If you eat sushi, chances are you’ve enjoyed masago. It is the orange-red eggs that sushi chefs use to add not only flavor but also texture and color. The eggs, or roe, come from a small fish related to the salmon known as the capelin fish. Masago eggs have an almost translucent appearance, resembling beads of jelly, but they have a distinctive, yet mild flavor of the sea. And, as it turns out, masago is healthy too.
Masago is a type of fish egg harvested from the capelin fish. These fish are found primarily in the northern hemisphere in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Arctic oceans. The capelin fish has a similar texture and taste to herring and is considered vital to many aquatic systems across the world. These small fish are heralded as a delicacy for their flesh and the females’ eggs, masago. Capelins eat a variety of planktonic crustaceans that comprise organisms including bacteria, algae, mollusks, protozoans, and crustaceans. It is these planktons that give masago eggs their taste, color, texture, and health benefits.
Tobiko is another fish roe that is commonly used in sushi. But foodies might want to recognize the differences between tobiko and masago. Tobiko eggs come from a different species of fish—the tropical flying fish. This fish, instead of coming from cold waters like the capelin does, comes from warmer, tropical waters. Both of these types of fish eggs contain vitamins, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids. The main difference between tobiko and masago is the size of the individual eggs, the texture, and the color. In fact, tobiko comes in a range of colors including orange, red, green, and even black. Tobiko has a mild flavor that is sometimes referred to as sweet or smokey, and the color can be shockingly bright. Masago, on the other hand, has an even milder flavor, and the eggs are smaller and not as bold in color. Price wise, masago is more budget-friendly than tobiko, and many restaurants use these two types of roe interchangeably in North America.
Fish roe has been eaten for thousands of years across the world. Popular fish egg options include caviar, masago, tobiko, and salmon roe. They have traditionally been used to add color and texture, with the highest quality fish roes being celebrated as a delicacy. Caviar, for example, was enjoyed by the ancient Romans and Greeks, the aristocracy in Europe, and the tzars in Russia. In some cultures, caviar was even “prescribed” for depression and impotence.
Mercury levels in seafood are such a concern right now, but masago is low in mercury. Low enough, in fact, that the American Pregnancy Association even states that up to two 6-ounce servings a week for pregnant women are safe. That is a lot of masago; most recipes call for just a tablespoon or two. Masago has an impressive nutrient profile—these fish eggs are packed with essential nutrients, including magnesium, selenium, iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids. This coldwater fish roe is low in calories and a terrific source of protein, packing in 3.9 grams in a single tablespoon.
Vitamin B12: This is an essential B vitamin for proper nerve and blood cell health. You can only get vitamin B12 from animal-based foods, or plant-based foods that have been fortified with vitamin B12. The best sources of this nutrient are fish, fish eggs, free-range poultry, beef liver, and clams. The daily values listed below are based on fish roe, including caviar nutrition facts.
1 tablespoon masago = 3.2 micrograms, or 53% DV of vitamin B12.
Vitamin D: A vitamin D deficiency can cause brittle bones, a weakened immune system, osteoporosis, and even rickets. Vitamin D is also known as the sunshine vitamin, because when we are exposed to direct sunlight, our body makes vitamin D. This is arguably the best way to get your DV as vitamin D occurs in very few foods naturally. The best food sources are fatty coldwater fish, beef liver, and egg yolks.
1 tablespoon masago = 37.1 IU, or 9% DV of vitamin D.
Magnesium: This mineral is essential for hundreds of chemical reactions in the body, including muscle and nerve function, blood sugar control, blood pressure regulation, and protein synthesis. The best sources of magnesium come from nuts, leafy greens, legumes, and certain fruits and vegetables.
1 tablespoon masago = 48 milligrams, or 12% DV of magnesium.
Selenium: This element is essential for thyroid hormone balance and DNA synthesis. Selenium has been shown to protect against oxidative damage and even infection. The best food sources for selenium are seafood and organ meats.
1 tablespoon masago = 10.5 micrograms, or 15% DV of selenium.
Iron: In order for protein (hemoglobin) to carry oxygen from the lungs throughout the body, iron is needed. Iron is also vital for making specific connective tissues and hormones. Today, many processed foods are fortified with iron, but the best natural sources of iron come from seafood, poultry, meat, legumes, and leafy vegetables.
1 tablespoon masago = 1.9 milligrams, or 11% DV iron.
Omega-3 fatty acids: These healthy fats are vital for heart health, brain health, reducing inflammation, and healthy bones. Flaxseeds and chia seeds are the best sources of ALA omega-3 fatty acids while DHA and EPA are highest in wild-caught coldwater fatty fish, like capelin.
Along with the health benefits of masago, there are some concerns.
Artificial colorings: Many manufacturers of lower quality masago add artificial colors to make it more vibrant, like tobiko. Choose only high-quality masago from a reputable source, and read ingredient labels carefully.
High fructose corn syrup: Some manufacturers add high fructose corn syrup to masago eggs, particularly those sold in the United States. Read the ingredient labels carefully and choose one without added sugar.
Sodium: This coldwater fish roe is from the sea, and it is cured. As such, masago is extremely high in sodium, with a single tablespoon containing 10% of the DV. If you are on a low-salt diet or have high blood pressure, it is probably not advisable to consume masago eggs regularly.
Over-fishing: Conservationists and biologists are concerned that the capelin fish is being overfished and that warming seas are harming their reproduction. Some oceanographers are calling for a ban of capelin fishing, as most capelins targeted are females, for their eggs. They believe this will lead to dangerous low levels of this small fish that is vital to the ecosystem; capelins are choice food for whales, cod, and other sea creatures.
Unhealthy foods: Restaurants often partner masago with unhealthy ingredients like farmed fish. When eating out, choose sushi restaurants that use only wild-caught fish, and masago or tobiko without artificial colorings.
Fish roe rarely causes allergic reactions. However, if while eating masago, tobiko, or caviar, you experience allergy symptoms, stop eating and see a physician immediately. Potential signs of an allergic reaction include:
If you would like to include masago in your diet, but you aren’t a fan of masago sushi, here are some creative ways you can use it. You want to be careful and not use too much heat on these delicate fish eggs, as heat will damage the texture and may cause you to lose some of the omega-3 fatty acids.
Sprinkle on salads to add color, taste, and texture. Try topping an avocado salad (or even guacamole) with a bit of masago; it partners well with the creaminess of the avocado.
Add to ceviche or your favorite Hawaiian Poke recipe to add a touch of brininess and texture. Masago fits right in with Pacific-rim recipes that combine salty and sweet flavors together.
Try taramasalata, a Greek favorite, that is a creamy (and decadent) staple as an appetizer. Traditional taramasalata recipes include fish roe, bread, garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice blended together until rich and creamy.
Add to Eggs Benedict or another favorite egg recipe to boost the protein and nutrients. If you are feeling decadent, this recipe for Lobster Eggs Benedict is topped with caviar, but masago would also work!
Partner with deviled eggs to bring a brightness and a surprising crunch to this picnic-favorite recipe.
Upgrade your comfort-food pasta with a creamy caviar and smoked salmon dish. Masago would be a great substitute here for the salmon roe the recipe calls for. This recipe is excellent for preserving masago nutrients, as the fish roe is tossed in just before serving.
Whip up spicy masago sauce that is perfect for sushi or to mix into your favorite tuna salad recipe. Follow this spicy mayo recipe, which includes masago, or use your favorite recipe and mix a tablespoon in to add the texture and the healthy masago benefits you are looking for.