​​Japanese Fish Eggs(魚卵)



The Japanese eat many different types of fish eggs (AKA roe). It’s a prized delicacy in sushi, onigiri rice balls, and various seafood and rice dishes. Not only does it add a pop of color, but it also adds texture and elevates any dish. 
You can find these fish eggs in the seafood section of the supermarket seafood specialty stores. How many do you recognize?

Ikura いくら

Ikura is the roe of salmon and trout. It has a characteristic bright reddish-orange color and is perhaps one of the most well-known roes next to caviar. The roe is marinated in a sweet-savory sauce consisting of dashi (Japanese soup stock), soy sauce, and mirin (sweet sake for cooking). 
The Japanese eat ikura raw or cured. In sushi, it’s eaten as a gunkanmaki (軍艦巻き, “battleship roll”) or used as a garnish on various seafood and rice dishes. The little jewel-like beads gently pop in your mouth, releasing a gooey and oily inside. 

Sujiko 筋子

Sujiko refers to ikura clustered in the sac membrane. It has a darker reddish color and is sold as the entire membrane or in sections. The sac membrane is weak with immature eggs, so loosening it is difficult. Thus, it’s seasoned and sold as is. Sujiko has a deeper umami flavor than ikura, has a stickier texture, and tends to be slightly more expensive. 

Tobiko とびこ

Tobiko refers to flying fish roe. The colorful tiny fish eggs are a garnish for sushi and various seafood dishes. It has a delightful crunch and bursting sensation in your mouth. The color is usually orange, but you can find tobiko dyed in green, yellow, and black. Like ikura, it’s marinated in a sweet-savory sauce. 

Masago 真砂

Masago looks similar to tobiko and is the roe of Atlantic and Arctic fish. Like its name Masago (“true sand”) suggests, it has a grainy, sandy texture without a crunch. Masago is a cheaper seafood product than tobiko but is also used as a garnish. 

Tarako 鱈子

Tarako (“children of cod”) is salted cod or pollack roe. It’s seasoned and sold in the sac membrane and resembles short oblong sausages. The color ranges from nude to pink. Tarako is eaten raw with rice or as an onigiri ingredient, tossed with spaghetti for wafu-pasta (Japanese-style pasta dishes), or grilled. 
Tarako is also eaten in Korea and Russia. 

Mentaiko 明太子

Mentaiko is tarako cured in powered chili peppers and spices. It’s spicy and eaten similarly to tarako. It originated from Korea and was brought over after WWII. 

Kazunoko 数の子

Kazunoko is herring roe marinated in dashi soy sauce. Mustard yellow in color, it’s marinated and sold in the sac. The roe is tinier than masago or tobiko, with a crunchy texture and a salty, fishy flavor.  
While it’s available year round, it is one of the popular dishes eaten during Oshogatsu, the Japanese New Year. The delicacy symbolizes a prosperous family and wishes for many children and grandchildren.