Exploring the Diversity of Sushi: 6 Must-Try Types of Sushi

If you didn’t know it, sushi is vinegared rice. And six different kinds of sushi have come down to us from that vinegared rice. Now you may think that six doesn’t seem like a lot of variety, but within those six categories lie over one hundred different variations and examples of sushi. That is a lot of sushi…

The variety can still be staggering even if you stick to just the sushi rolls and hand-pressed styles that everyone seems familiar with. So to help make sense of it all, if your sushi experience is limited to Californian rolls, grilled salmon, and avocado, please read on. You may be pleasantly surprised.
As mentioned, you can group sushi dishes under six main broad categories:

1. Rolled sushi (maki zushi)

2. Hand-pressed sushi (nigiri zushi)

3. Scattered sushi (chirashi zushi)

4. Fried tofu pocket sushi (inari zushi)

5. Pressed sushi (oshi zushi)

6. Fermented sushi (nare zushi)

Fortunately, a lot is happening within the categories, so let’s look at some of the sushi you’ll find in each one. Feel free to stop and have a sushi break at any time…

1. Rolled sushi (maki zushi)

6 Types of Sushi Rolled sushi (maki zushi)

With rice and filling wrapped in seaweed, the simple approach of rolled sushi can be exquisite. These rolls can be thin (hosomaki) or thick (futomaki).
Thin rolls tend to have only one filling, for example, tuna, tuna & mayonnaise, cucumber, gourd (kanpyo), or carrot. The most famous of the thin rolls are raw tuna (tekka maki), cucumber (kappa maki), fermented soybean (natto), and scallion & minced fatty tuna (negitoro maki).

Thick rolls usually have up to seven fillings depending on the area, their traditions, or the chef’s imagination. Various combinations of egg, gourd, tuna, salmon, and eel are prevalent.

But to turn things inside out, rolled sushi can also be uramaki with rice on the outside and seaweed on the inside wrapping the filling.

Some uramaki don’t even have seaweed. The fillings again depend on your imagination, but common ones include crab meat, tuna, cucumber, salmon, eel, egg, or some combination. Fish roe and sesame seeds are often used to decorate such sushi.

Temaki is another kind of rolled sushi rolled into a cone shape. The most common filling I have experienced is raw tuna with a kind of salad, often lettuce and mayonnaise but certainly not limited to that. Again, there will often be a sprinkle of salmon roe which merely adds to the variety possible.

2. Hand-pressed sushi (nigiri zushi)

6 Types of Sushi Hand-pressed sushi (nigiri zushi)

The variety of hand-pressed sushi is staggering. From the famous tuna – of which there are not only wide varieties of tuna but also a myriad of different cuts from each variety – to obscure toppings such as prosciutto and SPAM, a person could spend every day of their life enjoying the variety – and the chefs’ versions of those varieties – of toppings.

Nigirizushi types can be roughly broken down into five kinds, these being red flesh (akami), white flesh (shiromi), shiny skin (hikari mono), simmered (nimono), and warship rolls (gunkan maki).

Red flesh sushi (akami) includes tuna (maguro), marlin (kajiki), skipjack tuna (katsuo), Spanish mackerel (sawara), trout (masu), and Pacific herring (nishin). Tuna, the most famous of the red-fleshed sushi, if not the most famous of all sushi, comes in lean cuts (akami) which can be vinegared as in zuke maguro, fatty cuts (chutoro) and extra fatty cuts (otoro).

And besides these, there are even more exotic cuts from various parts of the tuna cheek and face, each with its flavours and textures. I discovered at least ten cuts from a single bluefin tuna fish on my last count. That’s ten different sushi from a single tuna. Imagine the other species!

White fleshed (shiromi) toppings are fast becoming my favourite. At first, I found them boring as they seemed to lack the strong flavours of the red fleshed or shiny skinned toppings. How wrong I was. With their subtle flavours, I found that toppings like black sea bream (kurodai), amber jack (kanpachi), flounder (hirame), see bass (suzuki), yellowtail (buri), yellow jack (hiramasa) and snapper (tai) all revealed rich depths that slowly grew on me.

Chefs will often ad little twists to each topping like a few grains of sea salt, or some ponzu, a citrus-based sauce that is quite refreshing.

