Sushi: A Journey from Ancient Roots to Modern Cuisine

Sushi has become synonymous with the term “raw fish,” but that’s not exactly what it actually is, at least not what it started out to be. So, what does sushi mean? Originally, sushi consisted of fermented fish and rice that had been preserved in salt, which was really the only way to keep fish from spoiling when sushi first became a dietary staple more than 1,200 years ago.

These days, the word “sushi” generally refers to vinegared rice topped or stuffed with other ingredients, including raw fish. Here’s more on the history of sushi.


The word “sushi” itself means “sour rice,” which harkens back to the day when the rice and fermented fish were preserved in salt. The salt gave the meat and rice that tangy, sour flavor that has evolved into the vinegar flavor that is preferred today.

Traditional sushi required a fermenting period of at least a year for the fish packed in salt and rice, but today, sushi is often pre-made or made to order for immediate consumption. It truly is a fast food that has come a long way from its labor intensive roots.


Traditionally, sushi was very basic, consisting of a single meat and salted rice. While sushi has evolved somewhat in Japan, it is still a simple food that contains one type of fish or one vegetable. But in the United States and other westernized countries, sushi looks much different than in Japan. Most sushi rolls in these countries contain one type of seafood (including crab, lobster, or fish) and at least one type of vegetable. 

For example, the wildly popular California roll contains lump crab meat, avocado, and cucumber, while the spider roll contains soft shell crab, cucumber, and carrots. Some sushi rolls consist of multiple types of seafood with a single vegetable as well, such as the caterpillar roll, which contains eel, shrimp, and avocado. Of course, all sushi rolls, even in the US, contain vinegared sticky rice and are often wrapped in a thin layer of seaweed.

Go Light With the Sauces

When the Japanese eat their sushi, they keep it as simple as the ingredients. They do not layer sauces on top of the ingredients because they believe sauces should enhance the flavors, not bury them. For example, they do enjoy wasabi and soy sauce on their sushi, but usually not together.

They don’t mix the two and simply dab a little of their preferred sauce on the piece of sushi before eating it. You also won’t find condiments like spicy mayonnaise and unagi sauce on their sushi plates, like you will in the US. The Japanese believe the sushi should be flavorful enough on its own.

Raw Fish

Some sushi, like certain nigiri rolls, does contain raw fish, including salmon, scallops, and tuna. However, the main ingredient in sushi is rice, not fish. This is why there are plenty of vegetarian sushi options available. But, if you’re looking for raw fish to be the star ingredient, then you want sashimi, not sushi.

Sashimi is thinly sliced meat that is often served raw. The meat does not have to be fish, but it usually is. Seafood that is popular as sashimi include salmon, tuna, yellowtail, sea urchin, and octopus.


Sushi has evolved from a Japanese dietary staple that took months to prepare to a world-wide cuisine that can be on your plate in minutes. Now that you know a little more about this tasty dish, get out there and try some!