What Is Tobiko? (And Tobiko Sushi) – Complete Guide

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If you’re a fan of Japanese cuisine, chances are that you’ve heard of tobiko. Best recognized for its use in garnishing several types of Japanese sushi, tobiko is growing in popularity worldwide.

So, what is tobiko? The word “tobiko” comes from the Japanese term for flying fish roe (fish eggs). Bigger than masago (fish roe) and smaller than ikura (salmon roe), tobiko has a mild smoky and salty flavor and is enjoyed with sushi and a variety of other dishes.

Read on for a complete guide on tobiko, what it is, what it tastes like, how it is eaten in sushi, how it is different from caviar, and much more:

What Is Tobiko?

Tobiko is a type of fish roe that is harvested from Japanese flying fish. Several varieties of flying fish found in the Northern Atlantic and certain regions of the West Indies yield good quality tobiko.

Producing tobiko is similar to producing other types of fish roe, where the unfertilized eggs are harvested from the female fish, the impurities are removed, and the eggs are salt-cured to give them a nice, smoky flavor and crunchy texture while preserving them to last longer.

The eggs usually have a diameter of 1-millimeter or less and if you eat one at a time, you won’t really be able to register their taste or texture.

For this reason, tobiko is normally eaten in large quantities, with dozens of eggs enjoyed in a single bite.

Other than the most common bright red-orange, you will also come across tobiko in a wide range of colors, from wasabi-tinted green to squid-ink black tobiko.

Red and orange are tobiko’s natural colors; therefore, if you come across different colored varieties, they might have unexpected flavors and spice levels.

Often used as a garnish for sushi rolls (like our delicious Boston sushi roll recipe), tobiko may also be consumed with only sushi rice and nori, eaten on crackers, or mixed into omelets or salads.

Its popping sensation in the mouth when bitten into is one of its highlighting features, along with its bright red hue in contrast to its mildly sweet and salty flavor.

Is Tobiko Nutritious?

Tobiko is rich in proteins, omega-3 fatty acids, and other nutrients such as vitamin B12, vitamin D, iron, magnesium, and selenium.

Like salmon eggs, it is also high in phospholipid fats that help reduce inflammation, improve learning abilities, and protect the heart and liver.

Particularly beneficial if you are suffering from rheumatoid arthritis or other similar conditions, tobiko has great anti-inflammatory properties and may offer some relief in this regard.

The omega-3 fatty acids found in tobiko may also help reduce symptoms of arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and other similar health conditions.

The only drawback of tobiko is that it is very high in cholesterol and, therefore, is not recommended for regular use. Consumed in moderation, it shouldn’t pose a health problem as the portion size is already very small.

What Does Tobiko Taste Like?

Compared to other types of fish roe, tobiko tastes a bit sweeter and is mildly salty and smoky. The only time it tastes different is when it has been flavored or mixed with other ingredients.

Along with a great flavor, tobiko also boasts a slightly crunchy texture that pairs wonderfully well with sushi, pasta, dips, and salads. It is also a great way to add color to your otherwise dull-looking dishes.

Types Of Tobiko

There are several varieties of tobiko available in the market, though only a few are more common.

A great quality of tobiko is that it absorbs color really well, which is why many chefs use it to create dishes with a unique presentation.

Red, black, and green tobiko are three of the most common tobiko colors you’ll come across. Here’s what you should know about them:

Red Tobiko

Red tobiko is not modified in any way and is the most common type of tobiko you’ll see in stores.

It is small, has a slightly salty flavor, and solid red-orange color. Its vibrant color might make you think that it has been artificially colored.

For a darker shade, some chefs may dye their tobiko with beetroot juice to give it a rich magenta color to make it pop!

Black Tobiko

Black tobiko is a bit different from the other types as it is colored with squid ink and takes on its flavor along with other incredible flavors.

Perfect for when you want to add a bit of darker colors to your plate, black tobiko helps create a sleek and simple presentation.

Green Tobiko

Commonly made by mixing wasabi with fish roe, green tobiko has a different flavor and adds a spicy kick to the dishes it is added to.

You will come across two different types of green tobiko; a vivid green one and a muted green variety. Both are flavored with wasabi but the latter is usually more natural.

