9 Types of Sushi – The Tastes Explained

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Last updated on March 12, 2023

sushi-rolls

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There is a type of sushi for everyone!

A common misconception is that sushi tastes fishy. Pile this on with unfamiliar ingredients like nori and you’ve got some skeptics!

Sushi-grade fish that is truly fresh has a flavor closer to a cucumber than the flavor most people in the US associate with fish.

Contrary to popular belief, sushi doesn’t always include raw fish; many varieties of sushi are completely vegetarian or contain cooked fish.

Let’s dive in and find the type of sushi that works for you.

What is Sushi?

sushi-rolls-and-chopsticks

Classic sushi is actually about 80% rice, and the other 20% is made up of thinly sliced vegetables and fish.

Sushi rice is cooked rice that has been chilled and seasoned with vinegar and a bit of sugar.

Sushi is commonly wrapped in thin sheets of dried seaweed (nori), cut into bites, and served as a sushi roll.

However, sushi can be served in a variety of forms.


Sushi vs Sashimi

bowl-of-sashimi

Sushi is primarily made up of seasoned rice and is flavored with different ingredients. Sushi does not have to contain raw fish, or any fish at all, though it is a common ingredient.

Sashimi refers to thinly sliced pieces of fish. Primarily, sashimi will be high-quality raw fish.

Sashimi is meant to be enjoyed very simply to highlight the flavors of the fresh seafood, and so it may be served with nothing at all.

Or it may be served very simply, such as with a few sticks of fresh vegetable and some soy sauce.


What Does Most Sushi Taste Like?

Most sushi will taste tangy, savory, and very fresh with a hint of sweetness.

Sushi that is made with raw fish should not taste fishy at all. Sushi made with cooked fish may have a mild, fishy taste to it.

Sushi rolls that are wrapped in nori will have a punch of umami! Nori is slightly earthy, sweet, and salty.

Additionally, sushi rolls are frequently topped with multiple savory, spicy, or sweet sauces, such as eel sauce, spicy mayo, etc. These sauces really round out the dish and give it depth and flavor.



Common Types of Sushi and How They Taste

Maki vs Uramaki

maki-rolls

“Maki” means “roll.” Traditionally, sushi rice and fillings are wrapped tightly in nori before being sliced. Simply put, a “maki” roll will have the nori on the outside.

Uramaki is an inverted roll where the rice is on the outside and the nori is hidden inside. Uramaki was invented in Los Angeles to appeal to American clientele.

Maki is still preferred in Japan whereas Uramaki is more popular in the US.

Whether a sushi roll is maki or uramaki is not always displayed on menus but you can always ask your server if you would like to know.


Nigiri

nigiri-on-rice

A ball of seasoned sushi rice topped with a slice of raw fish or other type of seafood.

Taste - Fresh, tangy, sweet. Flavor will vary based on what type of fish is used.


California Roll

A sushi roll containing nori, cucumber, avocado, and cooked crab or cooked imitation crab, and is often topped with sesame seeds or fish roe. 

A Spicy California roll will be topped with spicy mayo (chili sauce & mayonnaise).

Taste - Fresh, savory, tangy with a hint of sweetness. Very mild fishy flavor from the crab.


Vegetable Roll

sushi-rolls

A sushi roll made up of sushi rice, nori and a mixture of fresh, thinly sliced vegetables.

Avocado or cooked, seasoned egg are commonly included. Usually topped with sesame seeds. 

Taste - Varies slightly depending on which vegetables are used. Primarily fresh, savory, tangy, and mildly salty. Slight toasty flavor from the sesame seeds.


Tuna Roll

A sushi roll made up of sushi rice, nori, and fresh, raw tuna. Green onions, chives, or sesame seeds are commonly included.

A spicy tuna roll roll will often be topped with spicy mayo (chili sauce and mayonnaise), and the filling may be tossed in the mixture as well.

Wasabi may also be used. Avocado will sometimes be added to a spicy tuna roll.

Tuna roll filling can have a slightly gelatinous texture so this may not be the best choice for someone on the fence about sushi.

Taste - Fresh, savory, salty and toasty. 


Salmon Roll

sushi-rolls

A sushi roll made up of sushi rice, nori, and fresh, raw salmon.

Some salmon rolls might be made with poached or smoked salmon, but they will be labeled accordingly and are less common.

A spicy salmon roll will often be topped with spicy mayo (chili sauce and mayonnaise), and the filling may be tossed in the mixture as well. 

Wasabi may also be used. Avocado will sometimes be added to a spicy salmon roll.

Taste - Fresh, fatty, tangy, slightly sweet.


Shrimp Tempura Roll

shrimp-tempura-sushi-roll

A sushi roll made of sushi rice, nori, battered and fried shrimp, avocado, and cucumber. Commonly topped with sesame seeds and spicy mayo.

