What is imitation crab?

One of the common ingredients of sushi rolls is imitation crab. In Japan this is called kanikama, in Europe it’s called surimi and in the US it’s also called fake crab.

I’m sure everyone reading this has tried it before, but what is imitation crab made of?

It seems kanikama was invented in Japan. In the early 1970s, Sugiyo, a fish paste manufacturer, in a failed attempt to developed artificial jellyfish, ended up with a product that had a texture exactly like crab and shifted development to that instead.

The “kani” of “kanikama” means “crab”. “Kama” is an abbreviation of kamaboko, which is boiled fish paste, fish sausage or fish cake. It’s official name is “crab-like kamaboko”. The main ingredient is minced fish meat mashed into paste. One of the white fish used is Alaska pollack. But it contains no crab. Incidentally, there is actual crab in the kanikama sold in the US and Europe.

It has now become a staple not only in sushi rolls, but also in sandwiches or on baguettes and even on takeout salads. It’s become even more popular than it is within Japan.

Related contents

http://www.viciunaigroup.eu/en

https://www.sugiyo.co.jp/


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Revision date: June 22, 2020

 

What’s the difference between Tobiko and Masago?

The tiny red balls around the outside of the rice on California rolls are tobiko (飛び子). Specifically, they are salted roe of flying fish and are known for the plump, crunchy texture. In fact, it is a registered trademark of a seafood processing company called Kanetoku, located in Hyogo prefecture, Japan. It isn’t hard to see that it’s an abbreviated version of the Japanese “Tobiuo no ko”.

Tobiko is rich in nutrients such as the minerals and vitamins potassium, phosphorus, vitamin E, vitamin C and niacin. Also, since it has a natural pigment composition called astaxanthin, which gives tobiko its bright color, it has antioxidative effects and is effective in strengthening the immune system.

What is flying fish?

Flying fish are found in the subtropical to temperate waters of the Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean, and Atlantic Ocean. They travel along the surface of the sea and eat zooplankton. Over 50 types of flying fish have been identified around the world. More than 30 of these have been identified in Japan, of which 4 types are used as food. Since the meat is white, low in fat, and has little odor, it is prepared in various ways such as sashimi, minced, grilled with salt, and fried. In Kyushu, flying fish is called “ago,” and it is dehydrated to be used as soup stock, called “dashi” in Japanese. Ago dashi has a refined and refreshing sweetness and a deep flavor, and it is considered to be on the higher-end of dashi stock.

The dorsal side of the flying fish is a vibrant dark blue, and the ventral side is silver The pectoral fin is considerably long at about 30-40 cm long. It uses it pectoral fins to fly over the water’s surface to escape from its natural enemies, such as tuna Depending on the breed, it can fly an average of 200 m in one go. The larger the species, the longer distance it can fly and the longest can be up to even 600 m. Furthermore, the flying fish has no stomach and its other digestive organs are short and straight, which makes its body lighter and ideal for extended flight.

Flying fish contains a lot of a nutrient called Niacin which can help prevent hangovers. Additionally, it is rich in vitamin E, which works to prevent the oxidation of unsaturated fatty acids in the body, and as such is a good fish for preventing lifestyle-related diseases such as arteriosclerosis and myocardial infarction.

On the other hand, an orange-colored tobiko is often seen at conveyor belt sushi restaurants, etc., but this is the roe of a fish called capelin (カペリン), which is similar to shishamo smelt. A salted version of this is used for sushi rolls in the US and other places, where it is called masago. Compared to tobiko, the grains are smaller and the texture is a bit chewier. It is mainly rich in EPA (Omega-3 fatty acids) and collagen.

Masago (真砂子)” actually means “fine sand” and therefore is used for foods that depict that image. In other words, it refers to broken up fish roe and doesn’t indicate a specific type of fish. Dishes made using capelin roe can be called masago, but please keep in mind that dishes with broken up tarako or kazunoko are also called masago.

What is capelin?

The shape of capelin is very similar to shishamo smelt, but the scales are very fine, barely visible to the eye. The body is a bluish silver color with an average length of 12-16 cm, but can grow up to 20 cm.

It is found in a wide area from the Arctic Ocean to the frigid sea regions and also migrates to the Sea of Okhotsk on the coast of Hokkaido. The time they spawn depends on the region. The season for Canadian capelin is June to mid-July, and the season for Icelandic and Norwegian capelin is mid-February to mid-March.

