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The Ultimate Guide to Sushi and Sashimi

Updated on March 1, 2014

A simple guide to sushi and sashimi

While there is a lot of information on the web about sushi and sashimi, my goal is to educate you in a simple and concise manner so that you are comfortable with sushi knowledge.

Sushi began as a way to preserve fish centuries ago and has since turned into into a unique dining experience. Early on, fish was placed inside rice seasoned with vinegar as a way of preserving it. The seaweed was added later as a way to hold onto the food item without getting your fingers stuck to the rice. While originally the rice was thrown away and the fish eaten, over time, the proportion of rice got smaller, and it was eaten with the fish. As it's popularity grew, street vendors began selling nigiri sushi (finger sushi) from carts as a form of fast food. Today, no one thinks of sushi as fast food, and it certainly costs a heck of a lot more, but this fancy and fascinating dish used to be the food of the streets.

The Different Kinds of Sushi

What is sushi?

In simple terms, sushi is a Japanese delicacy which is traditionally composed of raw seafood encircled by rice and seaweed. The earliest form of sushi, known as nare-zushi, was actually a method of preserving fish which was developed in Southeast Asia. The raw fish was salted and encircled by fermented rice which kept the fish fresh and safe for human consumption. Since its practical beginnings, sushi has become an elaborate and unique dining experience loved throughout the world.

When you think of sushi, the first thing you probably think is raw fish. If we are being technical, however, we can break "sushi" down to "su", or vinegar, and "shi", which comes from the word meshi, to rice in Japanese. Sushi is therefore directly translated to vinegared rice. Nowadays, however, sushi is most widely known as finger-sized portions of raw fish or shellfish which is served on a bed of rice. Sushi is either eaten simply by itself, or by dipping carefully in soy sauce. Sushi chefs take great pride it their work, and sushi is equal parts art and nourishment. While the tendency for westernized sushi is prevalent, traditional sushi is far from gone.

What types of sushi are there?

Sushi is differentiated by the presentation of the dish. Some forms of sushi are to be eaten by hand, and some with the help of chopsticks. While there are traditional forms of sushi, the presentation of your dish will depend on where you eat and who your chef is. The dishes can be presented in a straightforward manner, or can be elaborate designs such as floral pattered sashimi. While there are many unique presentations of sushi, there are some standard type of sushi, which are as follows.

Chirashi Sushi (Chirashi-zushi) - This form of sushi is composed of sashimi, which is thinly sliced raw fish, perched on a bed of sushi rice. It is most often served in a bowl or a box.

Inari Sushi (inari-zushi) - This form of sushi is not made with seafood, but with "aburage", which are fried pouches of tofu filled with sushi rice.

Maki Sushi (maki-zushi, aka norimaki) - Maki sushi, which is shortened from norimaki sushi, is the style most people are familiar with. It is composed of rice, raw fish and sometimes vegetables which are rolled up in a seaweed rapper called "nori". Maki rolls can also be vegetarian.

Maki sushi is a large category, which can be broken up into smaller subcategories.

Futomaki: larger, thicker maki rolls

Hosumaki: thinner maki rolls

Uromaki: rolls wrapped in raw fish, or inside out rolls

Nigiri Sushi (nigiri-zushi) - Nigiri sushi is raw or cooked seafood, either fish or shellfish, which is place on top of a finger or rice. The rice will sometimes have wasabi on it.

Temaki Sushi (temaki-zushi) - Temaki sushi is composed of the same ingredients as the maki roll, being fish, rice and vegetables wrapped in seaweed, but the presentation is different. This roll is shaped in a cone shape.

The fish in the sushi comes is not always simply plain pieces of fish. There are a few styles which the fish is sorted into.

Neta or Tane: the fish or topping on nigiri sushi

Hikari mono: fish with skin intact

Sukimi: Chopped fish which is usually served as sashimi but also can be used in maki rolls.

What is sashimi?

Sashimi is fresh, raw fish which is served thinly sliced. It is a stand-alone dish, and is not eaten with rice. However, it can be served with daikon and shiso. This is the purest way to eat fresh seafood, and is a great way to impress newcomers to sushi!

Sashimi is not just about taste and texture, it is also about presentation. Sashimi will be cut depending on the style of fish in order to enhance the seafood. The standard cut is rectangular, called Hira zukuri. Ito zukuri is a thinner version of Hira zukuri, and is often less than 1/16 of an inch thick. Even thinner is Kazu zukuri sashimi, which is as thin as paper. Kazu zukuri sushi is usually presented in a beautiful pattern.

What else should I expect when going on to sushi?

Sushi can be served with a few different accompaniments. Most common is wasabi, which is a spicy green paste similar to horseradish. Be careful to only try a little bit of wasabi if it is your first time trying sushi, as it is deceptively hot. As well, your sushi can come with pickled ginger which is called gari. Gari is usually pink, but also comes in a tan color. Sashimi may also be accompanied with shiso, which is a large green leaf, or daikon, which is shredded white radish.

