Toro salmon, Toro Katsuo, Toro Sawara, Toro saba, Buri toro, Beni toro, and Toro, the original maguro, have all been added to the list, and the number of fish calling themselves Toro, other than maguro, is increasing.
In other words, the word Toro is becoming increasingly generic.
Anyone who has endured the advertising onslaught of the modern era knows that word “toro” always seems to make its way into marketing materials. The word is meant to convey a luxury ingredient, and the “gotta-eat-it” mentality that drives sales.
For example, Toro saba (Saba means ‘mackerel’) is a fatty mackerel. Speaking of fatty mackerel in Japan, the first thing that comes to mind is Norwegian mackerel (Atlantic mackerel). It was once criticized for being too fatty for some unintelligible reason.
In Norway, the amount of mackerel that can be caught in a year is strictly regulated by each fishing boat, so they only catch mackerel when it is fatty and the price is high. Japanese chub mackerel has a peak fat content of 20-25%, while Norwegian mackerel has a peak fat content of 25-30%.
The term “fatty” is often used to describe the meat and taste of the fish. This term, of course, implies a high fat content, but the real message we wanted to convey was supposed to be “tasty”. This is because fat contains many flavor compounds. However, literally fatty fish is appreciated and it has become a first-class citizen.
The increase in fatty farmed fish and imported fish such as Northern mackerel may have played a role in this trend, and at the bottom of it all, as with the Toro worship of tuna, there has been a major shift in Japanese eating habits in the postwar period.
In this naming, we cannot help but feel the commercial spirit and skill of the company, which has successfully turned what could be a disadvantage into an advantage by combining changing tastes with the sense of luxury that the word “Toro” possesses.
Toro was originally used for bluefin tuna (and later for all tuna), but Beni toro was probably the first example of the term being applied to a fish other than tuna.
Around 1970, a major fishery company called Kyokuyo (極洋) gave the name to a sashimi product of fatty Benizake (sockeye salmon; Oncorhynchus nerka) caught in the North Sea, which had not yet entered the spawning migration stage.
It took many years from application to approval due to various problems, but Beni toro became a legitimately registered trademark in 1987. The registration number is 1991889.
Gasutoro (ガストロ) is widely distributed throughout the temperate and subarctic regions of the Southern Hemisphere, but is not known to be found in the Northern Hemisphere. It is found in the open ocean around Australia and New Zealand, at depths of about 200 meters. It has the English name “Butterfly Tuna (Gasterochisma melampus Richardson, 1845)” because of its large, butterfly-like abdominal fins.
It is mostly caught as bycatch in longline fisheries that catch southern bluefin tuna. This is due to the overlap in habitat with southern bluefin tuna.
It is often thought to taste similar to tuna, a popular sashimi fish, perhaps due to the inclusion of maguro and tuna names in its name, such as “Uroko maguro” and “Butterfly tuna,” but it actually does not resemble tuna very much.
It has a refreshing flavor more like swordfish tuna. The best way to eat it raw is marinated with soy sauce, which takes about 15 minutes for the whole saku (fillet).
Toro is an absolute at sushi restaurants and it’s only natural to aspire to such a position. That’s why there are so many sushi dish names that start with “Toro”. The most laissez-faire of these is Toro salmon. In this case the definition of Toro is ignored in an attempt to promote sales. Just as bad is Toro katsuo (pronounced “Toro-gatsuo” in Japanese).
Katsuo is born in the warm southern seas. When it reaches about two years old it migrates north in pursuit of Iwashi and other small fish. There are two routes taken by the Katsuo that come to the seas around Japan. One of the routes rides the Kuroshio Current (a warm current) from around the Philippines, passing by Taiwan and the Ryukyus Islands, arriving in southern Kyushu. From there the Katsuo rarely heads toward the Sea of Japan and instead the majority moves northward on the Pacific Ocean side. The Katsuo migration schedule may shift depending on the temperature of the seawater and how the schools of Iwashi and Aji (which the Katsuo feeds on) are migrating that year. The first group appears around Ishigaki Island about January, then in the seas off the shores of Kyushu and Shikoku between February and March. It then moves to the seas off of the Izu and Boso peninsulas between April and June. It reaches the open seas off the southern coast of Sanriku and Hokkaido between July and September.
Another route follows the Ogasawara ocean current from below the equator in the seas off the shore of Papua New Guinea and the seas around Micronesia to the Ogasawara Islands, along the Seven Islands of Izu and approaching the open seas off the Boso Peninsula. The route then goes northward to join with the routes mentioned above.
It’s the Modori-gatsuo that begins reverse migration toward the south at the beginning of autumn when the water temperatures start to drop. Katsuo has a strong appetite before returning south in preparation for the long trip. Unlike the light-flavored Hatsu-gatsuo, the Modori-gatsuo has plenty of fat and its body fattens up quite a bit. The main fishing locations for Modori-gatsuo are in the northern Pacific, such as the waters off the shore of Sanriku. This is the season when it is truly worthy of the name Toro katsuo when served raw, and nothing else should be called by the same name.