They are also known as Komochi Shishamo (Shishamo with child) and are known to have a wonderful balance of fat and roe. Compared to shishamo smelt, they are leaner and have a lighter texture. Shishamo smelt is not caught in great numbers, so capelin started to be imported as a substitute for it for Japanese homes and izakaya (Japanese bar/restaurants).

Capelin rush to the coastal area in large groups to lays eggs on the sandy bottom of the beach during spawning season. The amount of eggs it lays at one time is about 5,000 to 6,000. It has spherical, adhesive demersal eggs with a diameter of around 1 mm. The eggs hatch around spring tide about 2 weeks after spawning The total length of larvae immediately after hatching is 4-5 mm, and it is thought that they leave the coastal area by utilizing waves at high tide and reach a total length of around 10 cm in the first year of life.

Capelin is a healthy fish that can be eaten in its entirety, and boasts 7 nutrients (DHA, EPA, calcium, zinc, potassium, vitamin B2, collagen). Moreover, since the sugar content is only 0.5 g per fish, about 1/3 of the amount normally contained in fish, it is perfect for those who are dieting.

Tobiko and masago in Japan have probably been purchased at the Toyosu Market. They are not commonly found at normal grocery stores. This is because there are very few sushi restaurants that serve sushi rolls and they aren’t even made in homes often. Tobiko and masago are toppings available wholesale and used by places like conveyor belt sushi restaurants. Roe used for this is imported from Taiwan or Peru.

Finally, we’ll let you in on a not-so-pleasant secret. Flying fish and capelin roe are actually a light yellow or beige color. However, you’ll find it in bright red, orange, yellow and lately even green or black. Of course, these are colored by either natural pigments or synthetic coloring. Furthermore, tobiko is sometimes mixed with the cheaper capelin or herring roe. Unfortunately, food fraud is common in seafood products that are consumed in high quantities.


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Revision date: August 3, 2020

What makes a “good” sushi restaurant?

It is probably cutting fish just before serving. For a big size fish, keep its skin on the meat during the process of preparing and cutting into half, and at every serving use sogigiri* as much as customers eat. Protected by the skin, the fish flesh will expose to air for the first time as it is cut. The skin blocks the oxidation process significantly because the fat in fish centers right  under the skin in general. Needless to say, even with any amazing fish, it loses flavor if the fat gets oxidized.

*Sogigiri-A method of cutting which makes a slice thinner with a greater surface, by holding the knife diagonally and cutting in line with the cutting board. Usually used for white fish with firm flesh because it is easier to be eaten when served thin.

Hirazukuri-A method of cutting which gives thickness to each slice so that the texture of sashimi can be enjoyable. This is used for akami like tuna.


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Revision date: April 1, 2020

A technic to freeze tuna is quite amazing!

Once tuna caught in the open sea is processed by draining its blood on the ship, it is flash-frozen at ultra-low temperatures (-60℃). Ultra-low temperatures stops the enzymatic hydrolosis of protein, oxidation of fat and cultivation of microorganisms so it can be stored over a long period of time. The process can prevent discoloration for over two years and maintain a freshness worthy of being served as sashimi. Therefore, skillful sushi restaurants mature the thawed tuna in the refrigerator for about one week to attain the perfect balance of umami and change in color.


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Revision date: February 4, 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 on 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 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 research 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.


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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.


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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.


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Revision date: November 18, 2019

When does Kinmedai taste the best?

No one is more sensitive to the changing of the seasons than sushi lovers. This must be because the taste of sushi toppings is directly tied to the seasons. There are terms to describe this such as Hashiri (early season), Peak (in-season) and Holdover, and using these words to understand what state the sushi topping is in allows you grasp and enjoy the various different flavors. There is nothing that says a sushi topping is less delicious because it has a lower fat content.

For example, everyone wants to get in there and be the first eat early season toppings. It’s obvious that these would all be toppings with low fat content. But early-season toppings have a liveliness that you can’t find in other foods, and some believe that eating these types of food will give you new vitality.

Once a fish is in peak-season, we eat it as sushi. This is because the fish has grown as it approaches breeding season, gradually gaining more fat, and at this stage in its development it has a richer flavor.

And the ‘holdover’ perhaps means that since the season is about to end, we need to get our fill now. While we may feel a bit sad that the season is ending, we can look forward to it coming around again the next year.

On the other hand, there are sushi toppings that don’t seem to fit into the seasons, although the seasonal dishes are one of the important reasons that Japanese food was registered under UNESCO World Heritage.

Those are deep sea fish such as Largehead hairtail, Japanese bluefish, Pollack and Splendid alfonsino.