Shiny skin sushi (hikari mono) is a staple source of flavour. Sardine (iwashi), gizzard shad (kohada), marinated mackerel (shime saba), horse mackerel (aji), halfbeak (sayori), young sea bream (kasugo)… oh how I love their sea flavour and the taste of the ocean.

Again, as with white-fleshed sushi, chefs create diversity by adding a garnish such as a scallion.

Nimono sushi refers to sushi toppings that have been cooked by simmering in a seasoned broth. The most common toppings I have come across are eel (unagi), mantis shrimp (shako), octopus (taco), squid (ika), abalone (awabi) and various clams. When prepared well, this kind of sushi topping has a deceptively deep yet delicate flavour.

Now, warship rolls (gunkan maki)are a bit of mix between pressed and rolled sushi. A hand-pressed size of sushi rice is then wrapped with a sheet of seaweed and the open top is filled with a topping.

This topping is often some kind of fish roe like salmon (ikura) but also flying fish (tobiko) or the ever exotic but intensely beautiful sea urchin (uni). Rest assured, heaven awaits you if you get the right quality of sea urchin.

Warship rolls also feature fatty tuna paste (negitoro), crab brain (kani miso – delicious) or yes, even corn & mayonnaise. Cucumber is an everyday dressing with warship rolls.

I should add the ubiquitous rice ball (onigiri) that are found everywhere and filled with such a range of staples from pickled plum (umeboshi) and salted salmon (shiozake), to salted cod roe (tarako) and kelp (kombu) are not sushi. However, if you prepare the rice with vinegar, you’ve created another kind of sushi…

3. Scattered sushi (chirashi zushi)

6 Types of Sushi Scattered sushi (chirashi zushi)

Chirashizushi is a bed of sushi rice in a bowl topped with seafood toppings and garnishes. It is probably the most flexible of sushi dishes, as you can serve leftovers or cut-offs elegantly and tastefully.

Edomae chirashizushi is Edo-style scattered sushi served with artistically arranged raw ingredients. Variations include single toppings of, for example, only eel, tuna, or salmon roe.

Gomokuzushi is from the Kansai region of Japan (western Japan) where the ingredients, raw or cooked, are mixed into the rice body. Another kind is from the island of Kyushu and is called sakezushi where the rice is prepared without vinegar; only rice wine is used. It is usually topped with shrimp, seabream, octopus, shiitake mushroom, bamboo shoots, and omelette.

4. Fried tofu pocket sushi (inari zushi)

6 Types of Sushi Fried tofu pocket sushi (inari zushi)

A pouch of fried tofu filled with sushi rice seems innocuous at first, but the sweet flavour makes for somewhat of a pleasant change from other kinds of sushi. Instead of tofu, you’ll sometimes find that the pouches are made from a thin omelette (fukuazushi or chakinzushi) and look like little bags of rice.

In my wife’s hometown of Matsumoto, they will smear mustard on the inside of the pouch, giving an added hit of flavour. You can also find other added fillings, including sliced carrots, shiitake mushrooms, diced octopus, and much more.

5. Pressed sushi (oshi zushi)

6 Types of Sushi Pressed sushi (oshi zushi)

This kind of sushi is also known as boxed sushi (hakozushi) and is a specialty of Osaka in western Japan.

The sushi rice is placed into a special box with ingredients like mackerel (saba), snapper (tai), egg omelette (yakitamago) shrimp (ebi) or conger eel (anago) and then pressed into little blocks of tastiness. Sometimes another filling layer adds further variety to this elegant kind of sushi.

6. Fermented sushi (nare zushi)

6 Types of Sushi Fermented sushi (nare zushi)

The precursor of modern sushi is a kind of sushi that is fermented for an extended period (traditionally for about six months). The rice was used to preserve the fish for later eating, and the rice was thrown out.

These days the rice is kept, and a very, well…interesting kind of sushi is offered. Funazushi is the modern variety, and the fish used is nigorobuna, a kind of wild goldfish native to Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture recently though Crucian carp has come into its own as an acceptable substitute.

So there you have it, with all of the variations on offer, around one hundred kinds of sushi. And then some. And yes, as the popularity of sushi continues to grow, so will the number of sushi variations.
As they say in Japan, itadakimasu! Let’s eat!


I am writing articles with the intention of conveying the idea of "Good old Japan" from the perspective of Japanese people.

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