At its most simple, sushi is just a delicious Japanese dish; add the extra deep flavors of perfectly executed sushi sauces to it and sushi becomes divine.
Your makizushi and narezushi will burst with flavors by simply adding traditional teriyaki or ponzu sauce to them.
You can also make it a little more exotic by adding a Korean spicy sauce and make your guests drool and lick their fingers down to the last piece.
If you already know and use the traditional black, sweet and spicy sushi sauce, then you can also switch it up with the Japanese spicy mayo or ginger mayo sauce.
This provides an alternative flavor that you can choose between variations of sushi sauces whenever you make sushi meals for whatever the occasion is.
You may also try a carrot ginger sauce for a refreshing flavor and it will also give your sushi dish a new funky color that’s quite pleasing to the eyes.
How to make sushi also has these 3 great sauce recipes on their channel:
9 Best Sushi Sauces
Best known as the Japanese version of soy sauce, but is vastly different from its Chinese analog.
The tamari sauce is fermented with less wheat which causes it to have a less salty flavor and thicker consistency.
Like dashi, the tamari sauce is also used in a variety of Japanese foods in order to add a savory umami flavor to them.
Tamari is the byproduct of miso paste and is completely different from the Chinese soybean which is made by cooking soybeans with roasted wheat.
Almost no wheat is added to the product during the fermentation process, which makes it the perfect sushi sauce for people who are gluten intolerant.
Most sushi restaurants may prefer to use tamari sauce over soy sauce or soy sauce mix in cooking their in-house recipes as well as serve it as a dipping sauce.
If you are on a celiac diet, then you can ask the chef to only serve you gluten-free tamari sauce and/or other food on the menu.
You’re certainly not going to make a sauce like this yourself because of the extensive fermentation process involved, but I’ve found this San-J tamari sauce on Amazon to be excellent and very tasty!
And of course, it’s gluten-free.
This is the black and sticky version of the soy sauce that’s used for glazing the fish on top of sushi.
Sometimes the sushi chef also uses it to drizzle over the California roll toppings in order to enhance its flavor. It possesses a strong flavor and has a thicker consistency, which makes it a good pair with a variety of dishes.
Sushi sauce Japanese Teriyaki
- 1 cup water
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 5 tsp packed brown sugar
- 1 tbsp honey or more to taste
- ½ tsp ground ginger
- ¼ tsp garlic powder
- 2 tbsp corn starch
- Get a saucepan and place it on top of a stove as you set the temperature to medium heat, then mix all the ingredients mentioned above, except for the cornstarch and cold water.
- Pour the cornstarch and 1/4 cup cold water in a separate bowl and whisk them together, then add this mixture to the other ingredients that you’ve placed in the saucepan earlier.
- Bring to boil and then simmer and adjust temperature and cook time to achieve desired consistency.
- Remember to add water if the sauce becomes too thick in order to soften it.
- Once you’re satisfied with the thickness consistency, then turn off the stove and transfer the sauce to a glass bottle and refrigerate.
Eel Sauce (Nitsume)
If your friends have been eating sushi for a while now and have fallen in love with the black sushi sauce, then surprise them by telling them you’ve made a homemade version of it!
The Japanese call it nitsume and it is often used to blast or drizzle on grilled eel and other fish toppings on sushi.
The eel sauce has a sweet and salty flavor that goes well with most sushi dishes.
If you want to make eel sauce at home, then you will need to prepare these ingredients:
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1/2 cup mirin (Japanese sweet wine)
- 1/2 cup white sugar
Get a saucepan and place it on the stove, mix all ingredients as you bring them to a boil and simmer until the liquid mixture is reduced to 3/4th from its original volume measured from the brim of the saucepan.
Once the sauce cools down, transfer it to a clean glass jar and refrigerate.
Much like the 2 previous sauces, this too is a tastier and thicker version of soy sauce which can also serve as a marinade or be drizzled over the fish toppings on your nigiri or uramaki rolls.
Its thick consistency and sweet taste enhance the flavor and texture of any dish that you’ll mix it with.
You can use this recipe to make Tonkatsu Sauce at home.
