Types of Sushi – Nigiri, Sashimi, Maki, and More

Once too exotic for Western palettes, sushi is now a welcome staple across America. However, not all seafood enthusiasts are familiar with the types of sushi and their components.

Whether you’re new to sushi or have had your fair share, knowing the different types can enhance your dining experience. This guide will tell you what sushi is, its variations, and how to eat it.

What is Sushi?

Sushi is a traditional Japanese dish with vinegared rice and various ingredients, including seafood, vegetables, and occasionally tropical fruits. It's renowned for its meticulous presentation and balanced flavors.

Sushi comes in several forms, including Nigiri (hand-pressed rice topped with ingredients), Maki (rolled in seaweed), and Sashimi (sliced raw fish), each offering a unique culinary experience that showcases the artistry and craftsmanship behind this beloved cuisine.

Types of Sushi

There are several types of sushi, each with its unique preparation and presentation:

  • Nigiri: Hand-pressed mounds of vinegared rice topped with various ingredients, commonly seafood like raw fish (sashimi), shrimp, or octopus. Wasabi is often placed between the rice and topping.
  • Maki: Sushi rolls made by wrapping vinegared rice, fish, and vegetables in seaweed (nori), then sliced into bite-sized pieces. Popular variations include the California roll and the spicy tuna roll.
  • Sashimi: Sliced raw fish or seafood served without rice. Sashimi highlights freshness and quality, often accompanied by soy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger.
  • Uramaki: A maki sushi with rice on the outside and seaweed wrapped around the fillings. Uramaki allows for creative combinations and often has a sesame seed or fish roe coating.
  • Temaki: A cone-shaped sushi roll that's hand-rolled and easy to eat with your hands. It typically contains various ingredients like seafood, rice, and vegetables.
  • Chirashi: A bowl of vinegared rice topped with various ingredients like sashimi, vegetables, and sometimes egg. It's often served at celebrations and special occasions.
  • Inari: Sushi made by filling seasoned, sweet tofu pockets (aburaage) with vinegared rice. It's simple yet flavorful and has cultural and symbolic significance.
  • Oshi: Sushi made by pressing layers of rice and ingredients into a wooden mold (oshizushihako) to create a compact and visually appealing block.
  • Narezushi: An early form of fermented sushi containing preserved fish and rice. It has evolved into modern sushi styles.

Each type of sushi offers a distinct culinary experience, reflecting the creativity, skill, and regional influences that contribute to the rich world of sushi.

Types of Fish in Sushi

Sushi features various fish, each offering distinct flavors and textures. Here are some common types of fish used in sushi:

  • Maguro (Tuna): A popular choice, often served as lean red meat (akami) or fatty belly (otoro and chutoro) cuts. Tuna has a rich flavor and buttery texture.
  • Sake (Salmon): Known for its vibrant orange color and mild, buttery taste. Sushi lovers can enjoy salmon raw or lightly seared (aburi).
  • Hamachi (Yellowtail): Has a clean, slightly sweet flavor and firm texture. You’ll often see it in Nigiri sushi and sashimi.
  • Ebi (Shrimp): Cooked shrimp with a delicate sweetness, often served as Nigiri or in Ebi Nigiri (shrimp Nigiri).
  • Saba (Mackerel): Has a distinct flavor and is usually marinated or cured before being served as sushi to balance its strong taste.
  • Uni (Sea Urchin): A delicacy known for its rich, custard-like texture and unique briny taste. It's either loved or an acquired taste.
  • Ikura (Salmon Roe): Large, bright orange salmon eggs bursting with a salty and oceanic flavor.
  • Tobiko (Flying Fish Roe): Small, crunchy eggs with vibrant colors, often used as a topping to add a pop of texture and flavor.
  • Hirame (Flounder): A flatfish with a delicate, subtly sweet flavor and tender texture.
  • Hotate (Scallop): Sweet and tender, sometimes served raw or lightly seared, offering a unique texture.
  • Ika (Squid): Has a chewy texture and mild flavor. It's often sliced thin and served as Nigiri or Sashimi.
  • Kani (Crab): Sweet and delicate crab meat, often used in rolls or Nigiri sushi.
  • Anago (Sea Eel): Cooked eel with a rich flavor, usually brushed with a sweet soy-based sauce before being served.
  • Unagi (Freshwater Eel): Grilled freshwater eel glazed with a sweet soy-based sauce, offering a smoky and savory taste.
  • Amaebi (Sweet Shrimp): Raw or lightly cooked shrimp with a subtle sweetness, often served as Nigiri with the shrimp head as a garnish.