What Is Tobiko In Sushi?

Tobiko is a popular topping for sushi used to make the dish more delicious and appealing. Its color adds a bit of vibrancy to the sushi and its popping texture makes the experience of eating it more fun.

To make tobiko sushi, you will need the following ingredients:

  • Sushi rice (Japanese short-grain rice, seasoned rice vinegar, water, salt)
  • Tobiko
  • Cucumber
  • Boiled shrimp, salmon, tuna, or crab
  • Seaweed nori sheets
  • Avocados

Here are step-by-step instructions for you to follow:

  • Cook the sushi rice in a rice cooker.
  • Once the rice is cooked, transfer it to a large bowl and allow it to cool a bit.
  • Take the nori sheet, cut it in half, and place it half on top of a bamboo mat.
  • Spread ¾ of the cooked sushi rice on the nori.
  • Flip it so that the rice points downwards.
  • Place the cucumber, shrimp, and avocado on the nori.
  • Place your thumb under the bamboo mat to raise the edge and cover the filling.
  • Roll the bamboo mat in the opposite direction from you, using light pressure to tighten the mat, and continue rolling it.
  • Remove the bamboo mat and spread the tobiko over the roll.
  • Wrap the sushi with some plastic and cover it with the mat.
  • Gently press down the roll to spread the tobiko.
  • Take off the mat, keeping the plastic intact.
  • Cut the sushi roll into bite-sized pieces.
  • Take off the plastic and serve.
Tobiko Sushi

Tobiko Sushi

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes

An easy beginner's recipe for delicious tobiko sushi!


  • Sushi rice (Japanese short-grain rice, seasoned rice vinegar, water, salt)
  • Tobiko
  • Cucumber
  • Boiled shrimp, salmon, tuna, or crab
  • Seaweed nori sheets
  • Avocados


  1. Cook the sushi rice in a rice cooker.
  2. Once the rice is cooked, transfer it to a large bowl and allow it to cool a bit.
  3. Take the nori sheet, cut it in half, and place it half on top of a bamboo mat.
  4. Spread ¾ of the cooked sushi rice on the nori.
  5. Flip it so that the rice points downwards.
  6. Place the cucumber, shrimp, and avocado on the nori.
  7. Place your thumb under the bamboo mat to raise the edge and cover the filling.
  8. Roll the bamboo mat in the opposite direction from you, using light pressure to tighten the mat, and continue rolling it.
  9. Remove the bamboo mat and spread the tobiko over the roll.
  10. Wrap the sushi with some plastic and cover it with the mat.
  11. Gently press down the roll to spread the tobiko.
  12. Take off the mat, keeping the plastic intact.
  13. Cut the sushi roll into bite-sized pieces.
  14. Take off the plastic and serve.

Other Types Of Fish Roe Used In Sushi

Fish eggs are an integral part of Japanese cuisine, often appearing as a garnish on top of raw dishes such as sushi and sashimi.

Tobiko is not the only fish roe used in sushi, though. There are several types of fish roe common in Japanese cuisine that come from different fish, prawns, and sea urchins. They include:


Ikura, also called red caviar, is the Japanese term for salmon roe (eggs). It is larger than tobiko and has a soft texture and briny flavor with mild fishiness and lots of umami.

Similar to tobiko, ikura also has an audible pop when you bite into it. Sourced in the late summer and fall, ikura is usually brined in salt or soy sauce before being frozen at very cold temperatures to preserve it for longer.


Ebiko is the Japanese term for shrimp or prawn eggs. It has a dull orange or red color and is often dyed with food coloring to make it look brighter.

Most frequently used with sushi rolls, ebiko is less expensive than tobiko and a good option if you are looking for fish eggs on a budget.


Another less expensive option than tobiko, masago is the roe of Capelin fish, which belong to the smelt family, and is usually used in place of tobiko around sushi wraps.

Often confused with tobiko, it has a less crunchy texture and is smaller in size than tobiko. Masago has a dull yellow color and is often dyed with different colors. 

Uses Of Tobiko

Tobiko is most commonly used as a garnish for raw Japanese dishes such as sushi and sashimi as it adds a nice salty smokiness to them.

