Tobiko vs. Masago: A Comprehensive Guide to Choosing the Perfect Fish Roe

Two kinds of fish roe that are frequently used in Japanese cooking are tobiko and masago. Despite having a similar appearance, the two have some significant distinctions that merit investigation. Their color is one of the most obvious variances. Masago has a more pale-yellow hue than tobiko, which is naturally golden in color.

Sushi rolls california with snow crab, cream cheese, cucumber,

Both can, however, be seasoned and colored in a variety of ways, including bright orange (which is the most popular), green (which denotes wasabi flavor), and black (using squid ink).

The size of tobiko and masago is another distinction. Masago and tobiko have different sizes, which can change the flavor and texture of each.

Masago is a little bit bitter, while tobiko is a little sweeter and saltier. In some circumstances, tobiko will have a faint smokey flavor.

Additionally, dashi or dashi extract is sometimes used to cure tobiko, giving it a smokey umami flavor and a fruitier taste.

Masago, on the other hand, is a wonderful option for sushi rolls because of its milder flavor and softer texture.

What is Tobiko?

Fish eggs, or tobiko, are a form of tobiko that are frequently used in Japanese cooking.

Gunkan sushi tobiko sushi or flying fish's roe sushi serve in Japanese style food

Tobiko, a type of fish found in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, is specifically the roe of flying fish.

For its small size, vivid color, and crunchy texture, tobiko is renowned. For sushi rolls and other Japanese foods, it is frequently used as a garnish or topping.

Tobiko is also added to salads, sauces, and other condiments to give them flavor and texture.

Although tobiko’s primary hue is reddish-orange, it can also be found in shades of black, green, and yellow.

Tobiko’s hue is frequently improved with food coloring to make it more aesthetically pleasing.

Tobiko has a flavor that is mildly umami, slightly sweet, and salty. Tobiko is a crunchy garnish that pops in the mouth, enhancing the sensory experience of eating sushi or other foods that include it.

Here are a few key characteristics of tobiko:

  • Type of fish: Flying fish
  • Color: Reddish-orange (can also be found in other colors)
  • Texture: Crunchy
  • Flavor: Slightly sweet and salty with a subtle umami flavor
  • Uses: Garnish for sushi rolls, topping for other Japanese dishes, ingredients in sauces and condiments.

Tobiko is a distinctive and tasty ingredient that gives Japanese food texture and visual appeal.

What is Masago?

Fish roe known as masago is a staple in Japanese cooking. The capelin, a tiny fish found in the North Atlantic and North Pacific waters, is typically the source of this product.

masago, japanese raw fish roe for sushi

Masago is a little fish with a crisp texture and a delicate, slightly sweet flavor.

Although it is frequently used as a garnish for sushi rolls, it can also be used in salads and other meals as a topping.

Tobiko, another kind of fish roe frequently used in Japanese cooking, and masago are similar in flavor. There are some distinctions between the two, though.

Masago is a preferred replacement for tobiko in sushi rolls since it is less expensive and smaller than tobiko. Tobiko is inherently golden, whereas masago is naturally pale-yellow.

Omega-3 fatty acids and protein are both abundant in masago. It also includes a number of vitamins and minerals, such as selenium, phosphorus, and vitamin B12.

Masago has a lot of salt, therefore it should be eaten in moderation, especially if you have high blood pressure or any other health issues that are related to sodium intake.

Masago is an all-around pleasant and wholesome ingredient that may enhance the flavor and texture of a number of foods.

However, because it contains a lot of sodium, it’s recommended to consume it in moderation.

Tobiko vs Masago: Appearance

Fish roe known as tobiko and masago are both frequently used in sushi and other Japanese cuisines.

Japanese food, flying fish caviar-Tobiko.

Even though they initially appear to be similar, they have some noticeable visual distinctions.


Tobiko has a slightly larger grain size than Masago and is naturally golden in color.

However, it is frequently colored a variety of hues, including vivid orange (the most popular), green (signifying the flavor of wasabi), and black (made with squid ink).

Yuzu or other citrus fruits may also be used by producers to flavor the yellow fish eggs.

When eaten, tobiko makes a delightful pop and has a distinctive crunchy texture.

It is a well-liked option for sushi rolls and other dishes where the roe is prominently presented due to its distinctive appearance and texture.


Masago, in contrast, is a paler shade of yellow and smaller than Tobiko.

Although some producers may colour the eggs to pass them off as Tobiko, it is also less colorful than Tobiko.

Compared to tobiko, masago has a softer texture and a more delicate flavor.

It is frequently used as a garnish or combined with other components to give dishes a delicate seafood flavor.

In conclusion, Tobiko and Masago may appear similar at first glance, yet there are some noticeable distinctions between them.

Tobiko is bigger in size, has a naturally golden color, and when eaten, has a pleasing crunch. Masago, on the other hand, is more delicately flavored, smaller in size, and pale-yellow in color.

Tobiko vs Masago: Taste

There are some significant differences between tobiko and masago in terms of flavor.

fresh masago, japanese raw fish roe for sushi

Tobiko pairs particularly well with sushi rolls that contain a creamy or fatty component since it has a stronger umami flavor than masago and an added rush of saltiness.

Tobiko also has the salmon’s natural tanginess, which serves to counterbalance other ingredients in your roll.

Tobiko has a stronger flavor than masago, which has a softer, slightly bitter taste.

