Tuna and Its Types in Japanese Cuisine

As one of Japan’s staple fish, tuna is the main ingredient throughout various Japanese dishes. Because of its availability, chefs love to use a variety of tuna in their meals. The kind of tuna they use can majorly influence the flavor of each dish.

There are many types of cuts of tuna that each produce different flavors unique to Japanese cuisine. Although it can come at a higher expense, different cuts can enhance flavor and add a more meaningful quality to your dish. 

Osaka Central Wholesale Market 

Tuna is a popular Japanese food staple. Sushi and sashimi are both popular ways to consume. Tuna are fished in the waters off Shizuoka, Tokyo, and Okinawa, but tuna obtained at Oma, at the point of the Shimokita Peninsula in Aomori, are indeed the apex of Japanese tuna.

Tuna in its raw form

Because of the extensive tuna options and many cuts, the recipe options and combinations are endless. Tuna is full of wonderful flavors. This traditional Japanese fish is used in a variety of delicious dishes like tuna nigiri, seared tuna, and several sushi tuna rolls.

Parts of Tuna Used in Japanese Cuisine 

Tuna are separated not just by their species but by their cut. Depending on the cut, you will get a different flavor experience. The textures and richness of the tuna will also vary. 

cutting of a large tuna in Kuromon Market in Osaka

Every dish uses a different part of the tuna, which may require the price to fluctuate. For instance, the tuna’s otoro (fatty area) can be costly because of its richness and flavor intensity. Other, lower-quality cuts can be less expensive, but the flavor is less aggressive. 

Kabuto Yaki

Kabuto Yaki is also known as a grilled fish head. Generally, the only ingredient involved with grilling fish heads is salt. To eat Kabuto Yaki, use chopsticks to pick out pieces of tuna fish.

tuna head on ice outside a restaurant at Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo

Kama or Kamatoro

Kama is gill flesh. Chefs can prepare Kama in many ways, including sashimi and by grilling. The appearance of the Kama is similar to marbled beef, with a bright pink and red color hue.

There are only two cuts available on each fish which makes this a rare and expensive cut.

Marbled tuna

Otoro

Otoro (also simplified as toro) is the fattiest part of the tuna, with a distinctly fishy taste. The consistency of the toro is fat and melts in your mouth. Literally, the meaning of toro is “to melt” Otoro is considered a delicacy in Japan, used in many expensive dishes. This fatty cut of tuna comes from the tuna’s stomach.

fatty tuna (Otoro)

There are three types of otoro:

  • Kama-toro (low-quality)
  • Haranaka (medium quality)
  • Harakami otoro (highest quality)

Otoro has a higher price tag in general. Additionally, the higher quality, the more expensive the tuna cut will be.

Chutoro

Chuturo is a part of the tuna with a mixture of lean and fat fish protein. As you eat, you may notice part of your sushi melts in your mouth while other parts are tougher to chew. This mixture of texture is because of its location on the fish.

Chutoro tuna has moderate fattiness. It is not as expensive as otoro sushi. However,  it is more expensive than lean akami.

Akami

The center of the tuna is called Akami. Akami is the leanest cut of the tuna. This cut of the tuna is located in the upper abdomen, closer to the gills. Overall, the quality of this cut is moderate. 

You will see akami in three variations:

  • Seshimo (lowest-quality)
  • Sekami (medium quality)
  • Senaka (highest quality) 

Most traditional sushi restaurants sell Akami tuna. It is a leaner cut that costs a moderate amount. The downside to this cut is the chewiness. In some cases, you might taste a tendon or two that makes your bite incredibly tough.

Tail

Potentially the most obvious to explain is the tail. This part of the tuna is rich in flavor because of its high-fat content. Many chefs add tuna tails to their stews and barbeques for additional flavor.

What are the Most Common Types of Tuna?

The most common tuna used in Japanese cuisine are yellowfin, northern bluefin, southern bluefin, yellowfin, bigeye, and albacore. All tuna ranges in price and flavor. When selecting your type of tuna, consider the pricepoint of each tuna selection and type of cut.

The place tuna is caught can be influential in its price, too. For instance, bluefin hon maguro (bluefin tuna) is one of the most expensive tunas used in Japanese cuisines.

The location this famous tuna is caught can increase the cost significantly. Some brands can sell for over two thousand yen per one-hundred grams.

Yellowfin Tuna

Yellowfin (also known as kihadamaguro) is a tuna known for its secondary name “ahi” and closeness to bigeye tuna. Yellowfin tuna is a colorful fish that lives in tropical waters. You can even catch off this yellow and blue tuna on the relaxing Hawaiin shores.

In Japan, yellowfin tuna is formally called kihada maguro. Many dishes use kihada maguro as the main ingredient, including tataki, poke, and much more. The popular yellowfin dish tataki is served at most sushi restaurants and is easy enough to make at home.

Bigeye Tuna

Bigeye tuna is a close relative of yellowfin tuna (and the other half of the famous “ahi”). This delicious tropical fish is used in many Japanese dishes and is recognized more formally as mebachi maguro.

The most popular way to prepare bigeye tuna Japanese-style is by pan-searing it. This lean meat is great topped with a lean sauce or dipped in soy sauce and served with wasabi.

Bluefin Tuna

There are two variations of bluefin tuna commonly used in Japanese cuisine, the southern and northern bluefin tuna. The Northern Bluefin tuna (also referred to as honmaguro) is one of the most expensive tunas.

It is known for being a thin cut. The other kind of bluefin tuna is southern bluefin tuna (also known as Minami maguro). There is not much difference between these bluefin tuna aside from their import location.

Albacore Tuna

Albacore tuna is also known as longfin tuna. This tuna is big, with chunky, fine-cut meat. Because of the high meat yield, tunafish manufacturers typically use albacore to fill their cans.

Albacore tuna is formally called binnaga maguro in Japanese. In restaurants, sushi chefs sometimes use albacore to fill sushi rolls. This lower quality makes it a last-resort fish when it comes to making sushi.

Tokyos Fish Market Official Site

MT Lee
My fascination with Japan began several years back at a roadside bonsai stand while on vacation. I became more interested in the where and why's more than the trees themselves. My love of Bonsai led me to further research my interest in the gardens where they originated from and the places and people that surrounded those little trees. My curiosity was well rewarded upon visiting Saitama where the National Bonsai Museum was located and Omiya Village the bonsai mecca for lovers of this ancient art form. Exploring many towns and villages and even making my way to Japan's furthest southern prefecture of Okinawa. I hope to share my love of this wonderful and exotic place with all those who want to know more about Japan.