Deep sea fish live at least 200 m below the surface of the ocean. For example, Splendid alfonsino lives at a depth of between 100 to 800 m deep, so it would generally be thought of as in-season in the winter when it has the highest fat content. However, except just before and after spawning season, the flavor of the Splendid alfonsino doesn’t change much throughout the year. Therefore, even high-end sushi restaurants always keep it in the topping case and it’s a popular choice.

Therefore, Splendid alfonsino is never actually “in-season”.

Since very little light reaches the deep sea, the water temperature remains more or less constant. In other words, there aren’t really seasonal (temperature) changes. The concept of season may not exist there.

Even so, you can think of it as especially delicious in the winter between December and February, when it has a higher fat content. Otherwise you might start to think of it as a fish that is “in-season” all year round, like salmon, and that just doesn’t feel quite as splendid.


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Revision date: October 28, 2019

What is the real reason for the emphasis on freshness in seafood?

The human tongue tends to sense food that is slightly acidic as delicious, and tends to sense it as not delicious when there is alkaline. When fish is alive, the alkaline levels are low, but after dying and beginning to stiffen, the glycogen in the muscle meat turns into lactic acid and becomes acidic. However, as more time passes, the rigor morris releases and the body softens. This is when it tastes the best. After that the proteins break down increasing the amount of alkalines such as ammonia. Also, since the proteins dissolve when they become alkaline, the body breaks down as the alkaline increases. This is the reason that fish tastes worse as it loses its freshness.


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Revision date: October 1, 2019

What’s the difference between Japanese mustard and Western style mustard?

Japanese mustard refers to oriental (yellow) mustard and is a condiment with a strong spiciness. It is used for cooking Japanese and Chinese food. Western style mustard refers to white mustard, which has a more subtle flavor and fragrance and is not as spicy. It is used for sandwiches and sausages. Whole grain mustard is made by mixing white mustard with black mustard seeds and used for things like flavoring vinegar. Sushi chefs use Japanese mustard to offset the greasiness of fatty fish such as bonito and tuna.


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Revision date: September 16, 2019

What are fish seasons?

Fish seasons are categorized as the ‘catch season’ and the ‘flavor season’. The ‘catch season’ is the time when lots of fish can be caught and are cheap. Take Japanese Spanish mackerel (Sawara), for example, they approach the coasts during the spring to spawn and this is the peak season. This is the catch season. Once they’re about to spawn and their bodies fatten for winter, we’ve entered the tasting season. However, these seasons differ depending on the region, and may be longer or even happen twice a year.


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Revision date: September 4, 2019

Do you know why sauce made from chemical seasonings dissolved into soy sauce is used for sushi that commoners eat?

There is a sensor on the tongue that feels the degree of saltiness. This prevents us from eating too much of things that are extremely salty. Chemical seasonings confuse that sensor. The chemical seasoning palliates the degree of saltiness felt by the tongue. Even if you were to, for example, dunk your sushi into the soy sauce and chemical seasoning mixture, it won’t feel salty. If you eat sushi with the sauce, you can take in a high volume of sodium, which is a pleasure trigger for the human body, without feeling the saltiness on your tongue. In other words, it may be more accurate to say that with commoner sushi, you actually drink the sauce, not dip into it.

 


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Revision date: June 11, 2019

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What does it mean to taste sushi with your sense of smell?

The difference between common people who eat this sauce and foodies is a delicate nose, meaning their sense of smell. This sense is acquired through childhood experiences and repetition after becoming an adult. Tasting through sense of smell is a person’s food culture. The reason that the so-called celebrities, or the upper class made through business success, don’t have an appreciation for high-class sushi restaurants is because they don’t have this culture of distinguishing by smell, or the culture of feeling the seasons. Also, in order to target the upper-middle class clientele, it is important to use strong flavors and give a performance that is easy to understand, while worrying about details is not necessary. That is why the obvious show of using a burner for searing is popular.

 


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Revision date: June 4, 2019

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It’s not just only farmed fish which has been accumulated toxic substances.

Natural fish are part of the food chain and have concentrations of harmful substances. Since 2000 the amount of mercury found in fish has become an issue. The American Natural Resources Defense Council has said tuna is a fish that should be avoided if pregnant or planning to get pregnant. A more recent problem is the large amounts of micro plastics found in fish meat. This shocking phenomenon will likely be reported by research organizations at some point in time. If it does reach that extreme, then it will be better to avoid the danger of eating fish.


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Revision date: April 22, 2019

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