What Is Tobiko?

Lovers of sushi and Japanese delicacies have surely heard of tobiko. It’s an inevitable ingredient in many sushi rolls and dishes, and it’s of a bright orange color that gives Japanese food its appeal. However, what is tobiko exactly, and what does it taste like? Learn more about it here.

Tobiko is a type of fish roe, specifically Japanese flying fish roe. Roe is fish eggs, so tobiko is a type of caviar, but it’s widely available and used for many Japanese recipes. Tobiko eggs are tiny, round blobs and are naturally bright orange. They have a smoky and salty taste.

If you’re curious to learn more about tobiko, its origin, and taste, this is the right place for that. You may be inspired to get some sushi later or make your own with some included recipes.

What Is Tobiko and What Does It Taste Like?

People often ask is tobiko a fish egg, and the answer is yes. Tobiko is very much like caviar, but it has a slightly different taste; it’s extracted from fish, specifically the Japanese flying fish, making it distinctly Japanese caviar, alongside masago and ikura.

Its natural color is a bright red-orange shade, but its shades are sometimes changed with other natural ingredients. Squid ink is added to get black tobiko, yuzu is added to make it yellow, and wasabi is added to give it a green shade. Sometimes all these variants are served in one dish.

In the US, the most frequent use for tobiko is in California rolls, and when you walk into a Japanese restaurant and ask for them, you’ll see them coated in tiny orange pearls, which are tobiko.

Does Tobiko Taste Like Fish and Are Tobiko Eggs Tasty?

You’ve probably seen tobiko on sushi and other Japanese dishes, but if you’ve never eaten it, you must be wondering what it tastes like. Surprisingly or not, fish eggs don’t taste like fish so much. Tobiko, specifically, has a smoky and salty taste, giving other ingredients in the dish a savory flavor.

Tobiko gives sushi a crunchy texture without being too heavy or chewy. The feeling of eating it could be similar to popping tiny, tasty beads, and combined with delicious rice and fresh fish, the taste is elevated to another level.

What Is the Nutritional Value of Tobiko?

The table below shows the nutritional values of tobiko per tablespoon (15g). You’ll see that it’s slightly higher in cholesterol, which would make it worse for people with this health issue.

Overall, it’s rich in protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which are the best component for proper brain functioning, lowering risks of heart disease, and fighting autoimmune diseases.

Nutrition per 15gAmountPercentage of recommended daily intake
Calories 201,800 – 2,500

Fridge or Freezer – What’s the Best Way to Store Tobiko?

This is the biggest dilemma anyone has with fresh, raw ingredients. Fish roe is no exception to that, but you’ll be happy to know that the storing methods aren’t too complicated.

When you first buy it, you can store it in the refrigerator unopened for up to 20 days. If you keep it in an airtight container that’s been opened, it’d be best to use up the remaining fish roe in the next 3 to 4 days.

If you decide to store your tobiko in the freezer, you can keep it there for as long as three months. Whenever you want to eat some, take a scoop of however much you need and let it thaw after placing the container back into the freezer immediately.

Don’t thaw the entire container and pop it back into the freezer when you take the desired amount since this will decrease the roe’s shelf life and quality.

What Is the Difference Between Tobiko and Caviar?

While tobiko and caviar are both types of fish eggs, they’re nothing alike. Firstly, they’re not from the same kind of fish. As already mentioned, tobiko comes from Japanese flying fish, but caviar is extracted from the sturgeon fish family, such as Beluga, Kaluga, and Sevruga.

Caviar is a more exclusive and expensive ingredient because the sturgeon family of fish is hard to come across. Sometimes, it can take up to ten years to collect caviar from a sturgeon female. Japanese flying fish are smaller and easier to extract roe from.

However, the curing and storing methods of tobiko and caviar are not so different. They’re both cured in salt, and this process gives them distinct flavors. It creates a sweet and salty taste for caviar, while it makes tobiko taste smoky. Fish roe should be stored in tightly-sealed containers, in temperatures just above freezing, to stay fresh.

Also, unlike caviar, tobiko isn’t exciting to be eaten alone. While caviar provides a mouthful of flavors the moment you take a scoop, tobiko can be underwhelming despite having a generally pleasant taste. So, tobiko is better together with other ingredients, which is why it’s mainly used as topping on sushi rolls.

