have become common at kaiten sushi (conveyor belt sushi) restaurants, and the topping is especially popular among women lately. So the question is, how is it possible to eat this valuable topping that is only rarely available at expensive sushi restaurants, so cheaply at kaiten sushi? Actually, Greenland halibut engawa and Kamchatka flounder engawa are used as substitutes to hirame engawa. The proof of this is in a menu that lists only “engawa” and not “hirame engawa”.

We hope this information will be helpful.

Revision date: December 3, 2020

Are Hamachi and Buri the same thing?

In the United States and other countries, “buri : right image” is called yellowtail, but this word refers to fish like “buri” and “hiramasa” and actually can be applied to a large number of fish. Actually, it isn’t far off since a layman can’t tell the difference between a “buri” and “hiramasa” just by the pretty yellow line on the side of the fish’s body.

In Japan, “buri” is the most well-known fish that goes by different names depending on its stage in life (shusse fish). Actually “buri” has many different names even depending on the region you are in. For example, in the Kanto region, it may be called wakashi (0 to 30 cm) → Inada (30 to 60 cm) → Warasa (60 to 80 cm) → Buri (80 cm or more), and from Kansai on further west, it is called, Tsubasu (0 to 30 cm) → Hamachi (30 to 60 cm)→ Mejiro (60 to 80 cm) or Buri (80 cm or more).

This is where the term “hamachi” came from West of Kansai, full-grown buri, at about 30 to 60 cm is called Hamachi. In other words, Hamachi is a young buri.

Of course, it’s not that simple. You can get hamachi sashimi at grocery stores all over Japan, all year long. Hamachi is not only used from Kansai westward, it is also used at grocery stores throughout Japan. This may lead you to believe that hamachi is a different fish and not the same as buri, but you would be mistaken.

Behind the curtain, buri cultivation is thriving in Japan (and throughout the world). More than 80% of the buri on the market is said to be farmed. Because it is not apparent by appearance whether the buri was raised in the wild or by aquaculture, the wild-raised fish is called buri by market affiliates in order to make it easier to understand. That means farmed products have come to be called hamachi.

Also, in the Setouchi region, people preferred to eat the young hamachi rather than the adult buri. Kagawa Prefecture became the first in the world to successfully cultivate hamachi in 1928, and that is what led ‘hamachi’ to become synonymous with ‘farmed fish’. Of course, that would be one reason that people call farmed buri, hamachi.

What is the difference in taste between wild buri and farmed hamachi?

Buri (yellowtail) is a fish for which the name changes according to the stage of growth. We would like to start this article by reviewing the definition of “hamachi”.

Jumping right into it, medium-sized (30-60 cm), farmed “inada” or “wakashi” class buri is called “hamachi”. Even in Kanto, the names inada and wakashi are only used for wild fish, while hamachi is used for farmed fish.

The accepted theory is that the delicious flavor of Kanburi (buri caught during cold months) (referring to wild buri that have grown fat, fished from the end of November to February) depends heavily on the condition of high-fat content. The two major brands of Kanburi are caught on the Noto Peninsula and Himi in the Hokuriku region, and buri caught in Hokuriku has a higher fat content and also tastes better than buri caught in other places. This may be because fish that live in the frigid sea have higher fat content than those that live in warm seawaters.

You don’t know the true taste of buri until you’ve had Kanburi. It is especially popular as sashimi. The fat of the buri enters the muscle tissue, turning the fat into an incredible texture that practically melts in your mouth. Whether farmed or wild, the lipid content reaches its peak from December to January. This is 10% lipid content in the wild fish, but 25 to 30% in the farmed version.

The peak season of the medium-sized class of buri is summer, and the fat content for that season is 5 to 7% in inada and wakashi. and around 8 to 15% in hamachi. While the fat content in farmed buri is overwhelmingly higher than in wild buri, unfortunately, this does not translate to better taste. Throughout the world, buri with soft meat that has fat that glistens above the meat like hamachi sashimi, is popular, but after years of eating it, the wild buri always ends up tasting better.

