Sushi is a diverse and delicious dish that is often served as an appetizer or the main course. People who try sushi for the first time are always intimidated to eat it. It is because they have the misconception that sushi is always some kind of raw fish as its main ingredient.
The confusion may exist because of several varieties of sushi and the countless times the dish evolved over the years that it has become impossible for beginners to comprehend what sushi really is. In some countries, Sushiis also confused with sashimi.
So, people often ask, “Is sushi really considered seafood?” And the answer is “NO.”
Sushi is a traditional Japanese dish prepared with vinegared rice with some sugar and salt accompanied by a variety of food items such as vegetables or seafood. Sushi styles and presentations can vary in different parts of the world, but the main ingredient will always be vinegared rice, Sushi rice, Shari, or Sumeshi. So, sushi can be without any form of seafood or meat.
On the other hand, sashimi always has fresh and raw meat or seafood.
So, in today’s article, we will explore sushi’s evolution, traditional ingredients, and present-day trends. You will get the chance to understand Sushi better, and it would be easier for you to answer, “Is sushi really seafood?”
As mentioned above, sushi is a dish that always contains vinegared rice paired with a variety of ingredients. The ingredients can be vegetables, seafood, or meat that is served as bite-sized pieces.
A popular belief that sushi always has raw fish is completely wrong. Though it may contain seafood, it doesn’t mean that every sushi will have seafood. Often, you will see sushi with eggs and vegetables like avocado or cucumber or with fish or other seafood.
The word Sushi itself describes the specific preparation of the rice i-e vinegared rice prepared by using short-grain rice with rice wine vinegar. This specially made rice has a unique flavor, and the special preparation enables the rice to clump together to create sushi rolls and small balls.
Two major sushi types are Nigiri and Maki.
The basic difference is the way they are prepared and presented.
The word Nigiri means “two fingers,” which reflects the size of the rice.
Nigiri sushi is bite-sized rectangular rice pieces with sashimi topping. To hold rice and fish together, there may be a small amount of wasabi between them, or a thin toasted seaweed strip may be used to tie them together.
Most of the time, Nigiri has sashimi topping, but not every nigiri will have raw fish. Various nigiri dishes contain seafood such as eel and shrimp that are cooked or roasted before combining with rice.
Maki is the sushi type that you eat most of the time. It is made in the form of rolls and then sliced to form round bite-sized pieces. In maki, a layer of rice is spread on seaweed (nori), and then fish, vegetables, fruits, or other ingredients are put in. Seaweed is then rolled to make small circle-shaped pieces. Once sliced, pieces may be sprinkled with fish roe or sesame seeds.
Maki may contain raw fish or cooked fish. Fish-free varieties are also very common such as cucumber rolls and avocado rolls.
Beginners are advised to start with vegetarian sushi rolls or cooked fish sushi rolls and then shift to raw fish rolls.
Why Is Sushi Often Considered As Seafood: Its Origin?
Why sushi is often considered to have seafood roots in its origin. Long before we had ice boxes or refrigerators, sushi was made using traditional methods.
Thousands of years ago, in the Neolithic cultures of China, it was a tradition to preserve fish to be used for a longer time. The dish was known as narezushi——“salted fish.” Ancient people were used to getting raw fish, cleaning it, and wrapping it in rice and salt layers. The prepared raw and clean fish was then pressed under the heavy stone to keep it preserved for months.
When preserved, the fermentation of rice with salt starts to produce rice vinegar. The rice vinegar then acts on the fish flesh and breaks it down into amino acids.
Once the flesh is completely fermented, the sour rice vinegar and rice are thrown away, and the fish meat is used as food. This whole fermentation process gives it a strong umami flavor (one of five primary tastes) that is easily distinguished by the human tongue.
During the Muromachi period, the traditional process was replaced with directly using vinegar in narezushi to ferment the rice quickly without spoiling it. This method added more flavor, texture, and longevity to the dish.
After a few centuries passed, sushi and Ozaka were combined together to form ozi-sushi. Ozi-sushi consisted of varieties of seafood and sushi rice that was put together in shapes using molds.
Hanaya Yohei made the sushi that the current world’s most familiar within the 19th century in the Edo period. It is the most modern sushi version that people recognize today and have on their menus.
