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Unagi at a restaurant
Main ingredients Eel
Unaju, Japanese unagi cuisine Unaju by naotakem in Yurakucho.jpg
Unaju, Japanese unagi cuisine

Unagi (ウナギ) is the Japanese word for freshwater eel, especially the Japanese eel, Anguilla japonica (日本鰻, nihon unagi). [1] Unagi is a common ingredient in Japanese cooking, often as kabayaki . It is not to be confused with saltwater eel, which is known as anago in Japanese.


In Japanese cuisine

Unagi is served as part of unadon (sometimes spelled unagidon, especially in menus in Japanese restaurants in Western countries), a donburi dish with sliced eel served on a bed of rice. A kind of sweet biscuit called unagi pie made with powdered unagi also exists. [2] Unagi is high in protein, vitamin A, and calcium. [3]

Specialist unagi restaurants are common in Japan, and commonly have signs showing the word unagi with hiragana (transliterated u), which is the first letter of the word unagi. Lake Hamana in Hamamatsu city, Shizuoka prefecture is considered to be the home of the highest quality unagi; as a result, the lake is surrounded by many small restaurants specializing in various unagi dishes. Unagi is often eaten during the hot summers in Japan. There is even a special day for eating unagi, the midsummer day of the Ox (doyo no ushi no hi). [4] [5]

Unakyu is a common expression used for sushi containing eel & cucumber. As eel is poisonous unless cooked, eels are always cooked, and in Japanese food, are often served with tare sauce. Unagi that is roasted without tare and only seasoned with salt is known as "Shirayaki." [6]


Seafood Watch, a sustainable seafood advisory list, recommends that consumers avoid eating unagi due to significant pressures on worldwide freshwater eel populations. All three eel species used as unagi have seen their population sizes greatly reduced in the past half century. For example, catches of the European eel have declined about 80% since the 1960s. The Japanese Ministry of the Environment has officially added Japanese eel to the “endangered” category of the country’s Red List of animals ranging from “threatened” to “extinct”. [7]

Although about 90% of freshwater eel consumed in the U.S. are farm-raised, they are not bred in captivity. Instead, young eels are collected from the wild and then raised in various enclosures. In addition to wild eel populations being reduced by this process, eels are often farmed in open net pens which allow parasites, waste products, and diseases to flow directly back into wild eel habitat, further threatening wild populations. Freshwater eels are carnivores and as such are fed other wild-caught fish, adding another element of unsustainability to current eel farming practices. [8]

Related Research Articles

Japanese cuisine Culinary traditions of Japan

Japanese cuisine encompasses the regional and traditional foods of Japan, which have developed through centuries of political, economic, and social changes. The traditional cuisine of Japan is based on rice with miso soup and other dishes; there is an emphasis on seasonal ingredients. Side dishes often consist of fish, pickled vegetables, and vegetables cooked in broth. Seafood is common, often grilled, but also served raw as sashimi or in sushi. Seafood and vegetables are also deep-fried in a light batter, as tempura. Apart from rice, a staple includes noodles, such as soba and udon. Japan also has many simmered dishes such as fish products in broth called oden, or beef in sukiyaki and nikujaga.

Seafood Food from the sea

Seafood is any form of sea life regarded as food by humans, prominently including fish and shellfish. Shellfish include various species of molluscs, crustaceans, and echinoderms. Historically, marine mammals such as cetaceans as well as seals have been eaten as food, though that happens to a lesser extent in modern times. Edible sea plants such as some seaweeds and microalgae are widely eaten as sea vegetables around the world, especially in Asia. In the United States, although not generally in the United Kingdom, the term "seafood" is extended to fresh water organisms eaten by humans, so all edible aquatic life may be referred to as "seafood".

Sushi Portioned prepared vinegared rice topped or rolled with other ingredients

Sushi is a traditional Japanese dish of prepared vinegared rice, usually with some sugar and salt, accompanied by a variety of ingredients, 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).

