Tarako: Names, Dishes, and Storage Tips

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Tarako, in Japanese cuisine, is a salted roe food, usually made from Alaska pollock, although actually means cod in Japanese. Tarako is served in a number of ways: Plain (usually for breakfast) As a filling for onigiri As a pasta sauce (usually with nori) Traditionally, tarako was dyed bright red, but recent concerns about the safety of food coloring have all but eliminated that custom. In Kyūshū, tarako is commonly served with red chili pepper flakes.

It’s made from pollock cod eggs and has a salty umami flavor similar to caviar, which is why it’s often used in sushi. Let’s look at what it is, how it’s made, and how it’s used.

What is tarako

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What’s the Deal with Tarako?

  • Tarako is a Japanese word that means “cod roe.”
  • It is a type of seafood that is sold and eaten in a variety of ways in Japan and other countries.
  • Despite its traditional association with Japanese cuisine, tarako is actually a product that originated in Russia and was imported to Japan in the early 20th century.

Types and Preparation

  • Tarako consists of the eggs of the Alaska pollock or cod that have been salted and marinated in chili peppers or other spices.
  • There are different types of tarako, including fresh, dried, and marinated.
  • The marinated version is the most popular and is typically sold in supermarkets in jars or cartons.
  • Tarako can be eaten raw, but it is usually chopped or added to other dishes to enhance their flavor.

Flavor and Usage

  • Tarako has a salty and umami taste that is similar to other seafood products like caviar.
  • The flavor can vary depending on the species of pollock or cod used, as well as the degree of marinating and the addition of chili peppers or other ingredients.
  • Tarako is typically used as an accompaniment to other dishes, such as tossed with spaghetti noodles or stuffed into sushi rolls.
  • It is also a popular ingredient in Korean and Russian culinary practices.

Popularity and Availability

  • Tarako is a popular food in Japan and is considered a modern culinary ingredient.
  • Despite its popularity, some people consider tarako to be an acquired taste due to its strong flavor and texture.
  • Tarako can be found in numerous dishes in Japan, including as a topping for rice bowls or as a filling for onigiri (rice balls).
  • It is also commonly referred to as mentaiko, which is a spicier version of tarako that is made with the same ingredients but has additional chili peppers and colorings.
  • Tarako is typically associated with the northern regions of Kyushu and Yamaguchi in Japan, where it is a traditional food.

What’s in a Name?

Tarako is a Japanese word that means “cod roe.” It is made from the eggs of Alaska pollock, a fish that is commonly found in the North Atlantic. The name “tara” refers to the fish, while “ko” means “child” or “roe.” In Japan, tarako is a popular ingredient in many dishes, including pasta, rice bowls, and sushi.

Other Names for Tarako

Tarako is not only known as “cod roe” in Japan. Here are some other names for tarako that you might come across:

  • Karashi mentaiko: This is tarako that has been seasoned with chili pepper. “Karashi” means “mustard,” while “mentaiko” is another type of seasoned cod roe.
  • Tarako mentaiko: This is tarako that has been seasoned with salt and pepper. “Mentaiko” is a popular type of seasoned cod roe in Japan.
  • Tarako sushi: This is a type of sushi that is made with tarako rolled in seaweed. It is a popular snack in Japan.

Tarako Around the World

While tarako is a popular ingredient in Japan, it is also enjoyed in other parts of the world. Here are some examples:

  • In Korea, tarako is known as “myeongnan” and is often used in soups and stews.
  • In Hawaii, tarako is a popular topping for musubi, a type of rice ball.
  • In the United States, tarako is sometimes referred to as “salted cod roe” and is used as a topping for pasta dishes.

Get Creative with Tarako: Ways to Enjoy this Japanese Delicacy

  • Tarako is usually eaten raw and is a popular accompaniment to sushi.
  • The roe can be eaten as is or mixed with rice to make tarako rice.
  • Simply sprinkle some salt on the raw tarako and enjoy the natural taste of the roe.

