Impeccably seasoned rice, topped with the freshest fish bursting with flavor, and a tingle of wasabi in one mouth-watering bite. Yes, we are talking about our beloved sushi. You love it, we love it, so many other people in the world do too, and – if given the choice – we’d have it nearly everyday! But because we are cautious, caring, and responsible citizens of the world, we have to make sure Mother Earth doesn’t suffer as we indulge in our favorite edible pieces of art.
The 4-S Rule by Casson Trenor (co-founder of Tataki Sushi Bar)
Smaller fish fall lower in the trophic scale. Now you’re probably wondering, “What is that?” If you remember Mufasa from Lion King, talking to a young Simba about the Great Circle of Life; somewhere in the film he says “We die and our bodies become grass, and the antelope eat the grass.” In that sense, the circle of life is the trophic scale. Now what does this have to do with sustainable sushi? Basically, the smaller fish like Sardines (iwashi) were designed to be eaten by larger fish and humans. They breed in large numbers, grow fast, and die quite young. This means they can be eaten in large scales without the danger of putting a large dent on their population as a species. But eating smaller fish isn’t just beneficial for the environment, remember that the smaller the fish and the shorter it’s lifespan, the less mercury it’ll have in its system.
Caught or farmed, fish (and even produce) that are in season will always be cheaper in the market. This is because this is the time of the year when they are in abundance in the market. But more than this, studies show that fish in season are better for you in the sense that (compared to seafood items that are year-round on the menu) they are at the peak of flavor, nutrition, and nutrient retention because they’re “fresher”. Apart from this, consuming seasonal local fish supports your local fishing industry and (more importantly) says “no” to environmental missteps like irresponsible fish cultivation.
Believe it or not, eating fish with silver skin still on (like Horse Mackerel [aji], Gizzard Shad [kohada], and Chub Mackerel [sayori and saba]) is good for you! They’re known has hikarimono in Japanese, literally translating to “shiny things”, and are pelagic fish which feed on forage. This means that they’re loaded with Omega 3 oils, and that they have stronger flavors compared to bottom feeding fish. They typically have shorter lifespans so they’re also low on mercury poisoning. Furthermore, fish with silver skin tend to be sourced from more reliable fisheries.
Why this is best eaten as a nigiri or sushi? What people don’t kknow is that Omega 3 breaks down when exposed to high temperatures. As you cook the fish, you get significantly less of the heart-protecting Omega 3 in your meal. The same happens when your fish is canned.
Clams and mollusks are not only excellent sources of protein, they’re also considered to be aphrodisiacs, and consumption of these shellfish involve (relatively) low-impact farming methods. Why? Because unlike the typical fish that we farm, these shellfish are filter feeders. This means that even without the addition of antibiotics or harmful feed in cultivating them, they will still grow rather quickly. Furthermore, they can be raised in bags and cages which eliminates the need to alter seabeds during harvest.
What to Order in a Sushi Bar
Here’s the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s guide on which seafood are ocean-friendly when consumed. Remember go for green, never red. When in doubt, talk to your itamae or sushi chef! Let the itamae-san know you’re all for seasonal and sustainable seafood.
Do you have any tips for sustainable sushi? Let us know in the comments!