How to master ingredients of sushi in 4 simple steps

How to master ingredients of sushi in 4 simple steps

Ingredients of sushi are pretty simple – basically fish, rice, and a few seasoning. Let’s learn how to master sushi ingredients – in 4 simple steps.

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How to master ingredients of sushi in 4 simple steps

The Edo style sushi

Sushi is getting so popular all over the world, yet many people still don’t understand what’s sushi, how to eat sushi properly, and how to enjoy sushi at the sushi bar, etc. So you’ll learn a lot more about sushi ingredients here.

Sushi is made of a piece of fish and seasoned rice (with vinegar). However, this is just one type of sushi created in 1820s, called “Edomae zushi”. The Edo people were known for their busy lifestyle, so fast foods became so popular. Edo style cuisine is known to be saltier and sweeter compared to other cuisines in Japan and applies to other fast foods like tempura (“Edomae tempura) and unagi.

Meant for longer shelf life (no refrigeration)

Vinegar, salt, and sugar extend the food shelf life. Eel, shrimp, and shellfish were simmered in broth. Tuna were immersed in soy sauce (zuke method). Mackerel and gizzard shad were cured with salt and vinegar. Vinegar in rice preserves it from spoilage (and enhance the flavor of the ingredient). Wasabi was used to kill bacteria.

Always focusing on the flavors of one ingredient

Simply to emphasize the local ingredients from the Tokyo bay, such as tuna, halibut, bonito, sea eel, and shellfish.

Basic 4 ingredients of sushi:

  1. Fish or whatever the ingredients
  2. Rice (short or medium grain)
  3. Seaweed (sheets)
  4. Seasonings

1) Ingredients of sushi in Japanese

Sushi ingredients are mainly seafood (raw or cooked) and some vegetables. But there’s no rule. Great sushi chefs create interesting/exciting flavor combinations with various ingredients and seasonings. Or they go simply straightforward to emphasize the flavor of ingredients. Sushi components are so simple (basically rice and fish), so chefs must be so creative to make it great. Even small mistakes would show it right away – sushi is simple yet DEEP. That’s why eating sushi is so fun to see their skills, imagination, and creativity (not just the quality of ingredients).