Winter is the season for wild buri. The lipid content during winter is only around 10%, but this makes both the taste and the aftertaste better. The reason that the lipid content of farmed buri is higher than wild buri, is that sardine fish meal and farmed fish feed oil are used in the formula feed, or sardines, which are high in fat content, are fed as-is to the buri. However, in recent years there has been researched in formula feed for hamachi and buri with higher meat quality, which has improved the results.

When comparing flavor, wild buri has a higher content of umami, such as inosinic acid, in the meat than farmed buri. It is especially high in nitrogenous extractives, histidine, trimethylamine oxide, etc., which makes the flavor richer. In contrast, the meat of farmed buri is soft without much umami. This is probably one of the reasons that it feels greasy.


As an aside, three cousins (closely related species) of buri are often used as sushi toppings in sushi restaurants. In the Fish Name Dictionary, the translations of these cousins are Goldstriped amberjack (Hiramasa : right image), Greater Amberjack (Kanpachi), and Japanese amberjack (Buri). Sushi University also adopts these terms.

But if you dive deeper into the fish name dictionary,
Hiramasa is known as amberjack or yellowtail or hiramasa kingfish. Kampachi is known as amberjack or yellowtail. Buri is known as… you guessed it: amberjack or yellowtail.

When lumping them all together, they are called yellowtail, as is common in the U.S.

I’m sure you’re interested in the price, and while the price of the seasonal winter buri varies, it is generally around $10-20 per kilogram. Since there is very little distribution of hiramasa, the price is said to be about double that of buri. The price of kampachi : right image is somewhere between that of buri and hiramasa. These prices refer to the wild-caught fish.

Finally, if you eat and compare buri, kampachi and hiramasa in sashimi form, most people can’t tell the difference in fat distribution. When made into sushi (buri sushi, hamachi sushi, hiramasa sushi, kampachi sushi), the sweetness of the fat and the flavor of the fish emerge splendidly, and the taste of each fish becomes distinct and obvious. Even the still-developing inada, with very low-fat content, is used as a sushi topping and its refreshing taste is unforgettable. This showcases both the depth and greatness of Edomae (Edo Style) sushi.

We hope this information will be helpful.

Revision date: October 23, 2020

Why do they say that the quality and price of tuna is determined by the processing after the fish is caught?

Why is only tuna brought into certain ports high-priced, even though all of the tuna is caught in the seas near Japan? This is because the level of stress caused to the fish when it is caught has a huge impact on the quality, including taste, color and texture. In other words, the same fish may be delicious or taste unpleasant depending on how the fisher handles the fish directly after catching it. Naturally, everyone ends up wanting the fish from the ports with fisherman who are skilled in this practice*. Furthermore, it is individuals who process the fish. The quality changes drastically depending on who caught it.

*This is a method of cutting off the medulla oblongata and aorta of a fish, essentially keeping the body alive while killing the fish. There is also a method of inserting a thin wire, like a piano wire, into the backbone. This technique paralyzes the nerves while at the same time suppressing the putrefied substance that comes from the spinal cord. Using the ikejime method extends the time until rigor mortis starts, and makes it easier to maintain freshness, while at the same time preventing raw fish odor and damage to the body by inserting a butcher knife into the base of the tail to drain the blood and keep oxidized blood from running throughout the body.

We hope this information will be helpful.

Revision date: December 17, 2019

What is the ideal temperature for sushi toppings?

Tokyo Health Centers stipulate that refrigerated cases where sushi toppings are stored should be kept at 5℃ or lower. This is to maintain the temperature of the toppings at below 10°C at which point bacterial growth is slowed.

However, sushi chefs will remove the topping from the refrigerator and leave it standing out for a while (in the case of tuna, the fat will melt at around 23℃). They do this because if the topping is cold, it becomes difficult to taste the essential nature of the fish. The temperature of the shari is best at human skin temperature (around 36℃) to maximize the taste and sweetness of the rice. However, the ideal temperature differs very slightly depending on the topping.