It plays a monumental role in making sushi due to its definitive texture and colors. The crunch you feel when you bite into tobiko is unparalleled, especially in contrast to the smooth and creamy texture of nigiri or maki. 

Is anyone craving tobiko sushi here, or is it just us?

In terms of its flavor, tobiko offers a distinctive smokiness that works wonderfully with raw fish, sushi rice, vegetables, and nori. It also features a delicate sweetness that isn’t present in the other types of fish roe.

Tobiko is not meant to be eaten on its own as the flavors are simply not complex enough to be enjoyed solo, which is also the reason you never see it served like that. Instead, it is better suited as a supporting ingredient for a variety of meals.

Tobiko is also sturdier than other types of roe and can retain its shape and taste whether it is frozen, thawed, or mixed with other ingredients.

Here are some of the best ways to use tobiko:

  • Sushi rolls: one of the most popular ways to use tobiko is as a garnish on sushi rolls. It is often spread on the sushi rice, giving it a bright appearance and adding a nice crunch to it.
  • Tobiko nigiri: nigiri is a type of sushi that is basically a small mound of sushi rice topped with raw fish and wasabi. To make tobiko nigiri, it is topped with a spoonful of flying fish roe.
  • Gunkan maki: gunkan maki is a type of sushi roll that involves wrapping an oval ball of sushi rice in dried edible seaweed, or nori. Tobiko can either be wrapped inside the nori with cucumber strips or used on its own.
  • Sashimi: another popular way to serve tobiko is in sashimi, where it can be scooped into creamy avocado halves or cucumber cups to complement the salty taste.
  • As a garnish: most commonly used as a garnish for different types of sushi in order to enhance its flavor and appearance, tobiko can be used as a vibrant topping for other seafood dishes as well.
  • Sauces, dips, and salads: the crunchy texture of tobiko makes it a great ingredient to add some texture to salty soups, sauces, and dressings. The great thing about tobiko is that it holds its shape and texture, even when added to liquids.
  • Appetizers: while tobiko is not served on its own, it can be paired with plain crackers or toast and served as a wonderful appetizer.

Tobiko Vs Caviar

Roe is the term for eggs produced by nearly all female sea animals, including different types of fish, prawns, shrimp, and sea urchins.

Tobiko, masago, and ikura are some of the most popular types of roe that are derived from flying fish, capelin, and salmon, respectively.

Prominent in Japanese cuisine, tobiko is used as a topping in sushi rolls and as an appetizer. It can also be infused with different ingredients to give it a unique taste and color.

Caviar is a type of salted roe that comes exclusively from the wild sturgeon family. To put it simply, sturgeon roe is sturgeon caviar, but herring roe is not herring caviar, as caviar refers only to eggs derived from sturgeon fish.

Several different types of sturgeon fish produce caviar. Beluga sturgeon makes beluga caviar, kaluga sturgeon makes kaluga caviar, Siberian sturgeon makes Siberian caviar, and the same can be said for white, ossetra, and sevruga sturgeon.

Caviar is generally very expensive since sturgeon fish are subject to overfishing and have become endangered.

Most commonly enjoyed alongside a blini (Russian pancake) or as a side dish to several meals that can benefit from the caviar’s salty and buttery flavor, caviar is also sometimes accompanied by champagne and crème Fraiche, emphasizing its reputation as a delicacy.

Difference Between Roe And Caviar

While roe and caviar share a lot in common, there are several distinctions that set the two apart. The three areas where they differ include:

  • Type of fish eggs: all caviar is roe but not all roe is caviar. Roe refers to eggs derived from several different species of sea animals, including fish, shrimp, and sea urchins. Caviar, on the other hand, is derived only from sturgeon.
  • Region: black caviar from the female sturgeon almost always comes from the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea near Iran and Russia, whereas roe comes from different regions around the world depending on the type of fish it belongs to.
  • Additional ingredients: roe can have additional ingredients and seasonings to give it a unique color and flavor. Caviar, on the other hand, undergoes a special treatment that helps increase its shelf life.

Where To Buy Tobiko?

