14 best sushi fish types: a complete list of common fish names

                by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  October 31, 2021

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Almost all the vast amount of ocean life under the sea is safe for human consumption; however, not all are edible when raw.

While eating raw fish has only recently become fashionable in Western countries in the last half-century, sushi and sashimi dishes date back to the 15th century AD in Japan.

If you plan to make sushi at home or you want to know what to order in, this list of top sushi fish types is for you!

14 sushi fish types

Most sushi dishes are pretty simple (i.e. sushi, sashimi, crudo, poke, and tartars) and it all comes down to the sushi fish cutting technique and the quality of the fish.

There’s a reason a thing called sushi-grade fish has gotten an entire category of fish quality for itself. It’s essential to get the right piece of fish for quality sushi or sashimi.

Can I make sushi with fish from the grocery store?

Any fish from the grocery store will do to make cooked fish sushi, but if you want to make raw fish sushi, it must be frozen between -20 C and -35 C for over 24 hours so parasites can’t survive. Specialty stores use labels like “sushi-grade”, “sashimi-grade”, or “for raw consumption”.

Best fish types to make sushi

To help you make the best sushi and sashimi, we’ve compiled a list of the best fish types and seafood for it.

Because you can’t make mistakes when preparing dishes with raw fish meat in them, all your choices have to be impeccable and precise.

Continue reading below and find out which fish and seafood to pick to make delicious and safe sushi dishes.

Maguro マグロ (Tuna)

Skipjack – this tuna is widely used in Japanese cuisine and is known locally as “katsuo”. Sushi chefs use skipjack tuna to make sushi and sashimi, but it can also be served seared (a local dish called katsuo taki).

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It’s also a key ingredient in making dashi soup stock, as well as shuto.

Yellowfin – this type of tuna is commonly found in the tropical and subtropical oceans of the world. In fish markets, it’s labeled and sold to fish brokers as “sushi-grade,” “sashimi-grade,” and “others.”

Albacore – this type of tuna doesn’t live in the tropical waters surrounding Japan, and until logistics in fisheries were upgraded, it wasn’t found in most sushi recipes until recently.

Sushi chefs were initially also reluctant to use it for sushi or sashimi as its pale and soft flesh were akin to older tuna fish, despite the preparations fishermen made to keep it fresh and on ice.

Bigeye – excellent for sashimi, the bigeye tuna has a moderately pronounced flavor, a good amount of fat (including omega fatty acids), and tastes better than yellowfin.

Bigeye tuna meat is large and flaky; the texture of the meat is firm as well. You can also use this tuna to make sushi.

Bonito – a close relative of the tuna fish, bonito is smaller compared to its cousins and is only available during the spring and summer seasons.

Few people can stand the strong smell of this fish, which is why it’s a rare treat, even in sushi restaurants.

Making bonito sushi can be challenging, as you need to make sure it’s 99.99% fresh. Otherwise, it’ll just spoil almost immediately once exposed to air.

Northern bluefin – the Atlantic bluefin tuna, also known as the northern bluefin tuna, is commonly found in the Atlantic Ocean and is sold for thousands to even millions of dollars in the Japanese fish market.

Any that exceed 150 kg (330 lbs) are often called giant bluefin tuna. This tuna is mostly used to make sushi dishes in Japan and about 80% of all Atlantic bluefin tuna caught are consumed as raw fish dishes.

Southern bluefin – the Pacific bluefin tuna is widely available in both the North and South Pacific Ocean and it can grow as much as 3 m (9.8 ft) in length and 450 kg (990 lb) in weight.

Just like its cousin the Atlantic Bluefin tuna, 80% of catches are also consumed as raw fish dishes in Japan, such as sushi and sashimi delicacies.

It’s considered good luck by the Japanese to eat foods that are made available during the first few days of the year. A good example of this is the bluefin tuna, which makes a great fish for sushi.

What’s the difference between maguro マグロ,  tsuna ツナ, and shiichikin シーチキン?

The Japanese use マグロ or maguro when they talk about both fresh and cooked tuna fish. ツナ (tsuna) comes from English and is used for canned drained, flaked tuna, while shiichikin (シーチキン) means “sea chicken” and is actually a brand name of canned tuna used by Hagoromo Foods Corporation.

