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What are the crunchy balls around sushi rolls? Difference between Tobiko, Ebiko, Masago & Ikura

If you eat sushi, you probably noticed the crunchy balls placed around sushi wraps. What are they?

They are fish eggs. There are many types of fish eggs (or roe) used with sushi rolls, with different colors, tastes and costs. The most common types are Tobiko, Masago, Ebiko and Ikura. Each type of eggs is specific to a different type of fish.




Tobiko is Flying Fish Eggs. The name comes from Tobi-uo (flying fish) and Ko (Child). Tobiko is usually bright red or orange in color. It is crunchy and more expensive than Masago or Ebiko. Tobiko is usually dyed in different food colorants, with black squid ink, green wasabi, or red beetroot, to give it a more decorative look. The texture of Tobiko is harder than masago and bursts in your mouth.


Being less expensive, Masago is usually used instead of Tobiko, around sushi wraps (ura makis). Masago is the roe of Capelin Fish (Or Smelt fish group). It is smaller than tobiko, and with a dull orange natural color. Massago is derived from Masa (Sand) because of its small size. Masago is often dyed with different colors as well.


Ebiko is the eggs of Shrimp (Ebi) or Prawns. It is also less expensive than tobiko and more frequently used with sushi rolls. Its color is usually dull orange or red, before dying them with food coloring to make them look brighter.


ikura, salmon eggs, gunkan

Ikura is Salmon Roe. The word comes from Russian: Ikra means fish eggs. It is much bigger in size than the previous types and more expensive. Its color is usually bright orange/red, and served often without food coloring. Ikura is served in Gunkan Makis, on top of rice. A few eggs also are added sometimes above sushi rolls. Ikura’s taste is strong and fishy, it bursts in your mouth and is very noticeable.

fish eggs, masago, tobiko

What type of fish eggs are you usually served at Sushi restaurants?

Because Masago and Ebiko are the cheapest, they are usually served in restaurants. Even if it says Tobiko on the menu, it is usually not. Restaurants’ owners may or may not know what exactly they are serving, as they buy what their suppliers offer and trust what they describe.

Ikura is also served as sushi, as discussed above with Gunkan, but is more expensive.

sushi, masago

There are many other types of fish roe. The most famous is the real Caviar, which will be discussed in future posts.

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