< Seafood ingredients >

  • Aji: Horse mackerel
  • Akagai: Pepitona clam
  • Ama Ebi: Sweet shrimp, red prawns. “Ama” means sweet, and “Ebi” means shrimp.
  • Anago: Sea eel. It’s a lot lighter / less fatty than “unagi”.
  • Ankimo – ahn-kee-moh) – Monkfish liver, usually served cold after being steamed or poached in sake.
  • Anko: Monkfish.
  • Aoyagi: Round clam. Also called hen clam.
  • Awabi: Abalone
  • Ayu: Sweetfish. A small member of the trout family.
  • Ebi: Shrimp
  • Engawa: Fin muscle of flatfish
  • Fugu: Puffer fish 
  • Hamaguri: Clam.
  • Hamachi: Yellowtail 
  • Hamo: Pike conger eel
  • Hata: Grouper
  • Hatahata: Sandfish
  • Hikarimono: Slices of fish belly that is served with the “shiny” silver skin still attached. kohada (mid-sized konoshiro gizzard shad), aji (horse mackerel), saba (mackerel), kisu (sillago), sayori (Japanese halfbeak), iwashi (pilchard), and sanma (Pacific saury).
  • Hirame: Halibut
  • Hokkigai: Surf Clam (Hokkyokugai)
  • Hotate: Scallop
  • Hoya: Sea squirt
  • Ika: Squid
  • Ikura: Salmon roe (eggs)
  • Inada: Very young yellowtail
  • Isaki: Grunt
  • Ise-ebi: Pacific spiny lobster
  • Iwashi: Pilchard
  • Kajiki: Billfish including swordfish (Me-Kajiki or Kajiki-Maguro) and marlins
  • Kaibashira: Shellfish valve of muscles
  • Kaki: Oyster
  • Kamasu: Baraccuda
  • Kani: Crab
  • Kani kama: Imitation crab meat
  • Kanpachi: Very young yellowtail
  • Karasumi: Dried salted mullet roe
  • Karei: Winter flounder
  • Katsuo: Skipjack tuna (the most widely available and sustainable type of tuna). Bonito.
  • Kazunoko: Herring roe
  • Kihada: Yellowfin tuna
  • Kisu: Sillago
  • Kochi: Whiting
  • Kohada: Mid-sized konoshiro gizzard shad 
  • Konoshiro: Gizzard shad
  • Kurodai: Black bream
  • Madai: Sea bream
  • Maguro: Tuna (many different words denote species and cuts of the tuna)
  • Masago: Smelt eggs
  • Masu: Trout
  • Mebaru: Rockfish
  • Mekajiki: Swordfish
  • Mirugai: Clam (one kind of many)
  • Mutsu: Japanese Bluefish
  • Namako: Sea cucumber
  • Namazu: Catfish
  • Negi-toro: Tuna belly and chopped green onions
  • Saba: Mackerel (usually sliced with some skin on one side and served as sashimi)
  • Niji-masu: Rainbow trout
  • Nishin: Herring
  • Saba: Mackerel
  • Sake: Salmon
  • Sazae: Turbo
  • Sanma: Pacific saury
  • Sayori: Japanese halfbeak 
  • Shako: Mantis shrimp
  • Shime-saba: Marinated mackerel
  • Shirako: The milt sac of the male codfish
  • Shirasu: Small young sardine
  • Shira-uo: Whitebait, icefish
  • Shishamo: Smelt
  • Surimi: Fish paste made with grounded fish (often pollock or cod). Imitation crab or lobster meat. 
  • Suzuki: Sea bass
  • Tai: Snapper
  • Taira-gai: Razor-shell clam
  • Tako: Octopus
  • Tara: Cod
  • Tarako: Cod roe
  • Tobiko: Flying-fish roe
  • Tobi-uo: Flying-fish
  • Toro: The fattiest part of a fish, often from bluefin tuna; it is usually the most expensive piece. Bluefin tuna populations have plunged due to unsustainable demand, so avoid contributing to the problem.
  • Trubu-gai: Whelk
  • Unagi: Freshwater eel, which is usually grilled and drizzled with a sweet sauce rather than eaten raw.
  • Uni: Sea Urchin
  • Wakasagi: Pond smelt
  • Yamame: Trout

< Non-Seafood ingredients >

  • Abura-age – Fried tofu pouches usually prepared by cooking in sweet cooking sake, shoyu, and dashi. Used in various dishes like “Inari-zushi” or miso soup.
  • Gobo: Burdock root.
  • Goma: Sesame seeds.
  • Hijiki: Seaweed in tiny threads.
  • Kappa: Cucumber
  • Natto: fermented soybeans
  • Negi: Green Onion. Scallion.
  • Nori: The dried seaweed used in sheets to create sushi
  • Shiso: The leaf of the perilla plant. 
  • Takuan: Pickled daikon radish
  • Tamago: Sweet egg; tamagoyaki is used to refer to the sweet, square omelettes.
  • Tsuma: Daikon radish strings often accompanied by sashimi for a crunchy texture.
  • Ume (boshi): Plum
  • Uzura: Quail egg

Fresh (alive) isn’t necessarily fresher/better than frozen

The majority of the seafood we eat is imported and has been frozen at some point.

“Flash frozen”: fish are rapidly frozen at low temperatures to prevent the formation of ice crystals and preserve quality – at the peak of its freshness. Basically, the slower the seafood freezes, the larger the ice crystals that form between the fibers of the protein become, which can impact flavor and cause fish to dry out. So, flash freezing helps retain its flavor, texture, moisture, shape – freshness, and nutrition.

Minimizing the time between capture and freezing prevents the deterioration of quality that naturally begins the moment seafood hits the air.

