Types of Sushi Fish & Seafood


Sushi chefs take great pride in their skill at preparing fish, mollusks and other sea creatures. Seafood is usually the central focus of any piece of sushi, be it nigiri, maki or chirashi sushi. Every fish has a unique flavor, and many have specialty dishes and sauces that they are famous for. In this article, you will learn about the following different types of sushi fish and seafood and how they are used to create sushi:




Crustaceans & Echinoderms

  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Yellowtail
  • Eel
  • Red Snapper
  • Sea Bass
  • Mackerel
  • Sardine
  • Gizzard Shad
  • Halibut
  • Needle Fish
  • Flying Fish
  • Needle Fish
  • Capelin Caviar
  • Flying Fish Caviar
  • Salmon Caviar
  • Pollock Caviar
  • Octopus
  • Squid
  • Clam
  • Abalone
  • Scallop
  • Abalone
  • Shrimp
  • Crab
  • Sea Cucumber
  • Sea Urchin
  • Sea Cucumber


Sushi Quick Guide


Oblong shape of sushi rice with toppings

Maki Sushi

Sushi roll


Sushi roll with sushi rice and one other main ingredient

Oshi Sushi

Pressed sushi


Nigiri wrapped in a strip of seaweed

Chirashi Sushi

Sushi rice topped with ingredients served in a bowl


snapper on a cutting boardSalmon – Shake

Fresh salmon is called “shake” (shä-ka) and is one of the most common types of sushi fish found in the United States. It is usually served raw as sashimi, on top of vinegar rice as nigiri or in a maki roll. Sometimes it is served poached or smoked in sushi, especially in America. Common sushi rolls that use salmon include the Philadelphia roll and a basic salmon hosomaki roll called “shakemaki” (shä-ka-mä-ke).

The most common type of tuna served in Japanese sushi is magurothe blue finned tuna. Both the fatty part of the tuna – toro – and the pink flesh of the tuna are used. Maguro is served raw in the form of nagiri, hosomaki rolls and tekkappamaki rolls (tuna, cucumber and vinegar rice rolls). The seared, marinated maguro – called suke maguro – is often served over vinegar rice. Albacore – or binjo – is a small tuna fish that is rare and expensive in Japan, but often grilled, shocked in cold water, then served as nigiri with citrus sauce. Katsuothe skipjack tuna – is also popularly used in Japan, especially in fish stock and in its fermented form. In Hawaii, canned tuna is served in many sushi rolls.

Yellowtail – Buri

The type of yellowtail most commonly seen in sushi is the farm-bred Japanese amberback – hamachi. It is most commonly seen in nigiri, or served by itself as sashimi. Another popular yellowtail used in nigiri is the Kona Kampachi®. This is a specific brand of yellowtail that hails from Kona Blue Water Farms in and has made its way back over to.


There are two types of eel that are used in Japan. Fresh-water eel – unagi – and salt-water eel – anago. Eel is a very difficult fish to prepare, and for safety reasons it is never eaten raw. Usually it is grilled, then steamed, then grilled again. It is served in nigiri form along with a teriyaki sauce and sesame seeds, or as a hosomaki sushi roll called “unakyu.” It is also sometimes rolled with cucumber into an “anakiumaki” roll.

Red Snapper – Tai

The most popular way to serve red snapper in Japan is as nigiri. There are three ways to make and serve red snapper nigiri. It can be skinned and served plain and raw. It can also be served with the skin in tact in a style called “matsuguwa tsukuri.” This is done by pouring boiling water on the skin, then putting the fish immediately into ice water to prevent the flesh from cooking. The third way to serve red snapper is as “tai kobujime,” where the fish is laid onto a bed of konbu kelp and left for a while so that it absorbs the flavors of the seaweed. The red snapper fish goes well with wasabi.

Sea Bass – Suzuki

The Japanese sea bass is a fatty, tough white fish that is often served as nigiri. It has different names in Japan depending on its age and size when caught – only a sea bass that is four years or older is called “suzuki.” The sea bass is sliced very thin to make it easier to chew despite its tough flesh. Often, some of the fats are removed by immersion in hot water and rice wine, followed by shocking the flesh with ice water, making the bass more palatable. It is usually served with chopped pickled ume – pickled plum.

Mackerel – Saba

The mackerel is a Pacific-ocean fish that is plentiful and cheap in Japan. It is almost never served raw – instead, it is cured in salt for several hours to create cured mackerel – shime saba. It is an oily, tender fish that is often served in the city of Osaka as pressed oshi sushi or served in other regions of Japan as nigiri with vinegar-kelp on top. The Spanish mackerel, or aji, is another popular, oily fish that is often served as nigiri with ponzu – a citrus sauce.

Sardine – Iwashi

The sardine is a cheap and abundant fish around Japan. It is one of the richest and oiliest fishes available. The bones are edible, making it easier for a sushi chef to prepare. It is usually served as nigiri along with Japanese green onions or with shoga ginger. Sometimes, the skeleton is removed, deep fried and served alongside the flesh.

Gizzard Shad – Kohad

Although it is much more common in North American waters than around Japan, the gizzard shard – a sardine-like shiny fish – has been used in sushi for centuries. It is served with the de-scaled skin still attached. Kohada refers to the adult fish, and is usually served as nigiri. The baby gizzard shad – called “shinko” – is a rare delicacy and is more tender than the adult fish.