Ramen Japanese dish of wheat noodles in a meat or fish broth

Ramen is a Japanese noodle soup. It consists of Chinese-style wheat noodles served in a meat or (occasionally) fish-based broth, often flavored with soy sauce or miso, and uses toppings such as sliced pork, nori, menma, and scallions. Nearly every region in Japan has its own variation of ramen, such as the tonkotsu ramen of Kyushu and the miso ramen of Hokkaido. Mazemen is a ramen dish that is not served in a soup, but rather with a sauce.

Shellfish Culinary and fisheries term for exoskeleton-bearing aquatic invertebrates

Shellfish is a colloquial and fisheries term for exoskeleton-bearing aquatic invertebrates used as food, including various species of molluscs, crustaceans, and echinoderms. Although most kinds of shellfish are harvested from saltwater environments, some are found in freshwater. In addition, a few species of land crabs are eaten, for example Cardisoma guanhumi in the Caribbean. Shellfish are among the most common food allergens.

<i>Tempura</i> Japanese dish of battered deep-fried fish or vegetables

Tempura is a typical Japanese dish usually consisting of seafood, meat, and vegetables that have been battered and deep fried. The dish was introduced by the Portuguese residing in Nagasaki through the fritter-cooking techniques in the 16th century. The name "tempura" may originate from the Latin phrase quatuor anni tempora, which refers to the Ember Days, during which no meat is consumed, or from the Portuguese word tempêro, meaning “seasoning”.

<i>Donburi</i> Japanese meals based on a rice bowl

Donburi is a Japanese "rice-bowl dish" consisting of fish, meat, vegetables or other ingredients simmered together and served over rice. Donburi meals are usually served in oversized rice bowls which are also called donburi. If one needs to distinguish, the bowl is called donburi-bachi (丼鉢) and the food is called donburi-mono (丼物).

<i>Yakiniku</i> style of Japanese food preparation

Yakiniku, meaning "grilled meat", is a Japanese term that, in its broadest sense, refers to grilled meat cuisine. "Yakiniku" originally referred to western "barbecue" food, the term being popularized by Japanese writer Kanagaki Robun (仮名垣魯文) in his Seiyo Ryoritsu in 1872. The term later became associated with Korean-derived cuisine during the early Shōwa period. Due to the Korean War, the terms associated with Korea in Japan were divided into North Korea and South Korea (Kankoku); the reference to a "yakiniku restaurant" arose as a politically correct term for restaurants of either origin.

The Anguillidae are a family of ray-finned fish that contains the freshwater eels. Eighteen of the 19 extant species and six subspecies in this family are in the genus Anguilla. They are elongated fish with snake-like bodies, their long dorsal, caudal and anal fins forming a continuous fringe. They are catadromous fish, spending their adult lives in fresh water, but migrating to the ocean to spawn. Eels are an important food fish and some species are now farm-raised, but not bred in captivity. Many populations in the wild are now threatened, and Seafood Watch recommend consumers avoid eating anguillid eels.


Anago is the Japanese word for salt-water eels, normally referring to ma-anago. Ma-anago are used for a seafood dish in Japan. They are often simmered (sushi) or deep-fried (tempura), compared to unagi which are usually barbecued with a sauce (kabayaki). Anago is also slightly less rich and oily than unagi. Anago has a very soft texture and sweet taste.


Unadon is a dish originating in Japan. It consists of a donburi type large bowl filled with steamed white rice, and topped with fillets of eel (unagi) grilled in a style known as kabayaki, similar to teriyaki. The fillets are glazed with a sweetened soy-based sauce, called tare and caramelized, preferably over charcoal fire. The fillets are not flayed, and the grayish skin side is placed faced down. Sufficient tare sauce is poured over so that some of it seeps through the rice underneath. By convention, pulverized dried berries of sanshō are sprinkled on top as seasoning.

