Sushi (すし, 寿司, 鮨, pronounced [sɯɕiꜜ] or [sɯꜜɕi]) is a traditional Japanese dish of prepared vinegared rice (鮨飯, sushi-meshi), usually with some sugar and salt, accompanying a variety of ingredients (ネタ, neta), such as seafood, often raw, and vegetables. Styles of sushi and its presentation vary widely, but the one key ingredient is "sushi rice", also referred to as shari (しゃり), or sumeshi (酢飯).
Sushi is traditionally made with medium-grain white rice, though it can be prepared with brown rice or short-grain rice. It is very often prepared with seafood, such as squid, eel, yellowtail, salmon, tuna or imitation crab meat. Many types of sushi are vegetarian. It is often served with pickled ginger (gari), wasabi, and soy sauce. Daikon radish or pickled daikon (takuan) are popular garnishes for the dish.
Sushi is sometimes confused with sashimi, a related dish in Japanese cuisine that consists of thinly sliced raw fish, or occasionally meat, and an optional serving of rice.
Sushi originates in the Baiyue cuisine in ancient southern China, a dish known as narezushi (馴れ寿司, 熟寿司 – "salted fish"), stored in fermented rice for possibly months at a time. The lacto-fermentation of the rice prevents the fish from spoiling; the rice would be discarded before consumption of the fish. This early type of sushi became an important source of protein for its Japanese consumers. The term sushi literally means "sour-tasting" and comes from an antiquated し (shi) terminal-form conjugation, 酸し sushi, no longer used in other contexts, of the adjectival verb 酸い sui "to be sour"; the overall dish has a sour and umami or savoury taste. Narezushi still exists as a regional specialty, notably as funa-zushi from Shiga Prefecture.
Vinegar began to be added to the preparation of narezushi in the Muromachi period (1336–1573) for the sake of enhancing both taste and preservation. In addition to increasing the sourness of the rice, the vinegar significantly increased the dish's longevity, causing the fermentation process to be shortened and eventually abandoned. The primitive sushi would be further developed in Osaka, where over several centuries it became oshi-zushi or "hako-zushi"; in this preparation, the seafood and rice were pressed into shape with wooden (typically bamboo) molds.
It was not until the Edo period (1603–1868) that fresh fish was served over vinegared rice and nori. The particular style of today's nigirizushi became popular in Edo (contemporary Tokyo) in the 1820s or 1830s. One common story of nigirizushi's origins is of the chef Hanaya Yohei (1799–1858), who invented or perfected the technique in 1824 at his shop in Ryōgoku. The dish was originally termed Edomae zushi as it used freshly caught fish from the Edo-mae (Edo or Tokyo Bay); the term Edomae nigirizushi is still used today as a by-word for quality sushi, regardless of its ingredients' origins.
The earliest written mention of sushi in English described in the Oxford English Dictionary is in an 1893 book, A Japanese Interior, where it mentions sushi as "a roll of cold rice with fish, sea-weed, or some other flavoring". There is an earlier mention of sushi in James Hepburn's Japanese-English dictionary from 1873, and an 1879 article on Japanese cookery in the journal Notes and Queries.
The common ingredient in all types of sushi is vinegared sushi rice. Fillings, toppings, condiments, and preparation vary widely.
Due to rendaku consonant mutation, sushi is spelled with zu instead of su when a prefix is attached, as in nigirizushi.
The main ingredients of traditional Japanese sushi, raw fish and rice, are naturally low in fat, high in protein, carbohydrates (the rice only), vitamins, and minerals, as are gari and nori. Other vegetables wrapped within the sushi also offer various vitamins and minerals. Many of the seafood ingredients also contain omega-3 fatty acids, which have a variety of health benefits. The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish has certain beneficial properties, especially on cardiovascular health, natural anti-inflammatory compounds, and play a role in brain function.
Generally sushi is not a particularly fattening food. However, rice in sushi contains a fair amount of carbohydrates, plus the addition of other ingredients such as mayonnaise added into sushi rolls might increase the caloric content. Sushi also has a relatively high sodium content, especially contributed from shoyu soy sauce seasoning.
Some of the ingredients in sushi can present health risks. Large marine apex predators such as tuna (especially bluefin) can harbor high levels of methylmercury, which can lead to mercury poisoning when consumed in large quantity or when consumed by certain higher-risk groups, including women who are pregnant or may become pregnant, nursing mothers and young children.
According to recent studies, there have been about 18 million infections worldwide from eating raw fish.This serves as a great risk to expecting mothers due to the health risks that medical interventions or treatment measures may pose on the developing fetus. Parasitic infections can have a wide range of health impacts, including bowel obstruction, anemia, liver disease, and more. The impact of these illnesses alone can pose some health concerns on the expecting mother and baby, but the curative measures that may need to take place to recover, are also a concern as well.
Sashimi or other types of sushi containing raw fish present a risk of infection by three main types of parasites:
Clonorchis sinensis, a fluke which can cause clonorchiasis
Anisakis, a roundworm which can cause anisakiasis
Diphyllobothrium, a tapeworm which can cause diphyllobothriasis
For the above reasons, EU regulations forbid the use of fresh raw fish. It must be frozen at temperatures below −20 °C (−4 °F) in all parts of the product for no less than 24 hours. As such, a number of fishing boats, suppliers and end users "super-freeze" fish for sushi to temperatures as low as −60 °C. As well as parasite destruction, super-freezing also prevents oxidation of the blood in tuna flesh, thus preventing the discoloration that happens at temperatures above −20 °C.
Some forms of sushi, notably those containing pufferfish fugu and some kinds of shellfish, can cause severe poisoning if not prepared properly. Particularly, fugu consumption can be fatal. Fugu fish has a lethal dose of tetrodotoxin in its internal organs and, by law in many countries, must be prepared by a licensed fugu chef who has passed the prefectural examination in Japan. The licensing examination process consists of a written test, a fish-identification test, and a practical test that involves preparing the fugu and separating out the poisonous organs. Only about 35 percent of the applicants pass.
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