In Japan, food scientists working in the highly competitive sushi-restaurant industry have for years been searching for ways to attract customers and enhance people’s dining experiences. Recently, a promising method has been 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, the yellowtail and halibut sushis pictured above 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 kabosu fruit) 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!
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, an entrepreneuring norwegian named 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.
The video below allows a look into the most popular kind of sushi-restaurant today: conveyor-belt sushi. Often franchised to larger restaurant chains, these sushi places which number in the tens of thousands across the nation must regularly innovate the sushi-making process, as well as diners’ experiences to remain competitive. From touch-screen menus to creating signature products such as the citrus sushi we mentioned above, boundaries are continuously pushed in order to achieve this.