Sushi is high-end fast food, a democratic delicacy – makis for everyone! Anthropology masters student Nicolas Rutherford showcases through his research the tough business behind the industry and highlights curious facts about the sushi industry.
Citrus altered fish in sushi
According to Rutherford, food scientists working in the highly competitive sushi-restaurant industry in Japan have been searching for ways to attract customers and enhance people’s dining experiences. Recently, a promising method has been put in place to alter the taste and smell of fish used in traditional sushi dishes, which can be achieved by mixing special ingredients into fish feed. For example, now yellowtail and halibut sushi have a distinct citrus flavour; this is because of a limonene build-up in the fishes’ organs and fatty tissues, itself the result of precise amounts of citrus (from fruits like oranges, lemons or the Japanese fruit kabosu) having been regularly added to the fishes’ diet as they matured in their aquaculture pens. “Altered” fish products and dishes are catching on in Japan, spurring the food industry to test different types of feed in order to create new, distinct sushi flavours. So far, many citrus fruits local to japan have been tested, as have several herbs, and even strawberries!
Norway’s introduction of salmon sushi to Japan
Impetuses from business have transformed the eating habits of sushi-goers in other ways too. Up until 30 years ago, salmon was scarcely used as a sushi topping in Japan because of peoples’ general aversion to its taste, smell and even color when raw. Also, wild salmons that are native to Japanese waters usually carry parasites, and therefore have to be cooked before consumption is safe. In any case, attempts to import even parasite-free salmon from elsewhere seemed destined to fail because of the fish’s poor reputation among the general public. However, when in the 1970s Norway experienced a boom in aquaculture farming, which in turn led to the country consistently producing surplus salmon that could be exported elsewhere, Norwegian entrepreneur Bjorn Eirik Olsen determined he could break into the Japanese market. After several years of courting big players in the fish and food industry, he finally convinced frozen food supplier Nishirei to take the gamble and become the first company in Japan to offer ready-made sushi topped with Norwegian salmon. Reactions from the public were skeptical at first, but the fish’s buttery taste eventually caught on. Today, salmon has become a staple food in Japan and 100% of the raw salmon used in Japanese sushi is imported. In a recent industry study it was even determined that salmon had overtaken tuna as the public’s favourite sushi topping.
Nicolas Rutherford is currently undertaking his Masters in Anthropology at the School of Social and Anthropological Studies at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ottawa. He is also one of the coordinators of the Human-Animal-Laboratory, a research group which focus is the new geological, environmental, political and cultural age that the world has seemingly entered, according to experts. They have named it the anthropocene, in reference to humans (“anthropos” in Greek) who are thought to be responsible for powerful climatic and environmental changes.