These days, technology is such that fish are either frozen right at sea (most common with farmed fish, as freezers are incorporated into the farm sites) or immediately upon landing at port. “Previously frozen” – all of which means that frozen can be fresher, or at least in better condition.

Another reason for going frozen is that it decreases waste and takes advantage of seasonal bounty to spread its availability throughout the year.

And the assumption that fattier varieties such as salmon and tuna fare better, texturally speaking than leaner fish when frozen doesn’t hold true, either. In fact, it comes down to proper freezing and handling on the front end, and proper thawing – in the fridge, out of the package – on the back end.

2016 study funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation that tested consumer preferences for fresh black cod and coho salmon vs. frozen (both bought at retail) found that the frozen fish were both rated superior or equal to their fresh counterparts. The study also measured the quality of those frozen and fresh fish, based on the conductivity of cell structure, and found that the overall score of the frozen fish was at least three times higher than the fresh fish

However, not all frozen are the true meaning of capturing the freshness naturally by freezing. Check the label for additives. Sodium tripolyphosphate is a chemical that is used to retain moisture. CO2 is sometimes injected to fish like tuna to keep the color bright.

Fish in the fish tank at a restaurant – it’s not the freshest seafood you could get. While transporting the fish to the fish company to the restaurants, fish aren’t fed and stressed by the capture, being in the small container, and transportation, etc. They might stay in the fish tank at the restaurant for a while – of course, no feeding and more stress/exhaustion. The quality of fish decreases due to it. Freezing right after fishing is a much better way to capture quality – unless you literally eat it right on the spot.

2) Sushi rice

This is one of the most critical elements of sushi. It’s not just “rice”. It must be cooked well, seasoned well, and held well so that you can hold it well with your hand but crumbled in your mouth. Sushi got only fish and rice, so any shortcoming will show.

In Japan, it takes years to just washing rice. More years to cook sushi rice. It’s a part of training to be a sushi chef. One of the Japanese features, “Shokunin Katagi” (craftmanship in Japanese). Secrets for innovation – continuous improvement (“Kaizen“) of skills to your best of ability. Every element is extremely important, especially for sushi.

Type of rice

Use white (polished) short-grain Japanese rice (japonica) or medium-grain California rice. Don’t choose long-grain rice (Basmati and Jasmine) and brown rice. They have less water content than short and medium-grain rice, so harder to stick together as “shari” (sushi rice in Japanese).

Perfect rice

It should be fluffy but firm texture. If too hard/dry, it means it was undercooked or needed more water (which is fixable). If too mushy, it means too much water or overcooked. Rice is my only carb, so I use a rice cooker to make it perfect (easy!).

Seasoning for rice

You need sushi vinegar, salt, and sugar. “Sushi vinegar” is rice vinegar that sugar and salt have already been added (and often also flavor enhancers like “konbu” – kelp for the stock). If you don’t want to make sushi vinegar by yourself thinking about the ratio and its amount, sushi vinegar is ready to use.

Possible sushi vinegar substitute: Apple cider vinegar
Possible rice vinegar substitutes: white wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, champagne vinegar, sherry vinegar, lemon/lime juice.

Where to buy: You can go to Japanese or other Asian markets to buy rice, vinegar, and other ingredients.

3) Seaweed

I should say there are 2 major seaweed sheets – Japanese and Korean.

Japanese nori (seaweed) is minced nori seaweed (dried and roasted). The majority are unseasoned ones and some seasoned ones: the one with salt, the one with salt and/or sugar/soy sauce, the one with salt and sesame oil, etc. I prefer an unseasoned one for sushi since it won’t distract the flavor of fish with the seaweed flavor. However, it might be ok to use the flavor ones for a casual home sushi party.

Japanese nori sheets for sushi have 9 grades – by color, shininess, weight, thickness, spots (holes), and mix of other seaweeds. The higher the grade gets, the better quality you could get. They are tastier, darker, better texture, and more expensive. If you want to upgrade it, you could spend more money on it.

