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What Is Tobiko And How Does It Differ From Masago?

From being a favorite for giving off a mild smoky and briny flavor down to adding a pop of bright color, tobiko is a type of fish roe that’s a popular garnish for dishes across the globe, especially in Asian cuisine. 

Among all the other types of fish roes like osetra caviar of Russia, kazunoko of Japan, hackleback caviar of USA, and bottarga of Italy, tobiko has its significance. 

Below, let’s discuss what you need to know, from what is tobiko, to its origin and its culinary uses.

Table Of Contents

What is tobiko

Just like masago, tobiko is used as a tasty garnish commonly found sitting on top of Japanese sashimi, sushi rolls, or other Asian-inspired dishes. 

These tiny, pearly-like balls come from edible eggs or roes of flying fish species. 

The roes range from 0.5 to 0.8 mm in diameter and they’re larger than masago or capelin roe but smaller than ikura (salmon roe). 

When harvested, the eggs or roes have a red-orange color but some people alter their flavor and appearance by adding natural ingredients. 

Some of the color variations of tobiko include squid ink, which makes the roes black, yuzu to make it yellow, wasabi for green hue, and beet for brighter red color. 

When you add tobiko to your recipes, expect to have a mild smoky taste and briny note with a subtle sweetness in your dishes.

What is tobiko made of

Tobiko is a Japanese word for flying fish roe. 

The ingredient comes from edible eggs or roes of the flying fish that belongs to the family Exocoetidae. 

The fish can be seen jumping out of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans and be baked, fried, grilled, or steamed. 

It’s notable for its long, torpedo-shaped body, blue or silvery scales, and a vertically forked tail.

Though flying fishes are considered edible, many fishermen used them to produce tobiko. 

The female flying fish releases its eggs on floating objects or rafts of seaweed, which then is collected and processed with spices, flavorings, or colorings—this is why tobiko sold in the market comes in a variety pack of orange, red, black, and green.

🍣 Learn about the unique taste of masago here! 🐟

What does tobiko taste like?

If you’re wondering what the taste of tobiko is, this colorful garnish features a mild smoky taste and a briny note with a subtle sweetness. 

It also has a lightly pop-crisp texture perfect for sushi rolls, crab cakes, and other seafood and rice dishes.

Tips on buying tobiko

Here in the U.S., you can purchase tobiko at local Japanese or Asian grocery stores. You can also buy the product through our affiliate link on Amazon.com. 

If you plan to buy tobiko, here are some essential tips to help you find the best one on the market.

  1. When buying tobiko online, choose a reputable seller that offers a money-back or product replacement guarantee.
  2. Carefully read reviews from other cooks who have actually purchased the brand of tobiko you’re interested in. 
  3. Ensure that the tin or jar of tobiko has not been opened or tampered with. 
  4. Masago and tobiko are very similar, so make sure to read the label before buying the ingredient. 
  5. Since tobiko is perishable, it’s best to purchase only as needed. 
  6. Pay attention to the expiration date and use the ingredient in that timeframe.

How to use tobiko

If you’re wondering what is the purpose of tobiko, these little, colorful fish eggs are mainly used as a garnish or topping for sushi rolls, crab cakes, and other seafood dishes. 

You can also sprinkle a few teaspoons of tobiko into your pasta salad and rice dishes. 

Here are some of the other ways you can use tobiko in your daily cooking:

  1. Use ingredients to incorporate a savory and tobiko flavor into salads.
  2. Add a special kick to your omelet.
  3. Sprinkle it into fish dishes like this poached salmon tobiko bowl
  4. Use to amp up the flavor of your cheese and crackers. 
  5. Add tobiko in sauces and dressings like this creamy wasabi tobiko sauce
  6. Add flavor and a pop of color to your avocado toast.

Is tobiko raw?

Yes, tobiko is the name for the raw eggs of the flying fish. 

These eggs (roes) are harvested and undergo a dyeing process or marination, giving these little eggs unique colors ranging from bright red to black.

Tobiko vs masago

Tobiko and masago are added to Japanese-inspired dishes like sushi rolls. 

They can also be used in crabcakes, omelets, salads, rice dishes, and other seafood dishes. 

Due to its similarity, tobiko is often confused with masago and vice versa. Although similar, there are key differences between the two ingredients than you may expect.

TobikoMasago
BackgroundTobiko comes from edible eggs or roes of flying fish species. Masago comes from edible eggs (roes) of capelin fish.
Appearance and textureWhen harvested, tobiko eggs or roes have a red-orange color. They have a crunchy texture. Natural masago roes usually have a dull yellow color, which eventually becomes red, black, and green when natural ingredients are added. They have a semi-crunchy and sandy textural nuance. 
Flavor profileIt has a mild smoky taste and briny notes with a subtle sweetness. Meanwhile, the flavor profile of processed masago is somewhat similar to tobiko, however, it’s slightly more bitter and milder than flying fish roe. 
Culinary purposeTobiko can be added as a topping for sushi rolls and used to enhance the flavor of seafood-based dishes and rice recipes. Just like tobiko, masago is often present on top of sushi rolls and other Asian-inspired dishes like noodles and rice recipes.

The bottom line

The mild smoky, briny flavor and subtly sweet note of tobiko make it a go-to garnish for your sushi rolls, omelets, rice dishes, and fish-based recipes!

Tobiko, like many fish roe, is used sparingly in a variety of dishes for a pop of color and a salty finish.

But now you’re equipped with the necessary information regarding this fresh, raw ingredient, I hope you get to try tobiko in some of your favorite dishes soon!

Tobiko Avocado Toast

Tobiko Avocado Toast

Yield: 2 servings
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes

This is a decadent avocado toast—a tasteful way to learn what is tobiko—garnished with cooked lobster.

Ingredients

  • 1 large (or 2 medium) avocado
  • 1/2 T lime juice
  • 1/8 t freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 slices sourdough bread
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/8 c cooked lobster chunks
  • 2 t Tobiko

Instructions

  1. Juice the lime and set aside. 
  2. Cut the avocado and scoop the avocado flesh into a small bowl.
  3. Mix the avocado with the lime juice, salt, and black pepper to the bowl with the avocado. 
  4. Toast your bread until golden brown and firm.
  5. Dispose your avocado skin and seed and lime pulp to a composting bin.
  6. Spread the avocado mixture on top of your toast.
  7. Top both with the lobster chunks. 
  8. Spoon 1 t of the tobiko on top of each avocado toast.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 2 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 202Total Fat: 2gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 30mgSodium: 711mgCarbohydrates: 34gFiber: 1gSugar: 3gProtein: 12g

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