Because sushi comes from Japanese cuisine, there’s a lot of terminology and some of it doesn’t translate to English very well. There are a lot of specifics to understand when considering all the different aspects, especially where tuna comes into the picture.
It is also important to note there is a hefty, heated debate around tuna’s sustainability. Many environmentalists argue that humans should not rely on it so much as food source. But of course, this all depends on the type of tuna because some are more plentiful than others.
Not all tuna is fit for what goes into the art of making sushi. Although the Blue Fin is most popular type of tuna used for sushi, the Southern Blue Fin, Yellow Fin and Big Eye are also common. Albacore tuna can also be an option but not recommended.
We’re going to cut through some of the confusion to help prevent you from getting a raw deal if you’re ordering at the seafood counter, sushi bar or Japanese restaurant.
Food for Thought With Tuna: Types of Tuna Sushi
Because all the ingredients that go into sushi are raw, the preparation of any seafood and fish are going to be different than when cooked. This means they have different set of quality standards.
Another important thing to keep in mind is to not only consider the type of tuna but also the type of fillet cut from the slab. Most tuna used in sushi is red and called “Maguro.”
Note, though, there are no officiated standards to determine definitions. But for general reference and understanding, there are three types of tuna fillets used in many Japanese dishes:
- Akami: This is the leanest cut indicated by its dark color. When you see this at the seafood counter or listed on a restaurant menu, they are referring to it being from around the belly, back and organs of the fish.
- Toro or O-Toro: The fattiest part of a piece of tuna and identified as the lightest red in appearance with the most marbleization of fat throughout the fillet. This can come from around the belly area and near the head, like the gills.
- Chu-Toro: Still delicious but a less desirable cut because of its medium-fatty content ranging between 15% to 20%.
Avoid Eating Albacore Sushi
Albacore tuna is usually the type of fish in the canned version of tuna you see at the grocery store, which manufacturers have cooked and processed. You don’t want cooked fish in your sushi, it’s almost a sacrilege. So no, don’t go for the canned tuna.
Although there are reports of the raw form being a popular addition to some sushi, it’s a “white” fish when the tuna intended for sushi should be red. Albacore changes its color from pink to white over time and why it’s the least preferred.
Blue Fin Reigns Supreme as the Best Sushi
Called “kuro-maguro” by the Japanese, these are the largest tuna available from the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean sea. One fish can weigh between 600 and 1000 pounds. Their meat is also the most tasty, with a perfect blend of fats and proteins. This gives a rich flavor that almost seems to melt in your mouth. Blue Fins are the most prized and expensive for use in sushi.
The increasing popularity of this fish on the market is astounding. Mere decades ago, this fish was worthless, with many people acquiring it for sport and pet food. But sushi chefs and entrepreneurs understand the value this thing has. Recently, a Japanese man spent over $2 million on only one Blue Fin for his restaurant.
The Optional Southern Blue Fin
This tuna is very like the Blue Fin but it only comes from the Indian Ocean. The Japanese have dubbed it “minami-maguro” and nicknamed it, “Indian Tuna.”
Southern Blue Fins can weigh an average of around 550 pounds and are much fattier than Blue Fin. In Japan, this is the go-to tuna during the summer months, where the Blue Fin will spoil if transported. This is because of the Indian Ocean’s closer proximity to Japan.
Yellow Fin Availability and Reliability for Sushi
Yellow Fins, or “Kihada” to the Japanese, bear a strong resemblance to that of Albacore and can range from 120 all the way up to 200 pounds. Their name comes from their yellow coloring. Yellow Fins are some of the most available and found in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans.
Because of its ready availability, it is less expensive than the Blue Fin and often used in many restaurants and sushi bars. But it is often put into canned varieties sold in stores due to its likeness to that of Albacore.
Many sushi dishes feature Yellow Fin because it doesn’t have that “fishiness” taste, it’s lovely, light and lean.
Big Eye May Be Better: Growing is Sushi Popularity
Their name is a harbinger for their appearance and called “mabachi-maguro” in Japanese. Big Eye tuna are the deepest swimming tuna. Fishing for them is abundant in the oceans of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian.
These tuna are much leaner than Blue Fin and are able to maintain their color, unlike Albacore. Big Eye are often a popular choice in delivery and exportation while still being a good accompaniment to most Japanese culinary dishes, like sushi.
Tuna is the Hallmark of Sushi
People will swear they didn’t know what they were eating before they tried a fresher variety of tuna; not the kind found floating in a can. It’s delicious, nutritious and filled with omega 3s.
Knowing what kind of tuna goes into your sushi as well as the different fillets from various body areas will make you a more informed consumer. If you’re concern lies with issues like sustainability, you’ll be able to better select what kind of tuna you’d prefer to eat.
Whether attempting to make sushi at home or ordering out, the kind of tuna you have will make a big difference in your culinary experience. It will be more enjoyable and fulfilling.