You probably already know this, but “toro tuna” is not the name of a type of fish. “Toro” is the name of a fatty part of the tuna. The fat content and attributes of the belly side of the tuna are completely different from that of the dorsal side. Toro is the name of the part near the head, mostly on the belly side.
In the same way, there is no fish called “toro salmon”. Just like tuna, “toro” refers to the fatty part on the belly side of the salmon. It is also called “harasu” in Japanese. This is how the word is used at some scrupulous sushi restaurants. This description of “toro salmon” is correct.
Most salmon used at conveyor belt sushi restaurants is either trout salmon or Atlantic salmon. The reason this salmon can be served at the cheap price of US $1 or $2 per plate (2 pieces of sushi) is that these particular fish are all farmed and are available in bulk quantities from overseas. This salmon is mainly imported to Japan from Norway, Chile, Scotland and Canada.
Actually, the popular “toro salmon” topping is made from these imported items and the fat content is three times that of wild salmon. Feeding farmed salmon plenty of solid compounded feed that is high in protein and high in fat, turns the entire body to toro.
Salmon, which are born in freshwater and migrate downstream to the sea are called “sea-run fish” and they may be farmed in either seawater or freshwater. Trout salmon is “former” rainbow trout that was raised in a fish cage in the sea. In the wild, the sea-run rainbow trout grows up to 1 m in length, its body turns silver and the meat takes on a red color. The wild version of these are called “steelhead” and fetch a high market price, so they are not used in conveyor belt sushi restaurants.
Just like other aquaculture, salmon farming faces some difficult issues. It may surprise you that salmon is actually a white fish, originally. In the wild, the salmon meat gets a red color from feeding on crustaceans such as crab and shrimp that contain the red pigment astaxanthin. However, in the fish cages where the salmon are surrounded by nets, the food chain is also restricted. The compound feed would be plenty if the goal was only to raise bigger fish, but that results in a grey color or light yellow meat that doesn’t even resemble the salmon pink (orange?) that everyone wants and they don’t sell.
Therefore, when making the solid compounded feed, artificial coloring is mixed in. One of the colorings is called canthaxanthin. This is a synthetic chemical derived from petroleum. There is a color chart with 10 different, detailed levels of red coloring and buyers can even indicate which color they would like and the farmers can achieve it. It’s kind of like an industrial product that is being manufactured. Japanese people prefer a dark red color for salmon in the same way they do for tuna, so the coloring for Japan’s market is adapted to that.
When light is shone on wild salmon, the red coloring looks faded, but the light makes farmed salmon that have been fed coloring, look brighter. Artificial coloring is a necessity in farmed salmon and this is true for the trout salmon and Atlantic salmon that are used as the ingredients for toro salmon as well. All of the farmed salmon in circulation have been colored in this way, so much so that it wouldn’t be surprising if the insides of their stomachs were stained red. The flamingos at zoos also get their beautiful pink feathers from these chemicals.
Trout salmon is rainbow trout that has been farmed in the sea. On the other hand, rainbow trout farmed in freshwater is called Donaldson trout. Of all the large rainbow trout gathered at each location, those with small heads and fat bodies were selected and bred over many years to create this type. The objective of choosing a small head is to make more meat. They are characterized by their fast growth and while normal, farmed rainbow trout grow to about 30 to 40 cm, Donaldson trout grow up to nearly 1 m. The name is taken from the American who developed this variant.
The Donaldson trout is farmed throughout Japan and is used as toro salmon and aburi salmon at conveyor belt sushi restaurants. Since they are supplied directly to the processor (of the salmon) from the farmer without going through the market, they may be sold cheaper than the import price. Just like the imported salmon, this farmed salmon is also fed artificial coloring. There are also already new variants improved from the Donaldson trout being bred. Trout made from breeding Donaldson trout females and steelhead males are called Donaldson steelhead, for instance. They grow even faster.
Ample use of the latest biotechnology has been made in salmon farming and some of these technologies include creating young fish without functioning reproductive organs, “triploids” which means increasing the size of the fish up to triple and “all female populations” where males are converted into females. The triploid fish grow large in correlation to the lack of energy exertion. The objective of all-female populations is to get more masuko (ovaries). Masuko is used for the ikura (salmon roe) at conveyor belt sushi, and since the fish that the roe is harvested from have an inferior flavor, they are used for aburi salmon. Now, there are even triploid, all-female farm populations. No wonder the restaurants can serve a plate (2 pieces) of salmon sushi for US $1.
The simple phrase, “toro salmon” contains so much meaning.
First, what do you imagine when you hear the word “negitoro”?
Most people probably think of “Negitoro Gunkan” or “Negitoro Roll” served at sushi restaurants.
But the real “negitoro” does not have leeks!
The original name for negitoro was negitoru. It translates to chip away in Japanese. The name eventually evolved to negitoro.
Here we come to the point.
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 thegreen onion shoots are 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.