During the Edo period, the tradition changed to serving fresh fish over vinegared rice and nori(seafood). The current day popular sushi is adopted from the Edo era that Chef Hanaya Yohei developed.
He introduced the technique at his shop in Ryōgoku in 1824. Initially, he termed it Edomae Zushi as the fish was freshly caught from Edo-mae (currently known as Tokyo Bay). Since they used varieties of raw fish, it gave rise to a belief that sushi is made up of raw fish.
The varieties of seafood that can be a part of sushi are as follows:
Tuna, mackerel, salmon, clams, blue marlin, sea bass, yellowtail, abalone, swordfish, sweetfish, squid, scallop, halfbeak, ark shell, trout, eel, cockle, shrimp, sea bream, octopus, flatfish, and crab.
When you think of traditional sushi, tuna and salmon are two fish that come into mind.
● Tuna Sushi
Amongst all, the most famous traditional sushi is Tuna Sushi Roll. You might have tried raw red tuna that tastes great. However, you can try meat from different parts, and every part’s meat tastes and look different.
● Salmon Sushi
The second most common traditional sushi is Salmon Sushi, with a distinguished bright orange color and white stripes. When preferred raw, it looks no less than a sparkly jewel on the rice. In most of the sushi roll fillings, salmon is used as smoked or baked.
Not every traditional sushi roll needs to contain tuna or salmon as strips. In some recipes like temaki sushi or gunkan maki, tuna or salmon is first cut into small pieces as cubes or shredded and mixed with mayo sauce or some other sauce and then added as sushi fillings.
● Tempuras and Shrimp Tempuras
After tuna and salmon, we have tempuras and shrimp tempuras. These two fish are considered to be the most sought-after Japanese delicacies. They are famous for their crispy texture and scrumptious taste.
So, if you visit any sushi restaurant, it is most likely that you will find shrimp tempura rolls. Other than tempuras, seafood such as octopus, squid, and eel are also quite famous.
● Eel Sushi
Eel obtained from saltwater or freshwater is also one of several Japanese delicacies. It is not eaten raw and is marinated or steamed before being put as fillings. Its slimy texture may off-put your craving, but once you get used to its taste, you will never say no to eel sushi roll.
Sushi is not all about fish, seafood, or eggs. It also has a lot of fresh, cooked, or pickled vegetables or fruits to spice up the taste and extend the range of sushi rolls.
The traditional dried gourd sushi roll (Kanpyo Maki) has dehydrated strips of calabash fruit, whereas Natto Maki, another sushi roll type, contains fermented soybeans.
Other popular traditional sushi rolls that contain vegetables are plum and cucumber roll, avocado roll, and pickled daikon sushi roll.
Sushi is a Japanese delicacy containing raw fish, and it was a new concept for Westerners. Moreover, as the dish is always served cold, it played a big part in the prevailing misconception that sushi always contains seafood or fish. No matter what type of toppings sushi has, people, think that it is a seafood dish.
Western people did not welcome
the modern version of raw fish sushi full-heartedly at the start. It did not impress them, so chefs came up with the idea of serving sushi with cooked seafood. Later, as the dish became popular, both versions (cooked and raw) were equally loved and ordered at restaurants.
Fish served may be raw (sushi-grade variety), boiled, fried, roasted, baked, and marinated with seasonings and sauces.
Now, if you look at traditional or Americanized sushi, you will find that 6-7 sushi rolls contain seafood in some form.
Here are some examples:
Volcano roll: Contains crab meat, spicy tuna, and scallops
Philadelphia roll: Contains smoked salmon, cucumber, and cream cheese
Shrimp Tempura roll: Contains shrimp tempura, cucumber, and avocado
Spicy tuna roll: Contains Tuna and spicy mayo
Dragon roll: Contains Shrimp tempura/ octopus or fish roe
California roll: Contains real or imitation crab meat with avocado and cucumber
Rainbow Roll: Consists of crab meat, tuna, and cucumber
Teriyaki chicken roll: Contains cooked chicken breasts and cucumber
With sushi evolving as modern sushi with both (seafood and vegetables) options, another variety i-e, Vegetarian sushi, is becoming popular. Avocado rolls, tofu rolls, maki or cucumber rolls, or mushroom rolls are a few examples of evolving vegetarian sushi.