Can any seafood be used for sushi, or do I need to go somewhere special to get sushi grade seafood?

Because sushi is served raw, the seafood needs to be sushi grade. The best place to get sushi grade seafood online is

Confused by some terminology?

Since there is a lot to learn, I have created a page which explains all the sushi terminology that I used. Also includes a pronunciation guide, which is useful for impressing other sushi diners.

How do I use chopsticks?

Chopsticks can be a bit of a pain to get the hang off if you learn how to use them wrong. The easiest way to learn to use chopsticks is to think of them as a pair of prongs, except that the two sticks are separate. The bottom chopstick is stationary, and the top one is moved.

1. Grab a chopstick in your right hand just like you would grab a pencil. Keep the thickest end on top.

2. Turn your hand inward until the single chopstick is horizontal to the table. It should be parallel to your body at this point.

3. Relax your grip on the chopstick slightly. Slide the chopstick to the left only until you are holding it with your thumb and forefinger near the chopstick's middle. At this point, your thumb should be neither bent nor rigidly straight, and your fingers should be slightly curved inward. Your middle finger needs to be touching the underside of the chopstick with the tip of your middle finger pointed towards your body. Your third finger, or ring finger, should be lined up with the middle finger, however its tip should extended past your middle finger.

4. With your left hand, grab the other stick. Place it so that the thickest side is rested on the protruded part of your right ring finger. Slide the chopstick to the right. It will touch the tip of the middle finger and pass under your thumb, finally resting at the base joint of your forefinger. This is how your chopsticks should rest. Now, the hard part is done!

5. Bend and extend your fore and middle finger. To do this, you need to let the first stick pivot at your thumb. The thin tips will touch each other as you move the first chopstick over the stationary chopstick. Relax! Don't hold the chopsticks too tightly, let them move smoothly and without tension.


Is all fish safe for sushi?

As long as your food is handled properly, your sushi should be perfectly safe to eat. There are some standards in place that should ensure that your fish is up to par, and that processing and handling is done specifically to keep your food fresh, as well as parasite free.

Sushi Health Risks

Eating raw fish, like any raw food, carries with it a set of risks in regards to pathogens and contaminants. Contaminants such as heavy metals are the current largest concern that people have with eating sushi. These contaminants, such as mercury, are found at higher concentrations in fish which are near the top of the food chain. While studies have conflicted in their conclusions of the levels of contaminants found in these large predatory fish such as tuna and swordfish, their existence is not up to debate. The question now is, what level of contaminants is there, and how harmful are these contaminants to us? Despite these concerns, the overwhelming consensus is that the health benefits of sushi far outweigh the risks, as long as proper precautions are taken.


Without even touching on the presence of pathogens in raw seafood, contaminants such as mercury mean that pregnant women should stay away from eating large predatory fish as well as raw meat in general. This holds true for those who have compromised and/or weakened immune systems. In moderation, however, cooked seafood is safe, healthy, and quite beneficial. The nutritional profile of seafood is difficult to find in other foods, offering a wide variety of nutrients and omega-3 fatty acids which are conducive to good health. While there is a presence of contaminants other than mercury, such as PCBs and flame retardants in raw fish, they have been found to be at a level which poses little to no concern to those who enjoy sushi in moderation. These contaminants are a reality in a world in which we continue to pollute our oceans, as well as the fact that there are natural concentrations of mercury in seawater. While the risks of contaminants can be avoided with moderation, there are other, more dangerous risks associated with pathogens.


Pathogens can have deadly effects, and raw seafood can be a home to viral, bacterial, and parasitic pathogens. One such is Anisakiasis, an infection which can be caused by microscopic larval worms that call marine creatures their home. This infection can be fatal, and it takes proper cooking, and, in some cases, deep freezing techniques to mitigate the danger. These techniques are required by law in the US for sushi grade fish, which is the reason it is so important to purchase sushi grade fish for those who wish to practice the art of sushi at home. Luckily, the rate of such pathogen inflicted infections is very low, and these infections are few and far between. In fact, more Americans become sick from produce than from infections from eating sushi, which raised confidence in the sushi industry following strict food safety standards. I have also heard some concern and gotten questions about getting tapeworms from sushi. If anyone is worried about tapeworms, never fear. These critters require a freshwater stage in their growth, and are not a problem for saltwater fish which are found in sushi. Never, ever eat freshwater fish raw. Freshwater is the perfect breeding ground for all sorts of nasty parasites, and should be avoided at all cost. To avoid pathogens, eat at reputable locations that you trust to prepare your food safely. If a sushi restaurant is unsanitary in any way, the risk is amplified by the lack of cooking to kill bacteria. Hold sushi restaurants to a higher standard than others, and you will avoid much of the risk.