Halibut – Hirame

The halibut is a delicate-flavored fish that is usually served raw or aged as sashimi. It can also be infused with konbu kelp flavor. The best part of the halibut to eat is the dorsal fin muscle – called the “engawa” – which has more fats and a stronger flavor than the rest of the fish. This part is often grilled and served as nigiri, along with grated daikon radish and red pepper.

Flying Fish – Tobiwo

The Japanese flying fish – tobiwo – is sometimes dried and eaten in Japanese and Taiwanese cuisine, but rarely is it served as sushi. The egg of the fish is much more popular for sushi.

Needle Fish – Sayori

The needle fish is a long, skinny fish with a long beak. It is full of tiny, soft bones that can be eaten with the flesh. It is considered a delicacy and is often served as sashimi or nigiri.


sushi with roe on topCapelin Caviar – Masago

Masago, the eggs of the capelin fish, are dark orange and are usually used as a topping for nigiri. Often the eggs are harvested in Iceland. In Japan, capelin caviar is a delicacy, and it is often mixed with the wasabi root to create “wasabi caviar.”

The type of yellowtail most commonly seen in sushi is the farm-bred Japanese amberback – hamachi. It is most commonly seen in nigiri, or served by itself as sashimi. Another popular yellowtail used in nigiri is the Kona Kampachi®. This is a specific brand of yellowtail that hails from Kona Blue Water Farms in and has made its way back over to.

Flying Fish Caviar – Tobiko

Flying fish roe is visually similar to masago, but is more transparent. It has a subtle, smoky flavor and is usually crunchy; it is said to pop in the mouth. Tobiko is often found as a topping for gunkan nigiri, or as the outer layer of a California roll.

Salmon Caviar – Ikura

Salmon caviar is usually prepared by soaking each individual egg in a mixture of rice wine and soy sauce. This improves the texture and flavor of the roe. Often, ikura is served with quail eggs and cucumbers, which mediate the strong flavor of the caviar. It is also served in the form of gunkan nigiri.

Pollock Caviar – Mentaiko

The caviar of the pollock is a recent addition to Japanese cuisine. It is often found as a filling in Japanese rice balls – or onigiri. The eggs of the pollock are large for caviar, and they can be enjoyed by themselves with added peppers to create spicy mentaiko.


Octopus – Takko

The arms, or tentacles of the octopus, are the best part of the body to eat. It has tough flesh, so usually it is sliced very thin when served as sashimi or as gunkan nigiri. Care is taken to remove all slime and ink from the octopus. It is always massaged with radish and poached before being eaten in sushi, although live octopus or recently severed, squirming octopus arms can be eaten raw.

Squid – Ika

Squid has a chewy texture and is usually white and opaque. It has more complex flavors than most other sea creatures. Because it is slippery, it is usually served as gunkan nigiri, wrapped in a strip of seaweed to hold it in place. Poached tentacles, the mantle or the entire body of the squid – called “wu ika” –can be eaten. “Ika” can also refer to the cuddlefish.


There are several varieties of clam that are used to make nigiri. They include the “hokkigai” surf clam, the “kobashira” mactra clam, the “akagai” red clam and the “mirugai” long neck white clam. Most of these clams can be served raw or boiled as either plain nigiri or gunkan.

Scallop – Hotate

Scallops – “hotate” in Japanese – are the softest shellfishes found in sushi. The muscle of the scallop is the only part used for sushi and offers a sweetness to complement the vinegar rice. They are served raw or grilled, usually in the form of nigiri. Grilled scallops are called “na hotate.”

Abalone – Awabi

A rare delicacy in Japan, abalone is often consumed raw or steamed with rice wine. When consumed raw, it has a crunchy texture and more subtle flavor than it does when steamed. Sometimes the liver is pureed and served as a sauce along with the abalone nigiri.

Crustaceans & Echinoderms

A tray full of fresh shrimp behind the counter of a sushi bar

Shrimp – Ebi

Shrimp is one of the oldest ingredients found in sushi cuisine, but it has lost some of its popularity due to a lack of high-quality shrimp. It is usually served steamed or poached, most often cooked until medium rare. When overcooked, the ebi loses its flavor and becomes rubbery. Raw shrimp – called “amaebi no tama”( ä-mä-a-be no tä-mä) – must be very fresh and is considered a delicacy.

Crab – Kani

Crab is a sushi ingredient that is often used to create gunkan nigiri. It is often eaten raw in Japan, where ka-kani – the Chinese mitten crab – is considered a delicacy. Fresh-water crabs are also popular and can be fried to create sawagani. Crab can also be used to create spider rolls and California rolls, although the latter is usually filled with imitation crab meat.

Sea Urchin – Uni

Uni meat is one of the most prized delicacies in Japan. It is bright yellow in color and has a rich, creamy texture. Sea urchin gunkan nigiri or chirashi sushi is made from the gonads of the animal, sometimes along with quail eggs. The gunkan is often rolled with strips of cucumber, because the flavors of the seaweed are said to clash with the flavors of the uni. Uni can be turned into regular nigiri by soaking it in citrus to tighten the flesh and negate the need for gunkan-style nigiri.

Sea Cucumber – Namako

Namako is considered a delicacy in Asia. It has a slippery texture and is often served by itself, dried or raw. It is also sometimes served over vinegar rice as chirashi sushi, along with shitake mushrooms or scallops. In particular, cured sea cucumbers intestines are considered a highly valuable culinary ingredient, and are eaten by themselves as shiokara.


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