A Guide to Sushi Sauces

By | October 15, 2012

Photo courtesy of recreationalmustard.com

While reading through a sushi menu I began noticing how many different types of sauces there are.  I realized then that it can be overwhelming when trying to decide what to eat if you aren’t familiar with what eel sauce, ponzu sauce, spicy mayo, etc. are.  Even if you are familiar with what they taste like, it’s probably good for you to know what goes into the sauce that makes the magic.  Below you’ll find general information.  For more detailed info, I’d visit sites like wikipedia or consult a sushi cookbook.

Guide to Sushi Sauces

Soy Sauce and Wasabi – This is probably the most basic of all sauces used for sushi.  This is typically something that you’ll make/mix at your table and is used as a sort of dipping sauce for most rolls.  I sometimes like to add a little bit of fresh ginger when I mix shoyu (soy sauce) and wasabi together…that’s a personal preference.  A general rule of thumb for me is to use this mixture on rolls that aren’t already flavored with another sauce.  I try to trust the judgement of the sushi chef on how flavors should mix as much as possible.  So typically, I’ll use this on maki like California rolls or certain types of nigiri.

  • Shoyu (soy sauce) – this is basically made from fermented soy beans, roasted grain, brine and certain types of mold.  The sauce is typically high in sodium and definitely tastes better than the ingredients sound.  Shoyu is used as the based for many other types of sauces that you’ll find in Asian-style cooking.  You will sometimes hear shoyu referred to as murasaki at sushi restaurants.
  • Wasabi – although not officially part of the horseradish, it is typically known as the Japanese horseradish.  It acts more like a hot mustard of sorts and the “heat” you feel with wasabi is from vapors that affect the nose more than the tongue.  That is why you will often feel wasabi burn like it’s clearing your nasal passage.  Because the sensations it causes are not oil based (like a chili pepper’s are) the burning sensation does not last long.

Eel sauce – this is a common sauce used on maki.  It has a sweet and salty tase to it as it contains a reduction of eel bone broth, shoyu, rice wine and sugar.  It is commonly used when broiling or grilling eel to eat, or drizzled on top of different types of sushi rolls.

Spicy mayo – at its simplest, spicy mayo is a combination of regular mayonaise and sriracha sauce, with a little hint of lemon.  As its name indicates, it is typically spicy and creamy and is either mixed with other ingredients as part of a sushi roll (like what you’ll find in the spicy tuna roll) or on top of sushi rolls to enhance the flavors.

Sriracha sauce – this is a type of Thai hot sauce (named after the city it was believed to be its origin, Si Racha).  It is a combination of the paste from different types of chilis, garlic, sugar, vinegar and salt.  It is typically used at sushi restaurants to add a kick to different types of rolls, but is also used in various types of Asian cooking, specifically as a dipping sauce for different types of seafood.

Ponzu – a watery citrus-based sauce.  It is made by simmering mirin, rice vinegar, dried tuna flakes, and seawood together.  It is often applied to sushi after the roll has been rolled and cut, but also used as a dipping sauce with other types of Japanese cuisine like shabu shabu and sashimi.

Some restaurants and/or sushi chefs may have other types of sauces that they use (I’ve seen habanero sauces and aiolis used at different restaurants) however these are probably some of the more common sauces that you’ll see.  Hopefully this list helps you know what to expect the next time you’re ordering.

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