Is Sushi Vegan?

Over the years, sushi has evolved from a luxury dish into a popular delicacy enjoyed by people from around the world. Sushi is a rice-based dish, of Japanese origin, and consists of small balls or rolls of rice flavored with vinegar and topped with other condiments. The sushi is typically finished off with an egg, raw seafood, or vegetables like avocado and cucumber. No longer limited to Japan, you can now find sushi options in many countries at chain restaurants, stalls, and sometimes even in the freezer aisle at your local supermarket.

This raises a big question for us: is sushi vegan? The answer is both yes and no – it depends on the type of sushi. Sushi that is served with raw seafood sides is not vegan.  However, there are many variants of sushi that are vegan.

We’re going to see which ones, exactly, in this post.

How and why vegan sushi has evolved in recent years

The traditional kind of sushi that is popular around the world evolved in Japan during the Edo Period (1603-1868). Before that, the predecessors of this famous dish were still present in ancient Japan, though these variants were different from the sushi we eat today. Being an island country, fish is a staple food in Japan, and traditional sushi thus usually contains raw fish. But the beauty of sushi is that raw fish isn’t the only star of the dish. 

The rice, sauces and condiments, and different toppings participate equally in making sushi what it is: a complex delicacy. In fact, sushi is defined as a Japanese dish consisting of small balls or rolls of rice that are often flavored with vinegar, other condiments, egg, or raw seafood. 

So, in effect, the core of sushi is actually the rice – which is, of course, a vegan food! The term ‘sushi’ literally means sour tasting, which brings an interesting concept to the table – with sushi, the emphasis is on the resulting taste rather than the individual ingredients.

Coming towards vegan sushi options, we first need to ask ourselves: what is vegan sushi? Vegan sushi takes forward the essence of the original dish without introducing any animal-cruelty practices, and so naturally seafood is excluded. As of now, Japan’s waters have been severely over-fished, and this has taken a toll on some species like the bluefin tuna, which is a main ingredient in the traditional, non-vegan sushi.

Fish is a non-vegan food, so vegans naturally steer clear of it. Moreover, in recent years, there has been a steady increase in concern for the ethical dilemmas involved in fishing, and so more vegan sushi options have hit the market. These are often used in vegan sushi so that you can enjoy your favorite sushi guilt-free. This brings us to the exploration of different types of sushi and seeing what sushi is vegan.

Types of popular sushi and what they include: what sushi is vegan?

vegan sushi

Many types of sushi are vegan and vegetarian because, as stated earlier, the main ingredients in sushi are rice and nori sheets. It ultimately comes down to what toppings and sauces you choose for your sushi that make it vegan.  Wasabi, a popular condiment for sushi, is made with horseradish and you can find vegan sushi made with these ingredients that don’t include egg whites or any other dairy products. Traditional sides for sushi include wasabi, soy sauce, pickled ginger, and pickled daikon radish. All of these sides are vegan and thus, can be included as sides to vegan sushi. Let’s now take a look at some common types of sushi.

Chirashizushi

Chirashizushi or ‘scattered sushi’ is a dish that is exactly like what its name implies. Instead of the sushi ingredients being packed together, they are served together in a bowl with the rice on the bottom and the toppings and garnishes on the top. Chirashizushi is easy to make and even easier to eat! Granted that you only include vegan ingredients in your bowl, the Chirashizushi is then vegan too, of course.

Inarizushi

Inarizushi is a fried type of sushi where the sushi consists of fried packets of tofu stuffed with rice alone. This type of sushi has its name based on the Shinto God Inari who had a liking for tofu. Cone sushi is a variant of this type of sushi and may include green beans and carrots. Since the typical ingredients for this sushi are vegan, this type of sushi is usually vegan.

Makizushi

Makizushi which is rolled sushi or norimaki which is sushi rolled in a nori wrapper is traditional sushi usually rolled into cylinders with the help of bamboo sheets. Vegan Makizushi  is Makizushi that exclusively contains vegan ingredients.

Other types of traditional sushi include Oshizushi, Nigirizushi, and narezushi among others. Western variants of sushi are particularly popular in the United States. These include the ‘inside-out rolled’ Uramaki, and the American style Makizushi that has many substitutes for the traditional Japanese ingredients. Depending on what types of ingredients Common ingredients in sushi, like rice and nori are great sources of important minerals and vitamins like Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D. You can check out some other common sources of Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D.