- 1/2 cup ketchup
- 1 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tbsp mirin (Japanese sweet wine)
- 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
- 1 clove garlic, minced
In a medium-size mixing bowl place all the ingredients and stir thoroughly until you’ve made a homogenous mix.
Let the mix sit for 30 minutes in the mixing bowl in order for the flavors to blend until you get the right taste of the Tonkatsu Sauce.
This tangy flavored soy-based sauce has quite a similar function as the other sushi sauces in this article and it is used as both a dipping sauce and/or a marinade for the seafood on the sushi to enhance their flavor.
Although it could not be verified historically, it is believed that ponzu sauce got its tangy flavor from adding fresh citrus (lemon or orange) juice, which was inspired by Holland traders in the 17th century.
Here are the ingredients to prepare Ponzu Sauce at home.
- 1/2 cup of low-sodium soy sauce
- 1/4 cup of fresh lemon or orange juice
- 1 tbsp mirin or rice wine
- 1 tbsp water
- 1/8 tsp red pepper (crushed)
Get a mixing bowl and mix all of the ingredients in it, then cover the mixing bowl with a lid and keep it at room temperature for 30 – 60 minutes.
After that transfer the sauce into a clean jar and refrigerate.
Nikiri Sauce (sweet soy sauce)
The nikiri soy-based sauce may not be everyone’s favorite sushi sauce, but it certainly deserves a mention here.
It is almost exclusively used for nigiri toppings and although made from soybeans, this sushi sauce has a rather light brown color and sweet taste.
And while the other sushi sauces have a thicker consistency, this one though has a thinner texture but offers a burst of rich umami flavor that is not found in any other sushi sauce.
Ingredients for the nikiri sauce:
- 1 cup of high-quality soy sauce
- 1 cup mirin
- 1/2 cup of homemade dashi (fish stock)
- 1 and 1/2 tablespoon sake
Get a small saucepan and place it on the stove, then set the temperature to low heat as you mix all the ingredients in it.
Allow the mixture to simmer until much of the liquid has evaporated (this should take about 15 – 20 minutes) and this will give you the perfect thickness syrup-like sauce.
Sushi Sauce is a Fairly New Addition to the Sushi Cuisine
If you went back to pre-Meiji Era Japan, then you will find sushi dull and unimpressive because it does not come with the famous sushi sauce that people are accustomed to today.
The fact of the matter is that sushi sauces are a modern addition and are now common on most rolls. However, it is widely known that sushi chefs have been using a specially-made glaze for their nigiri even before the Meiji Era.
In modern times it is a common practice for sushi chefs to drizzle a sushi roll with 1 or more specially-made sushi sauces. Most of the sauces they make are in house, custom-made, and are highly secretive sushi sauce recipes that they rarely share.
You may find sushi-grade sauces in some supermarkets, but they are not nearly as good as the homemade ones, or those made by sushi chefs for that matter.
A large number of these sauces are quite versatile and you can use them for different cuisines aside from sushi.
Here is a list of the various sushi sauces commonly found in sushi bars:
- Japanese Ginger Dressing – Commonly used in salads, but can also be used as a marinade for meat (here’s how to make ginger salad dressing)
- Spicy Mayo – The tried and true staple to most sushi bars in North America
- Eel Sauce – (Nitsume) -- Traditionally used by the Japanese to complement their unagi (eel sushi roll)
- Garlic Mayo – Was first made in the United States, which is a fusion sauce that is both sweet and savory
- Miso Mayo – A sushi sauce made from miso paste that has a savory flavor
- Goma Dare (Sesame Oil) – Made from sake, miso paste, ponzu sauce, sugar, mirin, sesame oil and a few other herbs and spices makes the goma dare a very delicious choice for most sushi rolls
- Ponzu – A lightly citrus-infused soy sauce that is a wonderful alternative to salads and sushi
- Nikiri (sweet soy sauce) – A specially made sweetened soy sauce that’s used for glazing the fish ingredient in the sushi
- Yum Yum Sauce (AKA White Sauce or Sakura Sauce) – This is the sauce that most Teppanyaki/Hibachi grills as well as Japanese Steakhouses that’s excellent to pair with grilled beef, pork, and seafood
Everybody’s Favorite Black Sushi Sauce
In case you’re not familiar with Japanese food, then we would like to extend our courtesy to you and tell you that we completely understand where you’re coming from, especially if you have little-to-no idea what that flavorful black sauce served with sushi is.
