What Is Masago?

Masago is a type of fish in the smelt family and a popular ingredient in Japanese cuisine. The term “masago” is a Japanese word for capelin roe, which is small, edible eggs of fish found in cold-watered oceans – North Atlantic, North Pacific, and the Arctic Ocean.

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One of the significant features of Masago is that it is smaller than most fish eggs – its diameter is about 1 millimeter. Masago roe naturally has a dull yellow color. To make it more visually appealing, it is usually dyed orange, red, green, or black colors, which gives it a more vibrant look. 

In this article, we will cover all relevant information about Masago. Read on and learn more about the taste, uses, and health benefits of Masago, as well as some popular recipes in which you can include this tasty ingredient.

Key Takeaways

  • Masago comes from capelin fish roe and is a popular ingredient in sushi and Japanese cuisine.
  • It is versatile in cooking and offers a mildly salty flavor and crunchy texture.
  • Masago is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and protein, contributing to its nutritional value.

Masago – Where Exactly Does It Come From?

Masago, also known as smelt roe, is a type of fish egg that comes from the fish species capelin. These small forage fish have silvery-green bodies, which makes them similar to sardines. Capelin are commonly enjoyed as a staple food in such species as the Atlantic cod, harp seals, codfish, seals, whales, and seabirds.

Capelin fish are sought after to create various products, including Masago. The meat of capelin is rarely consumed – over 70% of caught fish is used for fish meals and fish oil products. The remaining 30% is dedicated to producing Masago. 

The fish roe is harvested from female capelin once they begin spawning eggs, between two to four years old. The roe is harvested when the fish is full of ripened eggs but before the spawning stage.

Masago vs. Tobiko

Both are types of fish roe commonly used in many sushi rolls recipes. While Masago is capelin roe, Tobiko is flying fish roe. Both varieties are quite similar, however, Masago is slightly smaller and less crunchy than Tobiko

A significant difference between them is that Masago is much cheaper than Tobiko roe and many restaurants often use it as a substitute for Tobiko in various dishes. 

Masago vs. Ikura

Ikura is another variety of fish roe. It is harvested from salmon and is much larger than Masago. Also, when you eat Ikura, it bursts in your mouth as you bite into them, while Masago is slightly crunchy. 

What Does Masago Taste Like?

Similarly to other varieties of fish eggs, Masago has a subtly fishy flavor with a bit of saltiness. You can also detect some delicate sweet notes with a bit of a citrusy quality.

Its slightly crunchy and sandy texture makes it a perfect addition to rice dishes, vegetables, and many more. While the ingredient tends to have a relatively mild flavor, many Masago lovers like to mix it with various distinctive-taste ingredients, such as wasabi, ginger, or squid ink. Such combinations provide a stronger and more heightened taste for many dishes. 

What Is Masago Used For?

Thanks to its distinctive look and taste, the ingredient is commonly used as a topping in various sushi or nigiri recipes. It gives the traditional Japanese dishes some additional flavor and texture, as well as a pop of color for visual satisfaction.

Masago is often used in various seafood dishes to boost their flavor profile. Similarly, it is added to sauces and dips, too. 

Common ways of using Masago include:

  • As Masago sauce. Masago is mixed with light cream, soy sauce, or wasabi to create a creamy and delicious sauce. It is often added to Japanese spaghetti noodles. 
  • In fillings inside sushi rolls. Masago is sometimes added to the fillings when rolling maki sushi. It provides some extra flavor and crunchy texture.
  • In poke bowls. Masago is a perfect addition to fish and rice Hawaiian poke bowls as it elevates the fishy taste of the dish.
  • As decorations. Thanks to its bright, vivid color, Masago is often used as a decoration to enhance the look of many dishes. 

What Are the Health Benefits of Masago?

Masago is low in calories (40 calories per 1 ounce) and mercury levels, and it’s packed with many important nutrients. It is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, selenium, and magnesium. It is very high in vitamin D, which helps combat fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, or depression. The ingredient also contains polyunsaturated fats, which are good for your heart, hormones, lungs, and your immune system. 

Just 1 ounce of Masago contains 6 grams of protein, 2 grams of fat, and under 1 gram of carbohydrates. The same amount also covers 6% of the daily value for folate, 7% of the daily value for vitamin C, 10% of the daily value for vitamin E, 12% of the daily value for vitamin B2, and 16% of the daily value for selenium. 

What’s more, Masago, as well as other types of fish roe, is full of amino acids, such as valine, lysine, leucine, isoleucine, and phenylalanine. They are essential for repairing muscle tissue and protein synthesis.

What Are the Potential Risks of Eating Masago?

While Masago has many health benefits, there are also some drawbacks to it. For example, Masago is high in sodium – only one tablespoon of fish eggs contains around 10% of the daily value recommended for sodium which may be harmful to your health.

Too much sodium can lead to bone deterioration, kidney disease, and stomach cancer. Due to the high levels of sodium, Masago is not a good option for people suffering from high blood pressure or heart complications.

What’s more, Masago can cause allergic reactions, especially in those with seafood allergies. Therefore, you should always take special precautions before you eat Masago or serve it to others. 

While Masago is a relatively healthy and nutritious food ingredient, it is often mixed with components that are not healthy, especially in sushi recipes. Many of those components contain harmful factors, such as refined carbohydrates, that can lead to various diseases associated with consuming contaminated foods. 