Next to Tobiko, There’s Masago and Ikura – Roe Taken From Flying Fish

Extracting eggs from flying fish species doesn’t only yield orange roe called tobiko. There’s also masago and ikura. The differences between the three of them are pretty significant, and anyone familiar with fish roe will be able to tell the difference.

The biggest difference between ikura and the other two fish roe types is that ikura can be cured in a soy sauce base instead of salt. That’s why it has a slightly sweeter taste and provides a different eating experience at every meal.

Masago Eggs Are Smaller Than Tobiko, and Ikura Is From Salmon

Masago is the name of the roe extracted from the capelin fish, which is the cousin of the Japanese flying fish. They’re even smaller eggs than tobiko, which is pretty tiny (tobiko eggs average between 0.5mm and 0.8mm). The color may fool you, but the size won’t.

The taste and texture of masago may be closer to grainy, bitter bites, but it all depends on your tastes and preferences. If you don’t like the crunchiness and pop of tobiko, masago will likely be a great choice for you.

Ikura is the Japanese name for salmon eggs. Japanese cuisine is well known for serving raw salmon fillets and bites, whether sashimi or nigiri, but they also use salmon eggs as garnish and add them to meals such as sushi and even salads.

Salmon eggs are larger and sweeter than tobiko and masago. Every egg may contain different flavors, some stronger and some milder, which is why enjoying a spoonful of ikura could be as exciting as having Beluga caviar.

Tobiko Is Mostly Used In Making Sushi Rolls and Dishes

As mentioned before, tobiko is rarely eaten alone. It wouldn’t be a mistake to take a scoop of it and chew, but the chances are that you won’t taste much of anything in that bite

Tobiko generally elevates and improves meals by being added as one of the ingredients. This is why you’ll see it on sushi rolls most of the time. You can add it to salads and other cooked meals, since it’s not much different than sesame, for example, as an addition to a meal. 

You’re likely to find boxes or packages of tobiko in some better-equipped supermarkets or online. Many shops that specialize in handling seafood and specialties such as fish roe also ship packages of tobiko for home use.

Try These Simple Recipes That Use Japanese Flying Fish Roe

Making sushi at home may seem like a feat, but it’s not that complicated. All you need is patience and the right ingredients. If you’re not feeling up to the challenge of making sushi by yourself, you can still make other meals and utilize tobiko in them.

Anything from omelets to pastas and salads are great to add tobiko to, since it elevates the taste of your meals and is very healthy. Even chefs in restaurants use it in various ways, most often as an edible and attractive garnish.

A Simple Tobiko Sushi to Make at Home

To make sushi at home, you’ll need the following ingredients:

  • 12 slices of smoked salmon,
  • Sushi rice or Japanese sticky rice,
  • 8 pieces of snow crab or crab sticks,
  • 1 avocado,
  • Mayonnaise,
  • 1 tablespoon of tobiko,
  • 4 sheets of nori seaweed.

Firstly, cook the rice in some water. The instructions on cooking Japanese sticky rice are typically featured on the packaging, but the optimal cooking time would be between 20 and 30 minutes.

Cut the avocado, crab, and salmon vertically into strips. Use a sushi rolling mat or plastic foil and place cooked rice horizontally along the length. Add nori seaweed on top, and then the rest of the ingredients (avocado, crab, and salmon).

Place these ingredients slightly off-center so you can roll it better. Start rolling up and be careful not to lose any of the meat and avocado from the middle. When you’re finished rolling, spread tobiko all over the plastic foil and roll everything again. The tobiko will stick to the rice and stay on the outside.

Cut into small pieces and eat together with some soy sauce, mayonnaise, or wasabi. The filling could be anything you like, but the listed ingredients are most often used in sushi rolls. The sushi rolls presented in this recipe are also known as California rolls.

You Can Try an Easy Tobiko Salmon Mayo Rice Recipe

The salmon mayo rice dish is a very easy but very delicious meal to make. When you crave some Japanese flavors and ingredients but don’t want to invest your time in rolling up sushi, try this plated version. 