Because it adds texture and color to sushi rolls without dominating the other flavors, it is frequently used as a filler.

Masago is also less crunchy than tobiko and more sandy, which some people find less gratifying.

It is important to remember that tobiko and masago can both be flavored and colored in a variety of ways, including brilliant orange (which is the most typical), green (which indicates wasabi flavor), and black (using squid ink).

It is crucial to pay attention to the precise sort of fish eggs being used in your sushi because these additional flavors can affect how tobiko and masago taste.

In conclusion, masago is gentler and more sandy tasting than tobiko, which is harsher, saltier, and crunchier.

The specific flavor will depend on the personal preferences of the sushi eater, but both kinds of fish eggs can be utilized to add texture and flavor to sushi rolls.

Tobiko vs Masago: Nutrition

Tobiko and masago are both regarded as nutritious foods that are wholesome and high in nutrients.

Delicious sushi rolls with tobiko on black plate, closeup

There are some distinctions between the two, though.


Tobiko is a kind of fish roe that is low in calories and high in protein.

Omega-3 fatty acids, which are crucial for the health of the brain and can lower the risk of heart disease, are also abundant in it.

Iron, selenium, vitamin B12, and other vitamins and minerals are also abundant in tobiko.

One tablespoon of tobiko contains approximately:

  • 20 calories
  • 0.5 grams of fat
  • 3 grams of protein
  • 0 grams of carbohydrates


Another type of nutrient-rich fish roe is masago. It contains plenty of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals like selenium, magnesium, and vitamin B12.

Tobiko has less fat and more calories than masago.

One tablespoon of masago contains approximately:

  • 40 calories
  • 2 grams of fat
  • 3 grams of protein
  • 1 gram of carbohydrates

Tobiko vs Masago: Culinary Uses

Both masago and tobiko are often used in Japanese cooking, especially in sushi. However, there are some variations in how they are used in cooking.

Japanese sushi roll with orange Tobiko flying fish roe

The crunchy texture and vibrant orange color of tobiko are well known. It pairs well with sushi rolls because of its somewhat sweet and salty flavor.

Tobiko is frequently used as a topping for sushi because it gives the food flavor and texture. It can also be combined with other ingredients to make a tasty sauce, like mayonnaise or soy sauce.

Contrarily, masago has a smoother texture and a mildly bitter flavor. It frequently serves as a garnish on sushi rolls, giving the food a splash of color.

Masago is frequently used in place of tobiko since it is less expensive.

Tobiko and masago can both be seasoned and colored to provide a variety of hues and tastes.

Masago can be dyed green or black using squid ink, while tobiko can be seasoned with spices like wasabi or yuzu.

Tobiko and masago can be utilized in many more recipes than sushi.

Masago can be used in soups or combined with other ingredients to create a savory dip, while tobiko can be added to salads or used as a garnish for rice bowls.

Frequently Asked Questions

California Maki Sushi with Masago japan trditional food closeup

What is the difference between tobiko and masago?

The main difference between tobiko and masago is the type of fish they come from. Tobiko is the roe (eggs) of flying fish, while masago is the roe of capelin fish. Tobiko is also larger and has a crunchier texture than masago. In terms of flavor, tobiko is slightly sweeter and saltier, while masago is more bitter.

Are tobiko and masago sustainable?

Flying fish and capelin fish are both considered sustainable seafood options, so tobiko and masago are generally considered sustainable choices as well. However, it’s important to check with your sushi restaurant or supplier to ensure they are sourcing their fish eggs responsibly.

Can tobiko and masago be flavored or colored?

Yes, tobiko and masago can be flavored and colored. Producers often add flavorings such as wasabi, yuzu, or squid ink to give the fish eggs a unique taste and color. Tobiko is naturally golden, while masago is more of a pale yellow color, but both can be dyed a range of colors.

How should tobiko and masago be stored?

Tobiko and masago should be stored in the refrigerator and consumed within a few days of purchase. It’s important to keep them in an airtight container to prevent them from drying out or absorbing odors from other foods.

How are tobiko and masago used in sushi?

Tobiko and masago are often used as a topping for sushi rolls, but they can also be used as a garnish for other dishes. Tobiko is typically used for more upscale sushi rolls due to its larger size and unique texture, while masago is used more as a filler or garnish due to its smaller size and more bitter flavor.

Japanese sushi nori


Tobiko and masago are both common ingredients for sushi rolls and other Japanese cuisine. Despite having a similar appearance, they differ greatly in flavor, texture, and color.

Tobiko is renowned for its umami flavor and crispy texture. It comes in a range of hues, including organic golden, vivid orange, green, and black, and is frequently used as a garnish or topping for sushi rolls.

Usually formed from flying fish eggs, tobiko is cured with dashi or dashi extract.

Masago has a softer texture and a milder flavor in contrast. It comes in a variety of hues, including pale-yellow, vivid orange, and black, and is frequently used as a filler for sushi rolls.

Masago is normally created without curing from the eggs of smelt fish.

Tobiko and masago are both excellent providers of protein and omega-3 fatty acids when it comes to nutrition.

They do differ slightly in terms of calories and cholesterol, though. Compared to masago, tobiko often has more calories and cholesterol.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Written by Brian Nagele

Brian has over 20 years experience in the restaurant and hospitality industry. As a former restaurant owner, he knows about running a food business and loves to eat and enjoy cocktails on a regular basis. He constantly travels to new cities tasting and reviewing the most popular spots.