Still, Masago is regarded as a healthy food option for a variety of dishes. Consuming it in small doses will let you enjoy its unique flavor along with vital health benefits. 

Is Masago Safe To Eat?

Shortly speaking – yes, Masago is safe to eat, although it often stirs up mixed feelings, just like other popular seafood products.

As Masago is consumed raw, many people may be put off straight away. Still, there is no evidence suggesting that eating Masago raw poses health risks.

It is a healthy and nutritious ingredient if eaten in moderation, and the only people who should avoid it are those allergic to seafood and shellfish. What’s more, fish roe contains vitellogenin, which is a type of egg yolk protein, that can also cause allergic reactions. 

Where Can You Buy Masago?

You can find Masago at many Asian or Japanese grocery stores or premium supermarkets, such as Whole Foods. 

If you do not have access to such stores in your area, you can also buy Masago online, for example, on Amazon. 

How To Store Masago?

To store fresh Masago, the best way is to either refrigerate it for immediate use or freeze it so that it can last longer. 

If you want to refrigerate it, keep the product in its original packaging and store it in the fridge for up to 5 days. This is the best option if you want to use it straight away, as you will not have to let it thaw.

However, if you’re planning to use Masago after the period of 5 days, freezing it will be a more suitable method. If you freeze roe, it can stay good for up to six months. Before using it, make sure to give it some time to thaw.

Serve and enjoy!

Final Thoughts

Masago is a popular type of edible fish egg harvested from the species capelin. It is commonly used in Japanese cuisine and mainly found in sushi recipes and other seafood dishes.

It is low in calories and highly nutritious as it is packed with important vitamins and minerals, as well as contains protein and healthy fats. It’s crucial to eat it in moderation as it is high in sodium which can cause health problems if consumed in large quantities.
If you want to learn more about traditional Japanese dishes or other delicious recipes from all around the world, visit our page and indulge in the most palatable and satisfying dishes you have ever tasted.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is masago different from caviar?

Yes, masago and caviar are different. Caviar refers specifically to the eggs of sturgeon fish, while masago comes from the eggs of the capelin fish. They vary in size, color, taste, and price, with caviar being more expensive and considered a luxury food.

What does masago taste like?

Masago has a mild, slightly salty, and ocean-like flavor with a soft, crunchy texture. For some, it can be an acquired taste. Its unique flavor makes it a popular choice as a sushi topping or to be mixed into sauces for a burst of savory umami.

Is masago actually fish eggs?

Yes, masago is indeed fish eggs. It is the roe of the capelin fish, a small, cold-water fish found in the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. The eggs are harvested and often used as an affordable alternative to pricier fish roe options like caviar.

What is the difference between fish roe and masago?

“Fish roe” is a general term that refers to the eggs of any fish species, whereas masago specifically refers to the eggs of the capelin fish. There are many types of fish roe with different flavors and textures. Masago is one particular type of fish roe, valued for its affordability and mild flavor.

Is masago raw?

Masago is typically served raw, although it is often mixed with other ingredients such as soy sauce, mirin, or wasabi for added flavor. It is usually found on sushi rolls, but can also be cooked when used in hot dishes or mixed into sauces. Always ensure that you are purchasing masago from a reputable source to ensure it is safe for consumption.

Where can I buy masago?

You can find masago at specialty seafood stores, Asian markets, or online retailers. It is often sold in small containers or frozen to preserve its freshness. Look for reputable brands and sources to ensure the quality and safety of the product you purchase.

masago rice

What is Masago - Masago Sushi Recipe

Masago is a popular ingredient commonly used in Japanese cuisine. As the fish eggs are very small, it is often used as a topping in various sushi roll recipes.
5 from 6 votes
Total Time 1 hour
Course Main Course
Cuisine Japanese
Servings 4
Calories 48 kcal

Ingredients
  

For sushi rice:

  • 1 cup short grain sushi rice
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 ½ tablespoon sushi vinegar or mixing 1 tablespoon rice vinegar ½ tablespoon sugar, and ½ teaspoon salt

For Masago sushi:

  • 4 oz imitation crab
  • 1 thinly sliced avocado
  • 2 sheets nori seaweed
  • 1 tablespoon Masago

Instructions
 

  • Rinse the rice thoroughly and add it to rice cooker together with water. Once cooked, transfer the rice to a large bowl and let it cool down a little. When it’s still very warm, add sushi vinegar or a mixture of rice vinegar, sugar, and salt.
  • For the rolls, lay out a bamboo mat with plastic wrap on top to make sure your rice doesn’t stick to the bamboo.
  • Fold the nori sheets in half and split them with a pair of scissors.
  • Place one half of the nori sheet on top of the bamboo.
  • Spread rice over nori evenly while pressing it down gently. You can dip your hands in vinegar water to prevent the rice from sticking to them.
  • Flip the nori so that rice is facing down and nori is facing up.
  • Place imitation crab and avocado slices on top of the nori.
  • Place your thumbs underneath the bamboo mat and lift the edge up over the filling.
  • Roll the bamboo mat while applying some pressure to tighten the roll up.
  • Transfer the roll onto a cutting board and cut it into 8 pieces using a knife.
  • To finish, spread Masago evenly on top of each sushi piece using your hands.

Nutrition

Calories: 48kcal
Keyword masago, masago sushi rice, what is masago
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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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