Maguro vs toro tuna

Maguro is leaner meat from the sides of tuna fish. If you order tuna sushi without requesting toro, then this is the cut you get. “Toro” refers to the fatty tuna belly, only taken from bluefin tuna, and is a little more high-end and expensive.

Hamachi or buri 鰤 (yellowtail)

It’s sometimes called the Japanese amberjack, although that’s actually Kanpachi; yellowtail (hamachi) is the perfect fish to make sushi for people who have never tried sushi before.

What is the difference between buri and hamachi?

Buri, also known as hamachi, is a tuna fish classified by its size and how it’s grown. The smallest wild buri is called “wakashi” while medium-sized is “inada”, then “warasa”, until fully grown “buri”. But all farmed yellowtail tuna is called “hamachi” in Japan.

Is hamachi a tuna?

Hamachi is a migratory fish of the yellowtail species (tuna-like fish) that can be found off the coasts of both the US and Japan. The hamachi that’s farmed in Japan is often served in sushi bars as a separate dish from skipjack tuna or “maguro”.

Is hamachi the same as yellowtail?

Hamachi is often confused with Japanese amberjack, but the two fish aren’t interchangeable. Hamachi is indeed called yellowtail, which isn’t to be confused with the amberjack variety of tuna, which is called Kanpachi.

Hamachi vs Kanpachi tuna

Hamachi and Kanpachi are often mistaken, but the first is yellowtail tuna and the latter amberjack. Kanpachi is a little less fatty than hamachi, so it’s farmed and exported a lot less. So the yellowtail sushi you eat will most likely be hamachi.

What is Kanpachi sashimi?

Kanpachi is a leaner type of yellowtail tuna, which makes it perfect for sashimi. It looks similar to hamachi or buri but has a lighter, almost translucent color, which makes this fish lean and milder than its counterpart.

Shake しゃけ or sake さけ (Salmon)

If you want to consume raw fish, then salmon is a great fish for sushi. Its deep, rich color and slightly sweet flavor will make any sushi buff instantly fall in love with it. It’s also rich in healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for the heart and make it the healthiest sushi fish.

What’s the difference between shake しゃけ or sake さけ?

There are 2 words for salmon in Japanese: さけ (sake) and しゃけ (shake). For most people, there’s no difference in meaning between the 2 terms, but some people use さけ (sake) when referring specifically to living or raw salmon and しゃけ (shake) to refer to cooked salmon.

Note: The seafood varieties below are quite popular and commonly used for sushi. However, it’s also very easy for them to get contaminated with parasites. So make sure that they’ve been flash frozen before you buy and use them to make sushi meals at home!

Saba 鯖 (Mackerel)

This fish has a strong smell and oily taste, so only use this fish in your sushi dish if you can handle it. The mackerel fish is usually cured in salt and vinegar for several hours before it’s used to make sushi.

Hirame 鮃 (Halibut)

The halibut or “hirame” in Japanese has a surprisingly rich flavor that people love, even if they’ve never tasted sushi before. It can be prepared in 2 ways: 1) by chilling it in the freezer for several hours or overnight before it’s served, or 2) by using the kobijume method where the fish is first grilled, searing the outside, then dunked in ice.

Tai 鯛 (Red Snapper)

This is also good for novice sushi a-fish-ionados as its white meat is lean and has a very mild flavor, which is great for sushi recipes. It’s also popular in sushi bars all year round.

Unagi ウナギ (Freshwater Eel)

A fatty fish that’s rich in vitamin B, unagi is usually grilled and brushed with soy sauce when served. It’s never eaten raw.

Check this post I’ve written about unagi and its uses.

Ika 以下 (Squid)

People often think that squid isn’t ideal for consumption. Well, the sushi chefs in Japan would beg to differ! You’ll be in for a surprise of a lifetime if you’ve ever sampled squid sushi.

What is ika sashimi?

Ika sashimi literally means “squid sashimi”. It’s fine-cut pieces of squid that you eat raw, just like you would with other types of sashimi, like the popular tuna or salmon.

What is ika sōmen?

Ika sōmen is a type of Japanese dish that consists primarily of thin strips from raw squid, and they’re called “squid noodles”. It’s usually served with grated ginger and either soy sauce or mentsuyu, which are both sauces used in Japan for dishes like tempura.