In certain parts of the world, it isn’t easy to find sushi-grade fish, so restaurants advertise their vegetarian sushi varieties. People love this vegetarian type of sushi and often prefer it over seafood sushi.
Apart from the unavailability of sushi-grade fish, restaurants make vegetarian sushi because vegetables stay fresh for a longer time without any special procedures, and there is less food wastage.
The increasing popularity of vegetarian sushi proves the fact that sushi is not seafood. With its fruits and vegetables toppings/fillings, it becomes pretty simple to comprehend that seafood sushi is only a single variety out of various sushi varieties.
The ingredient list in most vegan sushi dishes is clear from their names. Maki rolls may have cucumber strips, ripe mango, red pepper, boiled sweet potato, semi-boiled carrots, etc.
Popular vegetarian sushi is Nigiri-style Shiitake Mushroom vegan sushi.
Shiitake mushroom has a very strong and savory flavor that is reduced using salt or soy sauce. It is slightly flamed to intensify the natural fragrance. This vegan sushi leaves a juicy, rich taste on the first bite.
Another popular vegan sushi that you may have already tried is Avocado Nigiri. Avocado, the butter of the forest, is a common ingredient in many sushi types. Rice is clumped up with a slice of avocado, both lightly seasoned with salt and held together with a strip of nori seaweed.
This amazing combination brings mild creamy flavor to vegan sushi.
Other famous vegan sushi options are:
- California-style vegan sushi rolls
- Avocado and Mango brown rice sushi roll
- Spicy Vegan Scallop Roll
- Teriyaki Veggie Crunch Rolls
- Vegan Eggplant sushi roll
- Tofu Cucumber Sushi Roll
- Carrot Lox and Avocado Sushi
- Avocado cream cheese cucumber rolls
So, vegan sushi lovers don’t need to think that there isn’t enough variety of vegan sushi. Also, if you think that sushi only tastes good with fish or seafood, try vegan sushi rolls. Almost every seafood or fish has its vegan substitute that perfectly soothes your meat taste cravings.
Sashimi is raw meat (usually fish) that is thinly sliced and served without rice. Unlike sushi, it always contains fresh raw meat or seafood.
Tuna and salmon are the two most commonly used fish in sashimi. Other than these, sea bream, mackerel, yellowtail, and some shellfish and mollusks, such as squid or octopus, shrimp, scallops, and clams, are also used in sashimi. You can also find salmon eggs and sea urchins in sashimi.
Sometimes, raw horse meat is used, but it also increases the risk of foodborne illnesses.
Restaurants mostly bring saltwater fish for sashimi. It’s because freshwater fish contains parasites. In highly reputed Japanese restaurants, fish are kept in fish tanks to offer fresh raw sashimi.
Sashimi with raw seafood is generally safe. Sashimi that contains red raw meat or chicken might be less safe to eat in larger quantities. Pregnant women and patients who have compromised immune systems should be careful while choosing sashimi or avoid it at all.
If we look at the nutritional chart of sushi and sashimi, we find that generally, sushi has more carbs calories because of ingredients like rice, seaweed, fruits, and vegetables.
Sashimi has fewer carbs calories and more protein calories for its simple ingredient list, i-e meat. However, both are high in omega-3 fatty acids because of fish.
Here is the nutritional comparison of 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of sushi and sashimi:
|California Sushi Roll||Smoked salmon sashimi|
|Protein||3 grams||21.5 grams|
|Fat||1 gram||11 grams|
|Carbs||18.5 grams||0 grams|
|Fiber||1 gram||0 grams|
California sushi roll has cucumber, avocado, and crab
After this comprehensive guide, it will be clear to you that sushi is not just seafood. In fact, it’s a dish that can be served as an appetizer or main course and consists of a broad range of ingredients. Some of its varieties contain fish (raw or cooked), and some contain vegetables, fruit, and other ingredients.
And if learning about sushi makes you crave sushi, you can go to the nearest restaurant or make it at your home. Also, when you order, remember the difference between sashimi and sushi. It’s better to ask if sashimi is the same as sushi or different and then decide whether you want to order sashimi or sushi.
Beginners who want to develop their taste buds for raw sushi must start with varieties without raw meat. Vegetable and fruit sushi and cooked fish sushi are perfect options for beginners. Once you feel bold enough to taste raw fish, you can go for sushi containing raw seafood.