Steamed Tarako

  • Steamed tarako is a different version of the raw tarako.
  • The roe is steamed until it becomes soft and is served with a sauce made of olive oil and chili.
  • This dish is typically served with steamed rice.

Deep-Fried Tarako Balls

  • Tarako can also be used to make deep-fried balls.
  • The roe is mixed with pasta and covered with tempura batter before being deep-fried.
  • These balls can be served as a snack or as a side dish.

Tarako Pasta

  • Tarako can be used as a sauce for pasta.
  • The roe is mixed with olive oil and tossed with spaghetti noodles.
  • This dish is a popular way to enjoy tarako in Japan.

Tarako Stuffed Shiso Leaves

  • Tarako can be stuffed into shiso leaves and wrapped into small parcels.
  • The parcels are then deep-fried until crispy.
  • This dish is a popular appetizer in Japan.

Tarako and Pollack Roe

  • Tarako and pollack roe are often associated with each other.
  • Pollack roe, also known as mentaiko, is a darker and spicier version of tarako.
  • Unlike tarako, mentaiko is usually marinated before being eaten.

Imported Tarako

  • Tarako is a product that originated in Japan but can now be found in supermarkets around the world.
  • Tarako is imported from different regions of Japan, including Northern Kyushu and Yamaguchi.
  • When buying tarako, consider the color of the roe. Tarako can come in varying shades of pink and red.

Tarako is a versatile ingredient that can be enjoyed in many different ways. Whether you prefer it raw or cooked, as a side dish or a main course, tarako is a delicious and salty addition to any meal.

Delicious Dishes That Use Tarako

Tarako is a popular ingredient in Japanese cuisine and is used in many traditional dishes. Some of the most popular dishes that use tarako include:

  • Tarako spaghetti: This dish is a fusion of Italian and Japanese cuisine and is a favorite among children in Japan. It consists of spaghetti noodles, tarako, butter, and soy sauce.
  • Tarako rice bowl: This dish is a simple and delicious way to enjoy tarako. It typically consists of white rice topped with marinated tarako and seasonings.
  • Tarako udon: This dish is a type of Japanese noodle soup that is typically made with a fish-based broth and topped with tarako.

Other Asian Dishes

Tarako is not only used in Japanese cuisine but is also a popular ingredient in other Asian dishes. Some examples include:

  • Korean-style tarako: In Korea, tarako is typically eaten raw or marinated in a mixture of chili peppers and other seasonings.
  • Tarako fried rice: This dish is a popular Chinese-style fried rice that is made with tarako, eggs, and other vegetables.

Unique Tarako Recipes

If you’re looking to try something different with tarako, here are some unique recipes to consider:

  • Tarako dip: This dip is made by combining tarako with cream cheese and seasonings. It’s a great appetizer for parties or gatherings.
  • Tarako sushi: This sushi is made by wrapping tarako in thin slices of raw fish such as cod or pollock.
  • Tarako stuffed peppers: This dish is made by filling mild peppers with a mixture of tarako and cream cheese.

Where to Find Tarako

Tarako can be found in most Asian grocery stores and supermarkets. It is usually sold in refrigerated or frozen sacks and comes in varying degrees of color, ranging from bright pink to dark red. When purchasing tarako, it’s important to consider the color and appearance of the roe. A nude color is a neutral and highly natural color, unlike the dyed ones that may have colorings that can be harmful to health.

Keep Your Tarako Fresh: Tips for Storing Japanese Marinated Roe

When you receive tarako, make sure to check the expiration date. If you plan on cooking with it soon, keep it in the fridge. If you wish to keep it for longer, freeze it. Raw tarako can be kept in the fridge for a few days, but seasoned tarako should be kept in the fridge for no more than a month.

Freezing Tarako

If you need to keep tarako for longer than a month, freeze it. Wrap the tarako in plastic wrap or put it in a plastic bag, pressing out as much air as possible. Then, put it in an airtight container and freeze it. Frozen tarako can be kept for up to 6 months.

