What Is Tobiko?

Tobiko is the Japanese word for flying fish roe and it’s used as a garnish for lots of sushi. It’s ideally suited for this purpose, partly because it’s small, but also because it has a magical ability to take on the colour of another ingredient in quite a striking way. Here are some of the natural ingredients used as stains for tobiko, but artificial colouring is also used.

Squid ink: black
Soy: brown
Yuzu*: yellow
Beetroot: red
Wasabi: brilliant lime green – the wasabi of course gives it a very hot flavour!

The natural colour of tobiko is an orangey- red, it’s crunchy and it has a smoky, salty taste. Sometimes restaurants substitute masago eggs (smelt or capelin roe) which is smaller, because this is cheaper. It’s not quite as crunchy and doesn’t have quite as much flavour. It’s naturally a bright orange colour.
Don’t confuse tobiko with ikura either. Ikura is salmon roe. This is larger – bright orange globes.
And just to make matters even more confusing there is also sujiko, which is also salmon roe, but served inside the sac that contains it in nature.
Mentaiko is pollack roe – dark red – very popular in Japan.


All of these different fish roes are very good used, as the Italians do bottarga (subject of another post), on spaghetti.


The sushi in the photograph has a stuffing of cream cheese, raw salmon and avocado.


*A yuzu is a sour mandarin hybrid which looks like a very small grapefruit, more widely available in Japan and China.


This photo shows the scale of tobiko alongside a Euro coin – the orange colour is natural



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