If you are in the US, you can find tobiko at your local Japanese store where you will most likely have a variety of options to choose from.

It is also available at big-name stores such as Walmart and Whole Foods and can also easily be purchased online from retailers like Amazon. Check out this flying fish roe available on Amazon.

If you are buying tobiko for the first time, there are a couple of things you must be careful about such as:

  • Choosing a seller you trust,
  • Reading reviews by others who have purchased the same product,
  • Making sure the jar or tin of tobiko is not opened,
  • Checking the label before purchasing it as it is very easy to get confused between masago and tobiko.
  • Being aware of the expiration date as it is a perishable seafood item.
  • Storing it properly and using it within the time limit or freezing it for later use.

How To Store Leftover Tobiko

Once you open the jar or tin of tobiko, you must store it properly for later use. Luckily, it is incredibly easy to store, both when it is opened and unopened.

Storing Tobiko In The Fridge

If you have a can of unopened tobiko, you can store it in the fridge for up to 2 weeks, depending on its expiration date. If kept in the right conditions, it could last for a minimum of 10 days and a maximum of 3 weeks.

To store tobiko in the refrigerator, all you have to do is place the sealed container inside and keep it cold. There’s not much to do other than that.

The process of storing opened tobiko is slightly different and you can’t store it for as long. Opened tobiko must be placed in an airtight container and kept in the fridge as soon as possible.

Opened tobiko mustn’t be refrigerated for longer than a couple of days. Therefore, if you don’t plan on using it within 2 days, it is recommended to freeze it as it will help extend its life.

Storing Tobiko In The Freezer

If you want your tobiko to last longer, you can store it in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Here is what you need to do:

  • Wash the tobiko thoroughly before freezing. Rinse the eggs under cold water and pat them dry using a paper towel. Be careful to not pierce them.
  • Place each individual set of fish roe in plastic wrap before double wrapping the entire set.
  • Place the individually wrapped sets of tobiko in a freezer-safe container. You can use a freezer-safe bag but it is best to use a freezer-safe container for added protection.
  • Lastly, seal the container and write the date, along with the use-by date, before transferring it to the freezer.

Tips For Freezing Tobiko

Now that you know how to safely freeze tobiko, here are a few tips we suggest you follow for the best results:

  • Dip tobiko in ascorbic acid before freezing. This will reduce the chances of rancidity and flavor changes during the freezing process.
  • Do not freeze caviar. While most fish roe, including tobiko, freezes really well, caviar does not. Freezing will affect the taste and texture of caviar and ruin its overall appeal.
  • Take care when defrosting tobiko. Do not rush it by running it under water or placing it at room temperature as it will affect its flavor and texture.

How To Defrost Frozen Tobiko

Since tobiko is a delicate item, you need to be very careful when defrosting it. Never defrost it at room temperature, unless you want to risk ruining it.

The best way to defrost it is to remove it from the freezer and place it in the coldest section of the refrigerator. Leave it there overnight to defrost completely

Do not rush the process if you want to ensure that its taste and texture remain intact. Be patient and do not try to look for shortcuts.

Can You Refreeze Tobiko?

No, you cannot, and should not, refreeze tobiko. Tobiko has a delicate texture and is highly perishable, which is why it must not be frozen more than once.

Tobiko is to be frozen only once as refreezing it will cause it to lose most of its flavor due to the high moisture associated with freezing.

To prevent refreezing tobiko, we recommend freezing it in individual portions so that you can easily remove and defrost the required serving at any given time.

Related Questions

Now that you know all about tobiko and tobiko in sushi, here are a few additional questions we thought you might have:

What Is Tobiko Sauce?

Tobiko sauce is a condiment typically served with sushi and seafood dishes at Japanese restaurants. It is made with mayonnaise, sriracha sauce, lime, and tobiko.

Depending on how traditional the recipe is, there may be other ingredients too such as paprika, honey, garlic, and mustard.

What Is The Difference Between Red And Orange Tobiko?

Tobiko is naturally a vibrant orange color, but many sushi chefs like to infuse it with other ingredients to give it a different color and flavor.

Red tobiko comes from beet juice, black tobiko comes from squid ink, and green tobiko gets its color from wasabi.

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