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Sushi vs Sashimi vs Nigiri: What’s The Difference

Maria Foster
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by Maria Foster

A lot of us like going out for sushi, but very few are aware of the incredible variety of culinary delights available in a Japanese restaurant. With terms like sashimi and nigiri, the world of sushi can become overwhelming very fast.

So, in this article, we’ll discuss the contrasts between these traditional Japanese fish dishes. When you return to your favorite sushi restaurant for a pleasant date or a family outing in the future, you’ll be completely prepared for a Japanese fish feast!

Difference Between Sushi, Sashimi & Nigiri

In simple words, the main difference between sushi, sashimi, and nigiri is the art of preparation. Sushi is vinegared rice served with raw seafood and oftentimes veggies. Sashimi is raw fish or meat served in thin slices without rice. Nigiri is a cross between sushi and sashimi prepared with raw fish slices on top of rectangular mounds of pressed vinegar rice.

What Do Their Japanese Names Mean?


Sushi means “vinegar rice,” as rice is its main element. Sushi isn’t a specific meal — it’s a blanket phrase that refers to a genre of Japanese delicacies created from vinegared rice.


Sashimi, on the other side, means “pierced meat” or “pierced body.” It’s made of thin, beautifully sliced strips of raw meat, however, without rice. Sashimi can include raw fish, meat, veggies, or raw tofu.


Nigiri is Japanese for “two fingers.” This little, delectable dish is made with a thinly sliced curtain of raw fish set over a clump of savory and sweet vinegared rice.

What Are Their Key Ingredients?

Sushi is made of medium-grained white rice seasoned with salt, sugar, and vinegar and combined with either eel, salmon, calamari, squid, or crab. Additionally, there are vegetarian variants of sushi created using cucumber and avocado.

Traditional sashimi is made of raw fish or meat. The most popular choices include salmon, tuna, beef, horse mackerel, octopus, deer, scallops, and sea urchin. Vegan sashimi contains thin pieces of watermelon marinated in rice vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil.

Nigiri is a small vinegared rice ball topped with a raw piece of squid, halibut, salmon, yellowtail, or octopus, with salmon nigiri being the finest and most popular selection.

How Are They Prepared?

Traditional sushi is produced on a piece of nori, a layer of vinegared rice on top, a groove in the center for the fish and vegetables, and a sprinkle of wasabi sauce on top. The nori is then rolled around the mixture using a makisu and manually shaped into a square form. The sushi roll is then cut into 1.5” (3.8cm) pieces.

Sashimi basically involves chopping up the fish. Japanese chefs use a variety of cutting methods for sashimi, including hira-zukuri (rectangle chop), usu-zukuri (thin slice), kaku-zukuri (square cut), and ito-zukuri (thread slice). Sashimi is presented with three garnishes — ken, tsuma, and karami. Daikon radish is a well-known ken, while tsuma are colorful heaps of herbs. Karami is a strong spice, generally green horseradish.

Nigiri is perhaps the simplest meal to prepare. Because it’s just sushi rice and fish, the first step is to prepare the rice. The fish is chopped against the grain to produce more aesthetically pleasing, easier-to-eat, and less chewy chunks. The rice is formed into small mounds by hand and topped with a piece of fish.

What Are They Served With?

Sushi is typically enjoyed with different sauces, like soy sauce, the rich green puree known as wasabi, or a heap of pickled ginger known as gari.

Sashimi is typically served with a dab of wasabi sauce, soy sauce, lemon juice, and thin slices of pickled ginger to help clear the palette. Sashimi is frequently served in Japanese restaurants with a tiny empty bowl so that customers can mix their own sauce using their preferred ratios of dipping ingredients.

The usual garnishes for nigiri are pickled ginger leaves, a dab of wasabi sauce, and a little dish of soy sauce. Nigiri pieces are often presented in pairs to add more variety and color. For instance, two pieces of salmon nigiri and two pieces of bluefin tuna.

Which Is the Most Expensive?