Korean one (Gim) is seasoned with salt and sesame oil. It’s not as smooth as the Japanese one in terms of texture. It’s pretty tasty, but it gets sticky thanks to the sesame oil.

4) Seasonings

This is one of the major components of sushi, but this could vary – it’s up to the chef’s creativity. It’s totally up to you, but at least you should have:

For sushi rice: Sushi vinegar/rice vinegar, sugar, salt
Seasonings for ingredients: Soy sauce, wasabi, mayonnaise, Siracha, ponzu, eel sauce (optional)

Soy sauce: Ingredients of sushi

Soy sauce is a salty liquid condiment traditionally produced by fermenting soybeans and wheat.

  • Chinese style: made with high in soy, low in wheat, usually saltier and more aggressive, usually thicker.
  • Japanese style: are made with a mix of soy and wheat (usually 1:1), sweeter, more nuanced flavor. Shoyu is simply the name for the Japanese-style soy sauce: light (usukuchi) or dark (koikuchi).


The Japanese version of what we know as Chinese soy originated as a byproduct of making miso paste. Tamari is pressed from the liquid that drains from a miso paste (fermented soybean paste) as it ages. Classically, it’s made with only soybeans (and no wheat), making it more similar in flavor to Chinese style soy sauce. It’s a great option for those who are gluten-free (mostly). It is a thicker, bit sweeter, less salty, more balanced, darker color, and richer umami flavor fermented soy sauce.

When should you use tamari vs. soy sauce?

  • Tamari: Japanese cooking, cold dishes, dressings, dipping
  • Soy sauce: Chinese cooking, hot dishes, stir-fries

Substitutes for Tamari and Soy Sauce

Differences between Tamari and Soy Sauce

Soy sauce has 5 types:
1) Tamari
2) koikuchi
3) shiro
4) usukuchi
5) sai-shikomi.

Technically, Tamari is a type of soy sauce. However, it differs from traditional soy sauce due to its fermentation processing, thickness, flavors, and wheat content. Both are byproducts of fermented soybeans, but these are the comparisons and differences:

INGREDIENTSSoybeans, salt, water, brine, kojiSoybeans, wheat, salt, brine (moromi), koji, water
MADE BYdrawing off the liquid content of soybean miso paste. Koji are added to the boiled soybean paste, or the paste is allowed to incorporate natural spores from the surrounding environment to promote fermentation. Instead of being pressed, the liquid is simply collected from the runoff of the miso.The paste of cooked soybeans and wheat (1:1) grain is added to a salt brine  (moromi) and left to ferment for several months before being pressed to produce the liquid condiment. It is typically fermented with Aspergillus oryzae or sojae molds (koji).
TASTEbit sweeter, more balanced, richer umami more salt-forward and sweeter (by wheat)
COLORdarkermuch lighter
SODIUM233 mg /TBS 900 mg /TBS
Gluten Free YES (Mostly, vegan)NO (Wheat)
PROTEINTwice the amount of soybeanslesser
PRODUCTIONonly in Japanall over the Asia