Shrimp tempura is prized for its crunchy texture and is very popular with people who do not care for raw fish.

Taste - Savory, rich, salty, tangy, and fresh. 


Salmon Skin Roll

A sushi roll made of sushi rice, nori, crispy, cooked salmon skin, avocado, and sometimes watercress.

Commonly topped with eel sauce: A sweet and salty sauce of soy sauce, mirin, rice wine, and sugar that is simmered until reduced.

The salmon skin roll is very popular in the US and typically does not contain raw fish.

Taste - Rich in umami, savory, and slightly sweet from the eel sauce. 


YellowTail (Hamachi) Roll

Yellow Tail is commonly mistaken as tuna but it is actually a Japanese amberjack fish, known for its delicious buttery flavor and excellent texture.

Hamachi is a younger yellowtail that is typically farm-raised to achieve desired flavor.

A yellowtail sushi roll is made of sushi rice, nori, yellowtail fish, and green onion. It is very simple.

There are many variations on the yellowtail roll including spicy yellowtail and many more decadent rolls, often topped with flying fish roe and extra layers of raw fish.

Taste - Fresh, savory, tangy, and earthy.


Buddha Roll

Buddha rolls may differ depending on the restaurant, but they are commonly made with sushi rice, nori, tempura shrimp, cream cheese, cucumber, spicy mayo, and eel sauce.

Taste - Very rich, sweet, savory, mildly spicy.


Common Sushi Condiments & Toppings 

plate-of-sushi

Sushi flavors may vary when toppings and condiments are added. Traditionally, sushi is lightly dipped in soy sauce. Pickled ginger is often used as a palette cleanser.

Toppings:

  • Sesame Seeds
  • Fish Roe
  • Pickled Seaweed
  • Avocado
  • Cucumber
  • Fried Egg
  • Jalapeno
  • Tempura Crunch
  • Additional Slices of Raw Fish


Condiments:

  • Wasabi
  • Soy Sauce
  • Pickled Ginger


Does all Sushi Contain Raw Fish?

No, sushi may contain rice and vegetables, rice and cooked fish, or rice and raw fish.

Any combination of these may be labeled “sushi” but raw fish is not a requirement.


Is it Safe to Eat Raw Fish?

slicing-raw-fish

Not all fish can be eaten raw.

“Sushi-grade” refers to seafood that is safe to consume raw.  

Depending on the type of fish, sushi-grade fish will often undergo a deep-freeze process below 0° Fahrenheit for a certain period of time. This kills any parasites or bacteria that would be of concern.

All raw fish should be kept frozen or under refrigeration until it is ready to be used.

Sushi that is served in a restaurant should be cold, unless the preparation method requires heating, such as shrimp tempura.


Does Sushi Have a “Fishy” Taste?

Sushi made with raw fish should taste closer to a cumber than typical seafood.

If the sushi contains cooked fish, you may experience a bit of a fishy taste, but generally, sushi just tastes sweet, tangy, and fresh with some earthy notes.


What is the Texture of Sushi?

rolling-sushi

The texture of sushi will vary depending on its components. Generally, sushi will have a bit of chew, and often a bit of crunch from a fresh vegetable or a tempura.

Most sushi-grade fish that is served raw will have a pleasant texture. The fish will rarely be mushy, and will be just chewy enough to be enjoyable.


What is Nori? Does it Taste Good?

piece-of-nori

Nori is very thin sheets of dried seaweed. Nori has a mild, earthy-green flavor when paired with other ingredients. It is stronger on its own.

Nori is mildly chewy, crackly when dry, and is considered a very healthy food.


Conclusion

Sushi is primarily made up of cooked, short-grain rice seasoned with vinegar and a bit of sugar. Sushi often contains raw fish, though it can be completely vegetarian.

Sushi is commonly made as sushi rolls. Maki is a sushi roll with the rice on the inside and the nori on the outside, while urimake is a roll with the rice on the outside and the nori on the inside. 

Sushi has many different ingredients that can add many different flavors. However, sushi in its simplest form, is simply seasoned rice, nori, and a bit of raw fish.

Most sushi will have a savory, fresh, tangy, and slightly sweet flavor to it. Sushi originated in Japan, though Americanized sushi has become very popular in the US.

Happy eating!

Savannah

About the author, Savannah

Savannah grew up in Kansas City, where she learned to cook brisket and ribs from her Mom and Grandmother. She's spent the last 10 years in the restaurant industry where she worked her way up from prep cook to Chef instructor. In 2017, Savannah and her partner sold everything that wouldn't fit in their suburban and traveled the US where she got a job cooking in each city they stayed in. Savannah has trained under more than 50 chefs and done everything from running a food truck to making chocolate. She currently runs her own cottage bakery and teaches cooking classes in Northern Colorado.