Usually, nigiri and sushi are more affordable than sashimi. This is because sushi and nigiri contain rice, a more affordable food source than fish. Sashimi, in contrast, is entirely composed of fish, meat, or seafood, and, depending on the varieties and grade of the ingredients used, it can be rather pricy.

Sushi vs Sashimi vs Nigiri Comparison Table

EtymologyVinegar ricePierced meat or pierced bodyTwo fingers
Type of dishVinegared rice served with raw seafood and often times veggiesThin slices of raw fish or meat served without riceRaw fish slices on top of rectangular mounds of pressed vinegar rice
Key ingredientsVinegared rice with eel, salmon, calamari, squid, crab, cucumber, and avocado;Salmon, tuna, beef, horse mackerel, octopus, deer, scallop, sea urchin, and vegan sashimi made of watermelon marinated in rice vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oilRice ball topped with a raw piece of squid, halibut, salmon, yellowtail, or octopus
PreparationRolled in a piece of nori using a makisu, shaped into a square form and then cut into 1.5” (3.8cm) pieces;Chop up the fish in either rectangle chops (hira-zakuri), thin slices (uzu-zakuri), square cuts (kaku-zakuri) or thread slices (ito-zakuri). It’s garnished with veggies, colorful heaps of herbs, and  strong spice  Rice is formed into small mounds by hand and topped with a piece of fish  
Serve withSoy sauce, wasabi, or pickled ginger known as gari  A dab of wasabi sauce, soy sauce, lemon juice, and thin slices of pickled ginger  Pickled ginger, a dab of wasabi sauce, and a little dish of soy sauce
PriceLess expensiveMost expensiveLess expensive

Nutritional Content Breakdown: Which One Is Healthier?

The healthiest option among the three Japanese specialties, according to the nutritional chart, is sashimi, which has the highest protein content and the lowest levels of calories, carbohydrates, and salt.

The quantity of calories, carbs, fat, protein, and fiber in each of them is very difficult to determine and will fluctuate from chef to chef because there are so many distinct components in each of them.

Overall, because sushi and nigiri sometimes contain rice as well as meat, fish, or seafood, they frequently have higher calorie and carbohydrate counts. Sashimi, however, only contains meat, so it’s high in protein and low in calories and carbohydrates.

White Meat vs Dark Meat: Nutritional Profile

Category (1 piece)Salmon SushiSalmon SashimiSalmon Nigiri
Saturated fat0.081g0.357g0.9g
Vitamins & Minerals
Vitamin A14mcg9mcg20mg
Vitamin C0.7mg0.3mg20mg

To sum up, all three Japanese dishes have a high protein content and beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. Thus, nigiri, sashimi, and sushi are nutritious low-calorie foods.

However, a few factors might render these recipes less nutrient-dense. For instance, if you slather mayonnaise on top of your sushi rolls, the calorie and fat content would soar.

Think about the dipping sauces as well. For instance, soy sauce might cause salt levels to skyrocket. The next time you indulge in delicious Japanese treats, keep this in mind.


That’s it on today’s topic of Japanese delicacies! You can visit your neighborhood Japanese restaurant and start trying these dishes!

Try sushi a few times and see how you like it, then venture beyond your comfort zone and order sashimi or nigiri — or better yet, go for a full-on Japanese feast and order all three of them!

Additionally, if you’ve never tried one of these, don’t be hesitant to get curious — ask the chef what ingredients they use, what’s the taste, or simply more about the dish in general!

The dipping sauces like soy sauce, tamari, or other options should be used sparingly at first so that you can sample the sushi on its own and experience the true flavor of the fish.

Pro tip: Leave the pickled ginger for last! During a dinner that consists of numerous courses of sushi, pickled ginger, also known as gari, is typically offered as a palate cleanser. The variety of flavors of each fish is greatly accentuated by taking a mouthful of ginger in between each bite.  Bon appetit!

About Maria Foster
Maria Foster
Maria Foster is a mother of 3 and she and her husband of 23 years share their home with 2 faithful dogs. Besides being CEO of the household and active in her community, Maria is the lead contributor to Food Champs and loves to try new food ideas and kitchen accessories to make easier and more delicious meals.
Maria Foster
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