Japanese eel Species of fish

The Japanese eel is a species of anguillid eel found in Japan, Korea, China, and Vietnam, as well as the northern Philippines. Like all the eels of the genus Anguilla and the family Anguillidae, it is catadromous, meaning it spawns in the sea, but lives parts of its life in fresh water. The spawning area of this species is in the North Equatorial Current in the western North Pacific to the west of the Mariana Islands. The larvae are called leptocephali and are carried westward by the North Equatorial Current and then northward by the Kuroshio Current to East Asia, where they live in rivers, lakes, and estuaries. The Japanese eel is an important food fish in East Asia, where it is raised in aquaculture ponds in most countries in the region. In Japan, where they are called unagi, they are an important part of the food culture, with many restaurants serving grilled eel, which is called kabayaki.


Kabayaki (蒲焼) is a preparation of fish, especially unagi eel, where the fish is split down the back, gutted and boned, butterflied, cut into square fillets, skewered, and dipped in a sweet soy sauce-based sauce before being cooked on a grill or griddle.

Asian swamp eel Species of fish

The Asian swamp eel, also known as rice eel, ricefield eel, or rice paddy eel is a commercially important, air-breathing species of fish in the family Synbranchidae. It occurs in East and Southeast Asia, where it is a very common foodstuff sold throughout the region. It has been introduced to two areas near the Everglades in Florida and near Atlanta in Georgia.

Eel Order of fishes

Eels are ray-finned fish belonging to the order Anguilliformes, which consists of eight suborders, 19 families, 111 genera, and about 800 species. Eels undergo considerable development from the early larval stage to the eventual adult stage, and most are predators.

History of seafood

The harvesting and consuming of seafoods are ancient practices that may date back to at least the Upper Paleolithic period which dates to between 50,000 and 10,000 years ago. Isotopic analysis of the skeletal remains of Tianyuan man, a 40,000-year-old modern human from eastern Asia, has shown that he regularly consumed freshwater fish. Archaeology features such as shell middens, discarded fish bones and cave paintings show that sea foods were important for survival and consumed in significant quantities. During this period, most people lived a hunter-gatherer lifestyle and were, of necessity, constantly on the move. However, where there are early examples of permanent settlements such as those at Lepenski Vir, they are almost always associated with fishing as a major source of food.

Eel as food

Eels are elongated fish, ranging in length from 5 centimetres (2.0 in) to 4 metres (13 ft). Adults range in weight from 30 grams to over 25 kilograms. They possess no pelvic fins, and many species also lack pectoral fins. The dorsal and anal fins are fused with the caudal or tail fin, forming a single ribbon running along much of the length of the animal. Most eels live in the shallow waters of the ocean and burrow into sand, mud, or amongst rocks. A majority of eel species are nocturnal and thus are rarely seen. Sometimes, they are seen living together in holes, or "eel pits". Some species of eels live in deeper water on the continental shelves and over the slopes deep as 4,000 metres (13,000 ft). Only members of the family Anguillidae regularly inhabit fresh water, but they too return to the sea to breed.


  1. 日本鰻. Local Sensei. Archived from the original on 28 May 2014. Retrieved 27 May 2014.
  2. "浜松のお菓子処 春華堂". Archived from the original on 2009-02-06. Retrieved 2009-09-14.
  3. "Fresh-Water Eel (Unagi) Nutrition and Calorie count". pogogi.com.
  4. Yoshizuka, Setsuko. "About.com: Introduction to Japanese Unagi" . Retrieved 2009-07-19.
  5. "Health Hokkaido: Beef Saturday- The Origin of Eel Day". Archived from the original on 2009-08-27. Retrieved 2009-07-19.
  6. Savor Japan. "Unagi and Anago: 8 Wonderful Ways to Eat Japanese Eel". SAVOR JAPAN.
  7. Westlake, Adam (2013-02-04). "Japanese eel now officially seen as endangered". Japan Daily Press. Retrieved 27 May 2014.
  8. Halpin, Patricia (2007). "Seafood Watch: Unagi" (PDF). Monterey Bay Aquarium. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-07-06.Cite journal requires |journal= (help)