Sushi vs Nigiri: Nigiri is sushi, but sushi is not always nigiri

                by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  November 27, 2020

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If you love sushi, you have probably eaten nigiri.

Nigiri is often served at sushi restaurants and it is even considered a type of sushi however, it has characteristics that set it apart.

What is nigiri and how is it different from sushi?

Like sushi, nigiri is made of sushi rice and raw fish. Actually, nigiri is one of the types of sushi. However, sushi is most often referred to as the fish and rice rolled into a seaweed wrap, the “maki” roll (this here is sushi vs maki explained). So nigiri is sushi, but sushi is not always nigiri.

Sushi vs nigiri

Nigiri is made of rice pressed together, usually formed into a rectangular shape. Raw fish is usually added to the top although vegetables can be used as well.

This article will look at sushi and nigiri so you will know the similarities and differences.

What is Sushi?

Sushi is a traditional Japanese dish that is made with vinegared rice, usually sugar and salt, and a variety of ingredients that may include raw seafood and different vegetables.

Medium grained white rice is typically used but it can also be made with brown rice or short-grain rice.

Fish commonly used in sushi includes

But there are also a lot of sushi varieties that are vegetarian, containing ingredients like spinach, carrots, avocado, and more.

Lots of people like to eat it with something on the side, in most cases, you’ll see gari pickled ginger, a saucer of soy sauce, and a bit of wasabi next to your plate.

There are also a few garnishes you’ll often find on the sushi itself where Daikon radishes (often pickled daikon) are most commonly used.

Although many types of sushi are wrapped in seaweed, this is not always the case.

What is Nigiri?

Nigiri is a type of sushi that combines the characteristic ingredients of vinegared rice and raw fish or veggies.

However, it is not rolled. Rather, the rice is pressed together and topped with a variety of toppings.

Often a layer of wasabi is placed between the topping and the rice but sometimes seaweed or nori is used instead.

The fish used on nigiri is similar to that which is used on any type of sushi. Bluefin, tuna salmon, mackerel, and squid are some fan favorites.

If you prefer to do a vegetarian nigiri, mushrooms and peppers are common toppings.

There is mixed information concerning how nigiri got its name.

Some say the word nigiri means ‘two fingers’ referring to the size of the rice cube. Others say it means ‘to grasp’ referring to the way chefs press it together to give it shape.

Sushi vs. Nigiri: Preparation

Nigiri and sushi differ in their methods of preparation.

Sushi is typically made on a sushi mat.

All ingredients are added according to how you would like the sushi rolled.

For instance, you may start with a seaweed base, then add a layer of rice and then a layer of fish. Or go for a vegetarian sushi filling.

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Use the mat to roll all the ingredients together.

When making nigiri, you take the cooked rice and press it together with your fingers.

The shape should be flat on the bottom a slightly rounded on the top. The flat bottom will help it sit on the plate.

Your topping (fish or vegetable) will need to be sliced very thinly, approximately 1 cm. thick. It also should have the height and width to cover the rice without falling over the edges.

Then put some wasabi over the rice. This will help the topping stick and it will also add a unique spicy flavor.

Sushi vs. Nigiri: Origin

Sushi originated in Japan.

The dish was derived from a tradition of keeping fish in fermented rice to preserve it. Eventually, vinegar was added to enhance the taste.

The rice used to preserve the fish was discarded but the fish itself was served as a dish with rice and nori. It wasn’t until the early 1800s that chefs began preparing the dish in today’s modern fashion.

Nigiri sushi was made just a short time after. Legend has it that a sushi peddler named Hanaya Yohei invented it as a way to get sushi to the masses quickly.

He found that not having to roll the sushi cut down on production time so he was able to serve crowds faster.

The dish caught on and the rest is history.

Sushi vs. Nigiri: Nutrition

Sushi is generally considered a healthy food.

Although the rice does not have much nutritional value, using brown or black rice can increase the health factor.

Added ingredients like seaweed, raw fish, and vegetables, on the other hand, are high in nutrition.

When comparing the nutrition of nigiri and sushi, it is impossible to say which is healthier unless you know which ingredients are used.

However, sushi is more likely to contain a variety of fish and vegetables making it the more nutritious choice.

If you love sushi, it is likely that you have tried nigiri.

A stripped-down alternative, it is a tasty variety that some may even prefer.

What type of sushi is your favorite?

On a keto or low carb diet? Try 5 Sushi without Rice Recipes for paleo and keto low carb diet.

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.