These are just a few examples of sushi's many fish and seafood options. Choices can vary based on availability, region, and personal preferences. High-quality sushi restaurants often offer a rotating selection of seasonal and specialty fish to explore.

Sushi Etiquette and Dining

Sushi etiquette and dining practices are integral to enjoying this Japanese cuisine. Here are some key points to consider:

  • Chopstick usage: If you're comfortable using chopsticks, they're typically the best utensils for eating sushi. However, using your hands is perfectly acceptable if you're not confident with chopsticks.
  • Soy sauce: Dip Nigiri sushi's fish side (not the rice) into soy sauce. Avoid soaking the rice for Maki rolls, as it can cause the sushi to fall apart.
  • Wasabi: If the sushi chef has already applied wasabi between the rice and fish, adding extra wasabi is unnecessary. If you want to use wasabi, apply a small amount directly to the fish, not the soy sauce.
  • Pickled ginger: Pickled ginger cleanses your palate between different types of sushi. Take a small amount and consume it separately rather than placing it on the sushi.
  • Ginger and soy separation: Don't mix the wasabi, soy sauce, and pickled ginger. Each has its purpose and should be used separately.
  • Sushi order: Start with lighter flavors and progress to stronger ones. Start with white fish before moving on to fattier ones.
  • One bite rule: Sushi should be consumed in one bite, ensuring you experience the combination of flavors and textures as the chef intended.
  • Engaging with the chef: If you're sitting at the sushi bar, it's courteous to interact with the chef. You can ask questions about the fish, make special requests, and show appreciation for their craftsmanship.
  • Quiet enjoyment: While you can converse with your dining companions, take moments to appreciate each sushi piece's flavors and presentation.
  • Plate arrangement: After finishing a piece of sushi, you can place the empty plate to the side, keeping the table tidy.

Remember that while these guidelines can enhance your sushi dining experience, the most important thing is to enjoy the flavors and appreciate the skill and tradition behind each piece of sushi.

If you plan to enjoy take-out sushi, consume it immediately, as sushi doesn’t keep well. Learn more about storing fish in the fridge in our comprehensive guide.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does "sushi-grade" fish mean?

"Sushi-grade" fish refers to seafood that meets specific quality and safety standards suitable for raw consumption in sushi and sashimi. These standards include freshness, texture, taste, and safe handling practices. Sushi-grade fish is usually flash-frozen to a specific temperature to kill parasites, ensuring it is safe to eat raw while maintaining its flavor and texture.

What is the difference between Nigiri and Sashimi?

Nigiri consists of hand-pressed vinegared rice topped with slices of raw fish or other ingredients. Sashimi, on the other hand, is thinly sliced raw fish or seafood served without rice. While Nigiri combines rice and fish, sashimi focuses solely on showcasing the freshness and flavor of the raw seafood.

What is the difference between Maki and Uramaki sushi?

Maki sushi is a roll containing vinegared rice, fish, and other ingredients wrapped in a seaweed (nori) sheet and cut into bite-sized pieces. Uramaki sushi, also known as inside-out roll, is a type of maki sushi where the rice is on the outside, and the seaweed wraps around the fillings. Uramaki often includes a variety of ingredients and may have the outer rice layer coated with sesame seeds or fish roe.

Are there any vegetarian or vegan sushi options available?

Vegetable rolls (called "vegetable maki") contain cucumber, avocado, carrot, and bell peppers. In addition, creative rolls may feature ingredients like tofu, sweet potato tempura, and pickled radish, providing various flavorful options for those following a vegetarian or vegan diet.


Sushi is no longer as exotic as it used to be. In fact, you’ll likely be hard-pressed to find a corner in your city without a sushi restaurant!

Now that you’re familiar with the different types of sushi, you can enjoy a more purposeful dining experience at your favorite go-to seafood spot.

  • +

    Get fresh, sushi-grade Alaskan salmon delivered to your door.

    Alaskan Salmon Company Shop Salmon