What is yaki ika or ikayaki?

Ikayaki is a popular Japanese fast food that literally means grilled squid. It can be prepared as whole squid, rings of the body, or 1 to 3 tentacles, depending on how large the servings are.

It’s usually served with soy sauce.

Uni ウニ (Sea Urchin)

This is one of the tuna alternatives that always delights sushi lovers, as it has a sweet and delicious flavor that goes well with pickled ginger, wasabi, and soy sauce.

Uni is a very delicious ingredient, as you can see in my post about it here.

Is sushi fish cured?

Sushi and sashimi fish are completely raw and not cured. Special sushi-grade fish (frozen long enough between -20 C and -35 C to kill parasites) is used but it’s still raw. Sushi came from fish cured in vinegared rice to keep fresh, but now, it’s raw fish served on vinegared sushi rice.

Why preparing raw fish-based foods is difficult

People are much less critical of an anonymous sushi chef at a random restaurant when they eat out than when someone prepares ceviche at home.

The problem is they don’t know that the dangers of eating raw fish are pretty much the same in a sushi restaurant and at home. You can get food poisoning from both!

People who have an affinity for cooking delicious recipes at home and love to cook tartare, for example, may think twice about doing the same for striped bass. Not to mention, the availability of raw fish is also a big logistical problem.

In the United States, fresh seafood is hard to come by, and even those who live near the coastal areas (where good fish is readily available) find it difficult to tell whether the fish is fresh or not.

It should come as no surprise that people will have very low confidence in eating fish, let alone raw fish.

Finally, people get even more confused when they’re unable to understand the terminology, which can sometimes mislead them as well.

You may find some sections in fish markets where tuna or salmon fish are labeled “sushi-” or “sashimi-grade” and the corner is cordoned off because they only accept special fish dealers/brokers.

If you’re lucky, you might find a great fish market that’ll suggest you try sushi- or sashimi-grade hamachi and fluke for your next sushi dish.

But anyone who’s familiar with sushi understands that you can have a wide selection of fish to make sushi or sashimi.

While fish dealers unintentionally label sushi-grade fish “safe to eat raw,” they also by no means erroneously suggest that other fish that don’t bear this label are unsafe to eat raw.

Sushi in Japan

In Japan, people normally believe that it takes great skill to make sushi rolls, so they don’t make it at home like most food blogs would suggest you do.

The sushi restaurants in Japan are so plentiful that they’re almost ubiquitous there. And to be considered for the role of a sushi chef, you must have a degree in Japanese culinary arts, which is why sushi chefs in Japan are highly respected.

As a matter of fact, even when the Japanese want to eat sushi at home, they’ll never prepare it on their own. Instead, they’ll order it from a sushi restaurant.

From an economic standpoint, it’s inefficient to buy different kinds of fish for several types of sushi (and in large amounts), just to consume them all at once if you’re making sushi yourself. Or you’d have to hold a pretty large party with a lot of guests.

But if the occasion is favorable, then it’d be a lot of fun to prepare sushi by yourself, or with friends at home with 1 or 2 kinds of fresh fish.

Make sure that you ask the fish dealer whether the fish is freshly caught and flash frozen before you buy it and use it for your homemade sushi.

As the term implies “sushi-grade fish”, it indicates that you cannot use just any fish served raw to make sushi. So talk to your local fish dealer or fish market when you order fish for sushi.

Fish caught for normal use don’t undergo a process called flash freezing as they do with tuna and other sushi-grade fish, so they may contain bacteria. They’re not good to use for raw seafood recipes.

Freshwater fish aren’t suitable for eating raw, even if you flash freeze them.

Enjoy trying different sushi fish

Now that you know about the several types of sushi fish, it’s time to start trying them out. You never know if you’ll find a new favorite!

And if you’re going to make sushi at home, make sure you buy safe fish to eat.

You should also check out my post on this complete guide to sushi. It has everything you want to know about sushi for beginners to advanced.

Ever had trouble finding Japanese recipes that were easy to make?

We now have "cooking Japanese with ease", our full recipe book and video course with step-by-step tutorials on your favorite recipes.

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.