Thursday, December 13

If You Knew Sushi

Nick Tosches examines the global sushi industry for Vanity Fair. This is a great read, and one that will stick with you next time you go out for sushi:

Cheaper sushi restaurants—I would say most sushi restaurants—rely on wasabi powder, which is mixed with water, or wasabi paste from a tube. "These are not really wasabi at all; they are mixtures of ordinary white horseradish, mustard powder, and artificial flavor and color." Or worse. One common commercial "wasabi" is concocted of horseradish, lactose, corn oil, sorbitol, salt, water, artificial flavoring, turmeric, xanthan gum, citric acid, FD&C Yellow No. 5, and FD&C Blue No. 1. If referring to wasabi as horseradish is like referring to horseradish as wasabi, referring to the artificially flavored, artificially colored gunk of today as wasabi is even more absurd.


America is addicted to sugar, but it seeks increasingly to veil its addiction. Power Bars. Sounds healthy. Main ingredient: fructose syrup. Almost 25 percent sugar. How about a nice, large Tazo Chai Frappuccino Blended Crème from Starbucks? Sounds healthy—I mean, after all, chai—and classy too: crème? Sugar content: 17 teaspoons.

A killer sugar addiction, a preoccupation with health, no matter how misguided, and pretensions, or delusions, of worldly sophistication. Sushi perfectly satisfies them all.

In a nation that never ate much fresh fish, it's interesting that eel sushi is so very popular. I mean, from fish sticks and Filet-o-Fish sandwiches to conger eels? "Mommy, Mommy, I want eels, I want eels." This can't be understood other than in light of the fact that the sauce, anago no tsume, used in confecting eel sushi is a syrupy reduction made with table sugar, sake, soy sauce, and the sweet wine called mirin, and that during this reduction caramelizing causes the browning sugar to grow in mass through the formation of fructose and glucose.

As for the other types of sushi, they are all made with rice to which both table sugar and sweet rice vinegar have been added. Gari, the pickled ginger served with sushi, is also made with rice vinegar and table sugar. If it's cobalt pink rather than pale rose in color, it has been treated with a chemical bath of dye and extra sweetening agents.

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