In conclusion, the nutritional benefits of sushi outweigh the risk. Like any food, there are risks to eating sushi, but with proper food preparation and high food standards it is very low. If you do not belong to one of the at-risk groups, then sushi is a delicious and healthy way to eat. Practicing moderation, like for any food, will ensure that you avoid the problems of contaminants, and making sure to eat at reputable locations, and to use sushi grade fish in your home preparation, will allow you to escape pathogens.

Sushi and Health- Omega-3 fatty acids

Fish is regarded the world around as a healthy and nutritious food. High in protein and low in fat, fish is a staple in diets of diverse cultures. Even higher fat fish are quite healthy, as their fat content is not in the form of the most harmful saturated fats found in many meat products. The fat in fish tends towards Omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential to the human diet as our bodies are unable to synthesize them biologically. Therefor, we must consume Omega-3s, or their precursor, the fatty acids, in order to allow our body to convert them into the fats we need.

Omega-3 fatty acids start in algae, and move up the food chain. The most well known and most studied Omega-3s are DHA and EPA, which are currently considered to have many health benefits. These Omega-3 fatty acids are often compared to fats such as the monounsaturated fats found in olive oils which are considered much less harmful than saturated fats. In addition to being less harmful, Omega-3 fatty acids have many potential health benefits, and could be even better for you than ever could have known.

Potential benefits

- Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help balance cholesterol in the bloodstream. High-density lipoproteins (HDL) are considered "good cholesterol", while low-density lipoproteins (LDL) are found to be harmful when levels are too high. Omega-3 fatty acids, and a diet rich in them, has been linked to lowering the levels of LDL and restoring a healthy balance. In addition, Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to increase the particle size of LDL in the blood, which is another positive.

- For those suffering from type 2 diabetes, Omega-3 fatty acids can be useful in managing one's condition. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help moderate blood sugar levels, and epidemiological studies have shown a lower prevalence of impaired glucose tolerance in those who consume a diet rich in the healthy Omega-3 fatty aids

- The efficacy of blood vessel walls, or endothelial function in scientific terms, has been shown in studies to be improved with a diet rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. As well, platelet aggregability (blood clotting) was reduced, and blood pressures were lowered. These are all considered cardioprotective benefits, keeping your heart functioning well.

- In addition to blood flow, a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids may help prevent Alzheimer's disease. A 2005 report, published march 23 on the online issue of the Journal of Neuroscience indicated that consumption of a diet rich in Omega-3 fatty acids lowered the rate of amyloid protein in the brain by 70%. This protein is a plaque which is widely regarded as a cause of Alzheimer's disease. This study has helped give fish the status of "brain food".

- The central nervous system, composed of the brain, spinal cord and nerve sheaths, is mostly composed of DHA, an Omega-3 fatty acid. Keeping in mind that these acids cannot be organically synthesized, and the body is in constant need of repairing and replenishing itself, the consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids is essential to maintaing the health of the central nervous system.

- The fact that Omega-3 fatty acids are so necessary for proper development and replenishment, even in developing babies, has lead to pregnant women being advised to increase the amount of Omega-3 fatty acids in their diets. While raw fish should be avoided, there are many other ways to get the Omega-3 fatty acids needed. Nutritional supplements are sold specifically for those who are pregnant or lactating,composed of either fish oils or Omega-3 fatty acids taken directly from the primary algal source. When taken directly from the algae, they are called "Neuromins". One such supplement is Expecta Lipil, but there are many others. If you are unable to eat fish, these supplements can be a much needed alternative. Of course, nothing beats cooked seafood for taste and Omega-3 fatty acids.

The benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids can be seen in cardiovascular, mental, and physical health. Doctors and nutritionists the world around recommend a diet rich in these healthy acids. While supplements can be an easy way to get your fix of Omega-3 fatty acids, deep, cold water fish are one of the best (and tastiest) sources of Omega-3s. Just another reason to keep eating sushi!

The Famous Omakase Sushi

Omakase is the idea that you are entrusting yourself to the sushi chef by allowing him to select the sushi items for you.

The Calories in Sushi

Sushi is not necessarily rife with calories, and with careful choices sushi or sashimi can actually fit into a weight loss regimen.

While the sushi rice has a lot of calories due to its high level of carbohydrates, sashimi, which is just plain fish without the rice, is full of lean protein, so it provides a low fat, high protein meal great for people watching out for fat and carbs.

Make sushi at home Kindle book

After you've bought your ingredients for making sushi at home, check out How to Make Sushi at Home for the Amazon Kindle for simple instructions. With this e-book, you'll be making sushi like a pro in no time.

And if you are interested in buying sushi grade fish, I recommend an online purveyor like as their seafood arrives still frozen and hermetically sealed, so you know it is safe.

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