What sushi items to order from a Japanese cuisine/sushi place

If you don’t have a vegan sushi place close to your home, you can still go to a regular Japanese sushi place and enjoy sushi options that are vegan. Here are a few things you can order at a Japanese restaurant that are vegan:

  • Shiitake Mushroom Nigri: it is a type of sushi that is pressed into a rice ball. It is easily available at Japanese restaurants.
  • Nasu Nigri: similar to the previous type of sushi, this sushi contains eggplant as the core of the dish. 
  • Seaweed Gunkanmaki: seaweed gunkan-maki or ‘battleship rolls’ are a delicious sushi option for vegans and non-vegans alike. 
  • Inarizushi: this vegan sushi is available at most sushi places and Japanese restaurants.
  • Seaweed salad
  • Edamame
  • Avocado rolls
  • Cucumber rolls
  • Fried rice

How you can make vegan sushi at home- DIY is king!

So, you want to try your hand at making sushi at home and don’t know where to start?
Fret not, We have got you covered!

Here are a few basics you’ll need to start rolling out some Makizushi:

  • Bamboo mat: to roll the perfect sushi. You should be able to find it at your local convenience store.
  • Nori Sheets: This is what you will roll your rice and fillings in. You can find these at your local supermarkets or if you have an Asian grocery store nearby, you can get your Nori sheets from there. 
  • Sushi rice: Sushi is traditionally prepared with a medium-grain variety of white rice, but you can substitute it with brown and short-grain rice. You can find labeled sushi rice at supermarkets easily. 
  • Sugar: It is a seasoning for the sushi rice
  • Rice vinegar: The main ingredient to bring the tart and sour notes to the dish is vinegar. Rice vinegar is the traditional option.
  • Salt: This again, is a seasoning.
  • Fillings: This is totally up to you, depending on what you prefer. We’ve included a list down below of what goes into vegan sushi. 

Common Vegan Sushi Fillings: Keeping The Sushi Veggie-licious

avocado filled sushi
  • Avocado
  • Pickled or baked beetroot
  • Mango
  • Carrots
  • Cucumbers
  • Green beans
  • Pickled cabbage
  • Cooked mushrooms
  • Pumpkin
  • Red pepper
  • Spinach
  • Zucchini
  • Squash
  • Sweet Potato

Common Vegan Sushi Fillings: Proteins and Fish Replacements

  • Tempeh
  • Jackfruit
  • Tofu
  • Soy curls
  • Textured Vegetable Protein (TCP)
  • Seitan strips
  • Carrot Lox
  • Watermelon and tomato as tuna replacement (flavored with seasonings and marinades)

Common Vegan Sushi Fillings: Sauces and Toppings

  • Spicy began mayo
  • Tahini sauce
  • Sriracha sauce
  • Vegan cream cheese
  • Mango chutney
  • Peanut sauce
  • Fried onions
  • Peanuts
  • Sesame seeds
  • Roasted red pepper
  • Chilli oil

There are many different ways to make sushi. Makizushi is a type of sushi where the ingredients are rolled in Nori sheets with the help of the bamboo sheet. To make the Makizushi sushi rolls, experiment with the nori sheets a bit and keep a bowl of water at hand to keep your hands wet so that the rice and the fillings do not stick to your hand. Place the nori sheet on the bamboo mat and cover it with a layer of seasoned sushi rice. Add your fillings on the roll and roll out the sushi with the help of the bamboo mat, and proceed to cut the rolls into slices and serve them with sauces and toppings. While making sushi at home, the important thing to remember is to have fun!

Vegan Sushi: Just roll with it!

Now that you’re aware of the various vegan sushi options, next time you’re in the mood for a roll, you’ll know exactly what to order. There are so many vegan sushi options that are readily available, just check the ingredients beforehand and you should be good to go. Sushi’s core ingredients are inherently vegan anyway, and you can trade ingredients like egg or dairy out for tasty vegan replacements. Enjoy your sushi without any guilt and with all the benefits of a vegan diet!

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