For example, conger eel which is often lightly grilled or prepared in another, similar way, should have a slightly higher temperature (around 42℃) than the shari, and kuruma prawn, which are boiled, should be the same temperature as the shari.

Overseas, there are laws that state that sushi must be served at 10℃ or lower. This ignores that sushi is best enjoyed at skin temperature. Serving it straight out of the refrigerator makes it no better than purchasing takeout sushi from the supermarket.

We hope this information will be helpful.

Revision date: November 18, 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 (Lutjanidae). 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” family (Sparidae).

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”. 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 madai. There is no “zatsumi” (overpowering bitterness) and it has a slight sweetness to it. This is the taste of tai, known as the king of the white fish. Just for your own reference.

Related Contents


We hope this information will be helpful.

Revision date: April 28, 2020

Why do we use the counter “kan (貫)” for sushi?

When you sit at the counter and order nigiri a la carte, they will come out in pairs.* There is nothing wrong with counting these in the regular Japanese way “ikko,” “niko.”

*It is said that nigiri-sushi in the Edo period was bigger than it is today, and too big to eat in one bite. In the Meiji period, the custom emerged of splitting this one big portion into two to make more easily consumed portions, and this is why it is common to get sushi in sets of two. However, nowadays making one piece of nigiri-sushi at a time is not very efficient. We think it’s actually easier for the sushi restaurant to make them in sets of two. Of course, you can order them one by one.

But the sushi restaurant won’t count them like that. Formally, sushi is counted in this way: Ikkan (one), Nikan (two).

We have absolutely no idea where the custom of using the “kan” counter came from. It’s also not clear when use of that counter for sushi started.

Of course, there are theories. For example, there is a theory that back at a time when a single unit of money was called “kan.” The price for one piece of sushi was around 1 ‘kan’, and the counting method gained popularity. There is another theory that one sushi roll was counted with the counter for roll “巻” (also pronounced “kan”), then a different kanji was used for it later. However, these are just theories that were created after the fact and the mystery remains unsolved.

Even if you ask the owner of a sushi restaurant, they’ll probably cock their head to one side, think for a moment, and tell you that the “kan” mystery may never be solved.

Sushi rolls wrapped in seaweed rolls are counted in units of 本 (hon/bon/pon) in the wrapped state, and when cut with a knife, the units change to 切れ (kire). While these units are fairly straight-forward for Japanese language speakers and easy to understand, only the enigmatic 貫 (kan) remains a mystery.

We hope this information will be helpful.

Revision date: April 29, 2020


Do you know that there are rankings for negitoro (minced tuna)?

The original negitoro is made from medium fatty tuna or nakaochi* chopped up finely with a knife and then mixed with chopped green onions on top. But the tuna may be switched out with filler, leading to a variety in quality of the negitoro available.

First of all, the lowest in the ranking are the offcuts of tuna that can’t be made into sashimi (mainly Yellowfin or Albacore tuna) and this is mixed with vegetable oil and minced. The type of onion used is normally green onions. You can pick this type out because it will be whitish in color. This version is normally served at conveyor belt sushi.

The medium quality uses the nakaochi of cheap Albacore tuna or Swordfish.

High quality negitoro uses the nakaochi of Pacific bluefin tuna or Southern bluefin tuna. Sometimes the green onion sprout is then rolled up inside. If you have a chance to try negitoro in Japan, we recommend you try the top quality options without a doubt. One piece will probably cost around $15 USD. But that’s the price for the real thing!

Finally, let me introduce some negitoro trivia. There is a lot of flesh on the middle bone (spine) and the surrounding area for tuna and the like. This is called “nakaochi*”. Scraping the meat from this area surrounding the spine is known as “negitoru”, which is where the word “negitoro” comes from. In other words, the name “negitoro” is not actually from the words onion (negi) and tuna belly (toro).