Signs of Spoilage

If you notice any soupyou (liquid) in the container or bag, this is a sign that the tarako is spoiling. Additionally, if the tarako smells off or has a strange texture, it’s best to throw it away.

Tips for Keeping Tarako Fresh

Here are some additional tips for keeping your tarako fresh:

  • Keep it in the coldest part of your fridge
  • Wrap it tightly in plastic wrap or put it in an airtight container
  • Don’t keep it in the same container as other strong-smelling foods
  • Use it as soon as possible after opening the sac

Tarako vs Mentaiko: What’s the Difference?

Tarako and mentaiko are two types of marinated cod roe that are widely used in Japanese cuisine. While they may seem similar, there are some key differences between the two.

Preparation and Ingredients

  • Tarako is prepared by salting the roe and leaving it to dry in the sun or in a cool, dry place. It is then packaged and sold as is.
  • Mentaiko, on the other hand, is marinated in a mixture of chili peppers, sake, and other seasonings to create a fiery, spicy flavor.
  • While both types of roe come from the same family of fish, tarako is typically made from walleye pollock, while mentaiko is commonly made from Alaska pollock.
  • Tarako is usually white in color, while mentaiko is red due to the chili peppers used in its preparation.

Uses in Dishes

  • Tarako is commonly used in Japanese cuisine to add flavor and texture to dishes like grilled or simmered fish, rice bowls, and sushi.
  • Mentaiko is often used as a topping for rice dishes, as a filling for onigiri (rice balls), or as a garnish for soups and salads.
  • Despite their differences, both tarako and mentaiko are widely used in Japanese cuisine and can be found in numerous dishes.

Local and Modern Varieties

  • In Fukuoka, a city in southern Japan, tarako is commonly referred to as “mentaiko” due to the local dialect.
  • In recent years, new varieties of mentaiko have been invented to suit different tastes, including mentaiko with cheese, mentaiko with mayonnaise, and even mentaiko-flavored potato chips.
  • Despite the many modern variations, traditional tarako and mentaiko remain an important part of Japanese cuisine.

Tarako vs Tobiko: What’s the Difference?

  • Tobiko is another type of roe, commonly used in Japanese cuisine.
  • It is made from the eggs of flying fish and is typically smaller and crunchier than tarako.
  • Tobiko is usually brightly colored, with shades of orange, red, and even green.
  • It is commonly used as a garnish for sushi rolls or mixed into sauces for added texture and flavor.

What is the Difference Between Tarako and Tobiko?

  • While both tarako and tobiko are types of roe, they come from different types of fish.
  • Tarako comes from the eggs of cod, while tobiko comes from the eggs of flying fish.
  • Tarako is typically sold in larger, sac-like form, while tobiko is usually packed into small balls or encased in a thin membrane.
  • Tarako is usually salted and marinated, while tobiko is often mixed with spices or chiles for added flavor.
  • The flavor of tarako is rich and highly concentrated, while tobiko is more subtly flavored and neutral in taste.
  • Tarako is commonly used in traditional Japanese dishes like tarako rice and steamed egg custard, while tobiko is mainly used as a garnish or mixed into sauces.
  • The color of tarako is usually beige or light pink, while tobiko can come in a wide array of colors.

How to Use Tarako and Tobiko

  • Tarako is typically cooked before being eaten, while tobiko is usually eaten raw.
  • Tarako can be served on its own or mixed into dishes like rice or pasta.
  • Tobiko is commonly used as a garnish for sushi rolls or mixed into sauces for added texture and flavor.
  • Both tarako and tobiko can be stored in the freezer to maintain freshness and prevent spoilage.
  • When using tarako, be sure to trim away any excess membrane or sac before cooking.
  • When handling tobiko, be gentle to avoid crushing the delicate eggs.


Tarako is a Japanese word that means cod roe, a type of seafood that’s been eaten and enjoyed in Japan for centuries. It’s a delicious and versatile ingredient that can be used in a variety of dishes, from pasta to sushi.

So, don’t be afraid to try something new and give tarako a try!

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Bitemybun's family recipes with complete meal planner and recipe guide.

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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.