What is Masago on Top of Sushi?

A popular addition to most sushi

If you are a sushi lover, it is likely that you are familiar with the small orange spheres that some rolls are coated with. This is Masago, a popular and versatile ingredient that it is often used in Japanese dishes like sushi. What is Masago though?

These are ripened, edible eggs that are harvested from the roe of capelin. These fish are a species of smelt and they are usually found inhabiting the waters of the Arctic Oceans, the North Atlantic, and the North Pacific.

In comparison to other fish eggs, Masago is fairly small and has a diameter measuring around 1 millimeter. 

Whilst Masago can easily be identified by its orange color, if you have never tried it before you may be curious about what it tastes like and whether there are any health benefits associated with consuming it. 

What is the taste of Masago like?

Masago is known for its slightly salty taste that many would suggest is similar to tobiko. Tobiko is the name given to roe that is harvested from the flying fish species. Similar to masago, tobiko is salty but it has a subtle sweet taste too.

Masago eggs are rather crunchy and they also have a bubble-like texture. Typically, Masago is known to group together and this heightens the pop when you bite it.

masago caviar on a sushi roll
masago caviar on a sushi roll

Moreover, Masago contains a lot of sodium and this is noticeable in the taste. This sodium content increases when the Masago is mixed with ingredients such as salt or soy sauce. 

The taste of Masago complements other common ingredients well. As it is often used on sushi rolls it goes well with most types of fish. Furthermore, it can be served as an accompaniment to vegetable dishes and rice along with a range of other appetizers as well. 

What is the Natural Color of Masago?

Although these eggs are recognized for their bright orange color, you may be surprised to learn that this is not the natural color. Masago is actually a dull yellow color, however, a dye is used to enhance the color to make it look brighter and more visually appealing.

Masago is often mistaken for another sushi topping called tobiko and whilst they may taste similar, they do not look the same. Whilst the orange color of Masago is artificial, tobiko typically tends to be a more natural bright red color.

It is worth noting that there are a few different varieties of Masago as it can sometimes be green or black. 

Are there any Health Benefits of Eating Masago?

Now you may be wondering whether eating Masago has any health benefits. Not only does Masago have a low-calorie content but it is also rich in vitamin B12, vitamin D, and selenium.

Furthermore, it also contains amino acids, magnesium, Omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins. Unlike many other types of fish, Masago is also low in mercury. As such, those who enjoy eating it are not exposed to many toxins. 

The body needs vitamin B12 because without it, it will struggle to absorb nutrients and this can lead to anemia. Masago is one of the very few foods that contains a natural source of vitamin D.

This vitamin plays an important role in monitoring the phosphate and calcium levels in our bodies. Individuals who are deficient in this vitamin will likely experience symptoms of tiredness and possible anxiety.

Selenium is an antioxidant that can support the body in many ways. It is believed to be able to reduce stress and help the body fight against some chronic diseases. Moreover, selenium can also improve the health of the immune system.

As mentioned, Masago also contains Omega-3 fatty acids which possess anti-inflammatory properties. Eating foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids can also help with heart health. Amino acids play an important role in supporting muscle development and growth and strength. 

Is it Sustainably Sourced?

Many people are now becoming more conscious about how their food is sourced. When it comes to Masago there are contradicting opinions regarding whether it is sustainable or not.

Masago is taken from female capelines who are full of eggs that have not yet spawned. Currently, the capeline population is not thought to be under threat, in fact, the worldwide population is at a rather high level.

Raw fresh capelin fish

The main concerns relate to potential overfishing. Masago is used in an array of dishes so plenty is needed to meet the demand for it. As such a lot of female capelines are caught and this may have led to a possibly unbalanced gender ratio of males to females.

Of course, there are many different species of fish that are sustainably caught and used to make sushi, however, if you consider yourself to be someone that is becoming more aware and interested in where your food is coming from, this is certainly something to think about.

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Written by Brian N

Brian has been an influencer in the food and beverage industry for over 20 years. He not only loves to eat and drink at restaurants on a regular basis, he also knows the business inside and out.