Wasabi: Ingredients of sushi

  1. “Real” wasabi: Japanese horseradish (scientifically known as Wasabia japonica,  Cochlearia wasabi, or Eutrema japonica) is a root that grows on wasabi farms in Japan. It is actually originated in Japan. Real wasabi color is green from chlorophyll. The leaves of the wasabi plant are also edible.
  2. Real vs Fake: Fresh wasabi paste is made by grating the wasabi rhizome, the stem of the plant. Most wasabi (made from “powder”) is a green paste that is really made from horseradish, mustard, and food coloring. In fact, about 99% of all wasabi sold in the US is fake. It’s not common to see real wasabi – even in Japan since it’s very rare and expensive (a pound can cost up to $100). 
  3. Finicky to grow: Wasabi can only grow where there is clean water, it’s so hard to grow,  and it takes years to grow big (which grows to nearly 2 feet long). That’s why big real wasabi is very rare and expensive. 
  4. Why do Japanese eat wasabi?: Wasabi isn’t just the kick. And historically, wasabi was used to kill certain bacteria that can cause food poisoning when modern food preservation methods weren’t available.
  5. Shark skin” grater: It’s a special grater for fresh wasabi. To bring out the full flavor and soft texture like mashed potato, the chef grates it against the sharkskin (rough texture) attached to the side of a small wooden paddle in a circular motion. Standard grater can’t get the outcome. Also, you must eat wasabi fresh – within 15 minutes once grated. Or it loses the flavor. It is very expensive compared to a regular grater. For Japanese, it’s not just wasabi: chef pays attention – even to the wasabi and its tool.
  6. Difference between wasabi and chili peppers: Chili peppers create a lasting burning spiciness, but the hotness of wasabi occurs only once. 
  7. How to store a real wasabi root: You need to wrap them in a damp towel. Refrigerate only when it is not being used. Trim properly and remove all spots. Wasabi usually lasts for about 30 days. Wasabi leaves should be kept inside the fridge as soon as possible.

How To Make Wasabi Paste  

Wasabi paste (by powder) is easy to make.

  1. Mix equal amounts of wasabi powder and water
  2. Stir the mixture until it has been thoroughly combined
    Be careful. The more powder you use, the stronger it can make you cry. You can keep the paste fresh by placing it inside a container.

Health benefits of wasabi

  1. Prevents Food Poisoning
    Wasabi can prevent food poisoning by neutralizing all mold spores. Add a touch of wasabi in order to prevent food from getting spoilt.
  2. Natural Sanitizer
    Wasabi prevents infection. Wasabi can also be used as a natural sanitizer.
  3. Fights Cold And Allergies
    Swallowing wasabi can prevent colds and allergies.
  4. Digestive Health
    It is rich in fiber that prevents constipation, gas problems, bloating, belching, etc.
  5. Fights Arthritis
    Wasabi comes with anti-inflammatory properties that offer you relief from aching joints. The isothiocyanates available in wasabi make you less prone to bowel diseases and asthma.
  6. Prevents Cancer And Boosts Immunity
    Wasabi is good for boosting immunity, cancer, and liver health.
  7. Heart Health
    Wasabi reduces the chances of heart attacks.
  8. Helps You Lose Weight
    Wasabi is a low-calorie food that is often cooked with peas. While other condiments have a lot of fat, it actually promotes weight loss.
  9. Makes You Younger
    Wasabi contains antioxidants for a glowing skin tone.
  10. Blood Circulation
    It prevents the clumping of blood clots and prevents strokes. Its circulatory benefits help in keeping your skin soft and clear.

Other stuff on sushi ingredients

Sushi grade fish

What’s special about the label “Sushi-grade’ fish? The answer is there is no standard as regulations. It simply means it could be the higher quality that you can be comfortable with eating it raw. Fish are flash-frozen on the boat after they are caught, which kills any parasites that they might contain and keep them fresh.

Types of toro: Tuna

  • Toro: The fatty part of the tuna. You can get only a small amount of toro out of tuna unlike “akami” (red part with less fat). Due to the high demand of its taste, it’s very expensive.
  • Chu toro: Inbetween “toro” and “o toro” in terms of fat content. The belly area of the tuna along the side of the fish between “akami” and “otoro”. Often preferred because it is fatty but not as fatty as Otoro.
  • O toro: The fattiest portion of the tuna, found on the underside of the fish. The most expensive and smallest amount you can get out of all. It’s like A5 Kobe beef – melting sensation!

Sushi terminology

Types of Sushi

Major sushi types – sushi, sashimi, cut rolls, and rice bowl. Whatever the type is, the ingredients of sushi are the same. I’m talking about traditional sushi. You see some appetizer offerings, but not so much of a meal combination of non-seafood protein like chicken.