What is negitoro like at Sushi restaurants?

Originally, the meat from the middle cut or in between the bones of the tuna was used for negitoro. In order to get meat from these parts, the chef would have to purchase an entire tuna, or buy the cut that includes the mid-ribs. However, both of these purchases are difficult for a single sushi restaurant, so now the chef chops the meat from the body with a butcher knife until it forms a paste that is sticky and smooth from the fat in the tuna. This paste is used for negitoro.


We hope this information will be helpful.

Revision date: July 21, 2020

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.

We hope this information will be helpful.

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.

We hope this information will be helpful.

Revision date: October 31, 2018

Is the handmade ginger in quality sushi restaurants free?

The ginger served in sushi restaurants is called “gari”. There are people who just chomp down the gari since it’s all free.

However, in certain prestigious restaurants where the gari is handmade, it does end up on the bill. This is because considering the time and ingredients that go into making the gari, the restaurant will be losing money if they don’t charge for it.


However, most sushi restaurants purchase their gari from companies that specialize in it. These mostly include pickling manufactures that have expanded to China or Southeast Asia and have factories there.

When made at these factories, large amounts of ginger is soaked in the stock solution, creating gari in bulk. The quality has improved greatly over the years, but often the fibers are crushed making it soggy, or the gari is stained from ume vinegar.

On the other hand, homemade gari and gari made in Japan is flavored with vinegar and salt while sugar is used sparingly as a subtle flavoring. Handmade gari is crunchy and chewy. The color is also the original pale yellow of ginger.

And during the fresh ginger season at the beginning of summer the price of fresh, domestic ginger jumps up to thousands of yen per kilogram. Since ginger has a high water content, it can be wrung out to reduce 1kg of ginger down to 300g. Making delicious gari by hand costs money. It is also a daunting task of making a year’s worth in advance. Once it’s done there has to be a refrigerator dedicated to storing only the gari.

When you put it that way, homemade gari is far more expensive than its imported equivalent. Providing homemade gari is one of the things that sets sushi restaurants apart from each other. Of course even if you’re not charged for the gari, eating too much will affect your sense of taste for the meal.

We hope this information will be helpful.

Revision date: October 8, 2018

What is the difference between “鮨,” “鮓” and “寿司” (all ready “Sushi”).

As far as I know, there are three ways “sushi” is written on sushi restaurant curtains in Japanese kanji characters: 鮨, 鮓 and 寿司.

Do you know the difference? Most Japanese people don’t know the answer to this question.

Broadly, in the Kanto area 鮨 is generally used while 鮓 is more common in Kansai. 寿司 is used commonly everywhere in Japan.

However, of the three, only 鮨 and 鮓 are seen in ancient Chinese literature. 鮨 was seen as a dictionary entry as early as the 5th to 3rd centuries B.C., and it’s origin is described as combining “fish” and “shiokara” (briny flavor) resulting in the term 鮨.

On the other hand, in A.D. 1st to 2nd century dictionaries, “鮓” appeared, and is explained to depict “a storage container for fish.” Toward the end of the second century 鮓 was used for the term “narezushi”.

But around the third century, the briny meaning of 鮨 and the term “narezushi*” written as 鮓 started to be used interchangeably. That is how the words were imported to Japan.

In Japan, the character “鮓” was often used in literature from the end of the Heian era to the end of the Edo era. Eventually the use of “鮨” was revived during the Meiji era (for unknown reasons). It was a natural transition that Kanto came to use “鮨” and Kansai came to use “鮓”.

Incidentally, the kanji “寿司” was created from the phonetics. Its use for celebratory occasions became commonplace throughout Japan.

*”Narezushi” is the primitive version of Japanese sushi. It means covering seafood with salt and then soaking in rice for a few years as a form of lactic acid fermentation, which brings out the acidity.

We hope this information will be helpful.

Revision date: April 29, 2020