The best part is that the only cooking involved is when you prepare rice. The ingredients you’ll need are:

  • Strips of nori seaweed,
  • Sticky or regular rice,
  • Salt, 
  • Mayonnaise,
  • Sriracha,
  • Tobiko,
  • Smoked salmon strips,
  • Pepper.

Cook the rice first, then add nori seaweed to a bag and crush it with your hands. You can also do this without a bag if you don’t mind getting your hands dirty. Mix the cooked rice with crushed nori until they’re seemingly blended together. Add salt to taste.

To make the topping sauce, mix mayonnaise, sriracha, and tobiko in a separate bowl and mix until you get a pink-orange-colored sauce. Don’t use all the tobiko, as you can use it later for garnish.

Put some of the nori rice on a plate, garnish it with a few salmon strips and pour sauce over it. If you have a broiler torch, use it to caramelize the surface; if you don’t, pop the plate in the oven for several minutes until the top is caramelized. In this case, use containers that can be placed in the oven.

Garnish on top with some more tobiko and nori seaweed. You can even use spring onions if you like the taste. It’s a very typical garnish in Japanese meals.

You can put all the ingredients in a pan and prepare everything together so you and your loved ones can all enjoy it together. If you’re not into spicy foods, omit the sriracha from the sauce, and if you’re not a fan of smoked salmon, you can bake it before plating it on top of the nori rice.

The recipe can be changed and adapted to your taste, so don’t worry if there’s something you don’t like here. It’s a simple dish with cooked rice, salmon, and some delicious, smoky, and salty fish roe.

Elevate Your Omelet With Some Tasty, Smokey Fish Roe

You can spruce up your dull egg breakfast by adding vegetables and tobiko to it. Making an omelet from chicken eggs and seasoning with fish eggs may seem a little bit funny, but remember that tobiko has a smoky flavor, while eggs don’t provide flavor almost at all.

This is how you’ll get simple ingredient combinations that make for a delicious and enjoyable meal. Not to mention that you’ll have a protein boost from the early morning since both tobiko and chicken eggs are full of it. Eating an energetic breakfast like this one will make your day a whole lot better.

Here’s what you’ll need for your tobiko omelet (note that this recipe yields four servings, but you can adapt it for as many people as necessary): 

  • 5 large eggs, beaten,
  • 3/4 teaspoon of oyster sauce,
  • 1/2 teaspoon of sesame oil,
  • Salt,
  • Pepper,
  • 1 small onion, diced or cut into circles,
  • 5 tablespoons of tobiko,
  • 1 scallion or green onion, cut into small pieces.

Beat the eggs lightly first, add oyster sauce, sesame oil, salt, and pepper, and continue to beat the mixture until the oyster sauce is completely dissolved. Heat a pan or a wok and add some oil to it.

Before pouring the egg mixture into the pan, sear the onion until slightly golden. Add the egg and let it cook for a few seconds before stirring. Before you’re ready to take the egg out of the pan, add the tobiko and the scallion. 

Mix until the eggs look fully cooked, pour it all out, and serve onto a plate. While it may not seem like it, this dish only contains 161 calories per serving. If that’s something you’re worried about and pay attention to, you’ll be happy with this outcome.

If you don’t have or don’t like oyster sauce, try hoisin sauce. This is an Asian barbecue sauce made from fermented soybean paste. It’s typically used as a cooking sauce and sometimes as a dipping option, too.

Finally, soy sauce is an excellent alternative to these two options, so make the meal up to your liking. You can also cut and slice the onions to your preference or omit them completely. However, scallions give this dish a wonderful taste, so it’s better if you have this option at least.

The tobiko won’t be fully cooked when you serve your omelet, which is a good thing. This brightly-colored fish roe is typically eaten raw, but the most exciting part of it is the feeling of popping it in your mouth.

Tobiko Is a Delicious Addition to Meals and Fine Dining

Whether you put tobiko on top of your omelet or decide to elevate sushi with it, it’s an excellent and delicious addition to any meal. It’s also great to know that it’s rich in well-needed nutrients, such as protein and omega-3 fatty acids. 

If you prepare a meal that isn’t too nutritious, it’s not promised that adding tobiko will help save its nutritional value, but it will indeed contribute with the qualities it does possess. There’s truly nothing bad to say about tobiko – if you’re into seafood and exotic, sweet-salty flavor combinations, this is the ingredient for you.