Sushi: A strip of sticky vinegared sushi rice with a piece of ingredients (mainly seafood, either raw or cooked) expertly pressed to stick on top. It’s also called “Nigiri” as a sushi lingo. Nigiri should be eaten with the fingers so it doesn’t fall apart if a piece is too big to enjoy in one bite.
Sashimi: a piece of seafood (usually raw) sliced thin and served without the accompanying rice.  Sashimi is normally eaten with chopsticks.
Don: a bowl of rice usually accompanied by ingredients on the top. “Chirashi” is a bowl of sushi rice topped with a variety of sashimi and garnishes.
Maki (mono): “roll” in Japanese. Maki refers to any type of sushi created with a Makisu (bamboo mat used to roll sushi). Its also called Maki-zushi and maki-mono. Maki rolls are usually cut into 6-8 pieces. 

Types of Rolls (Maki / Makimono)


The smallest maki rolls are thin and rolled tightly. They contain fewer ingredients and have only nori seaweed on the outside. One popular combination is tuna with cucumber.

ingredients of sushi-hosomaki


These largest maki rolls usually get cut thinner due to their size. It contains many ingredients, so it gets big.

ingredients of sushi-futomaki-inari
Futomaki (L), Inari (R)


Neither traditional nor very Japanese, uramaki rolls are “inside out” with the nori seaweed wrapped around ingredients in the middle and rice stuck to the outside.

ingredients of sushi-uramaki


a cone-shaped hand roll made of nori seaweed and filled with rice, fish and other ingredients.

hand roll 2-sushi-ingredients of sushi-japanese food

Sushi terms only used at sushi bar

  • Agari: Tea. It is customary to ask for a cup of tea (typically green tea, but it could be something else) at the end of a sushi meal, as the flavor complements and completes the experience.
  • Debana: The first cup of tea served.
  • Gari: Pickled ginger. The ginger is used as a palate cleanser between different pieces of sushi.
  • Gunkan: It’s sushi style that wraps rice with seaweed horizontally so that chef can put ingredients on top of sushi rice without spilling.
  • Itamae: The title given to a professional sushi chef. Sushi chefs are respected as artists, and the craft takes decades to master.
  • Kaiten Zushi: “conveyor belt” revolving sushi. It allows diners to select what they want as plates circulate on a conveyor belt. Plates are often color-coded by price. 
  • Murasaki: Soy sauce. 
  • Neta: The piece of fish that sits on top of the sushi
  • Omakase: Chef’s choice. You trust the chef’s judgement so that you don’t need to wonder and (hopefully) the chef can give you a better option than your picks. You still can request what you want/prefer, so please do so. It’s totally ok with it.
  • Shari: The rice portion of sushi.

Cooking techniques etc.

  • Agemono: Deep fried foods.
  • Akami: the leaner flesh of tuna – red one.
  • Inari: Inari-zushi is a type of sushi that sushi rice in the fried tofu pouch. The pouch is seasoned sweet. Very traditional snack type sushi.
  • Oshi-zushi: Pressed sushi. “Osu” in Japanese means to press. It was made for long preservation, so it’s seasoned by vinegar heavily. It usually put rice at the bottom, fish like mackerel or toppings on top of it, and pressed in a box or mold.
  • Oshinko: Pickled vegetables.
  • Shiromi: White fish flesh.
  • Tataki: Finely chopped.
  • Zuke: a cooking technique by pickling fish or vegetables in the lees (residual yeast and other precipitates) of sake, known as sake kasu.


  • Arigato gozaimasu: Thank you in a polite manner
  • Irasshaimase: Japanese word to express “Welcome” to the customers to the Business. It’s used for any business in Japan. 
  • Oaiso/Okanjyo: Bill/check

Conclusion: Pfff.. How to master ingredients of sushi got quite long. However, I’ve covered all the major sushi terms, so now you’re no longer a sushi beginner! Use them, impress sushi chefs and get better sushi! 

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