This black sushi sauce is crucial to making sushi taste great and without it, the sushi won’t be as satisfying.
The Japanese cuisine offers more variations of this black sushi sauce compared to any other food culture in the world.
So, what is the black sauce on sushi?
The black sushi sauce is within the gray area of the Japanese culinary arts (no pun intended) and there’s no way to tell which is which at first glance.
But you can guess which one it is when it is used to top sushi dishes, for instance, if it is drizzled on top of the sushi, then it might be teriyaki sauce and if the sauce has a thicker texture that’s almost similar to syrup, then it’s likely eel sauce (nitsume).
Sometimes the chef may also use tonkatsu sauce to drizzle those modern fusion sushi delicacies. Tonkatsu sauce has a tangy taste while Teriyaki sauce is traditionally made to be the sweeter variation of sushi sauces.
Teriyaki sauce is very useful, in fact, it is the chef’s favorite sauce for most dishes including dragon roll, caterpillar roll, tempura shrimp roll, unagi, and many others.
In other cases, the light black sauce used on sushi could be chirizu sauce, which enhances the flavor of seafood like aji, halibut, and other types of shellfish.
Ponzu sauce can also be used as a good alternative to sushi sauces due to its typical sweet taste and it also has a reddish-black color too!
You’d be surprised to know that all of these sauces that range from brown-black in color are all based on the age-old soy sauce, which varies only slightly in terms of flavor, taste, color, and texture.
If the sauce is served in a separate bowl as a dipping sauce, then there’s a high possibility that it could be plain soy sauce, tamari sauce, ponzu sauce or chirizu sauce.
The vinegared sushi rice, tuna fish, and soy sauce are the primary ingredients crucial to making a perfect sushi dish with a subtle flavor and aroma.
Soy sauce is made by soaking soybeans in water and roasting and crushing the wheat, then salt is added to the mix and is processed until it is refined and gets that black color liquid.
It was in ancient China where the original soya sauce or shoyu got its roots from and today we have 3 different types of soy sauce used for many dishes across the world.
The light soy sauce (first type of soy sauce) has a reddish-brown color and it is used for dressing, dips, and marinating ingredients.
The dark soy sauce (the second type of soy sauce), on the other hand, has a caramel color to it with a thicker texture that can stain other ingredients and has a slightly sweeter taste.
With a higher concentration of wheat, the thick soy sauce (the third type of soy sauce) has a thicker and almost viscous texture. It also has a sweet taste to it and chefs often use it as a dipping sauce.
Black Sauce Used on Sushi
The black sauce varieties that you commonly see in sushi restaurants today have been inspired by the Western California-style rolls as the traditional sushi dish in Japan did not have so many varieties back in the 15th century.
Before modern times, the brownish-black soy sauce was only served as a dipping sauce for sushi rolls, but today there are at least a dozen different kinds of sushi sauces that you can find in many sushi restaurants.
Do know that each and every sushi dish served at your table has already been glazed with the right amount of soy sauce on the fish part of nigiri or on the toppings or fillings by the chef, which gives the sushi a balanced flavor.
According to sushi etiquette, each sushi roll is considered to have a perfect balance of flavors created by the sushi chef and if you’ll add any more sushi sauce, it will ruin that balance, therefore, you should avoid doing this.
Sometimes sushi recipes that contain raw fish are marinated or grilled with soy sauce in order to enhance the flavors.
On the other hand, with uramaki (inside-out rolls), the traditional black sauce which comes in different variations is used for decorative purposes.
The chef may use teriyaki sauce, tamari sauce or plain dark soy-sauce to drizzle over the sushi toppings to enhance the aesthetic features of the sushi dish more than to make it taste great.
As the sushi evolves with more fusion recipes and contemporary ideas, you can find chefs using their own custom or secret soy-sauce recipe to differentiate from others.
In modern sushi cooking art, you will find that chefs have become accustomed to preparing sushi with one or more complementary sauces on their sushi rolls.