What It Means When Your Sushi is Bitter


There are a lot of misunderstandings with regards to how sushi should taste, smell, and look, but one thing that most people can agree on is that sushi should not taste bitter.

What does it mean when your sushi tastes bitter? It could mean a lot of things and you might need to do some investigating. In many cases, it could have something to do with how the fish was prepared. The vegetable used could be an issue, as well, along with the fruits. Sometimes, the rice could be the culprit.

Knowing what the cause of the bitterness in sushi is can often dictate if it is safe to consume, even if it’s a bit unpleasant, or if you should just spit it out and throw the whole plate away.

What Causes Bitterness in Sushi?

There can be a lot of causes behind the bitterness in the sushi that you taste and it’s often possible that it’s more than one. This is why it’s important for you to investigate what the cause is and if it is even actually real. It’s possible that the bitterness is more psychological than anything and it can even have something to do with the utensils that you use or the container that the sushi is served in.

Basically, bitterness can be caused by any of the following factors:

·         Natural taste

·         Environment




·         Processing

·         Tools and utensils used

·         Containers

·         Surface contact

·         Chemical changes

On that note, it’s best to start with the usual suspects for these kinds of things and what causes the bitterness in them. For that, you can take a look at the table below:




IngredientCause of Bitterness
FishSome fish are just bitter by nature or due to their environment, but most cases involve careless processing or cleaning.
Vegetables and fruitsSome vegetables like cucumber develop a bitter taste over time and the same goes for mango.
RiceWhen rice comes in contact with bitter ingredients or surfaces, it can produce a bitter taste.
Sushi CaviarWhen caviar comes in contact with metal, it can produce a metallic taste, which can be interpreted as bitter.

Depending on the type of sushi and the ingredients used, there can be more reasons why it becomes bitter. The likelihood of this happening increases with the more radical types of sushi that came about as a result of experimentation and new trends. There have even been cases where the sushi is intentionally served incredibly bitter and extremely spicy.

However, if you are dealing with just the regular kinds of sushi, the factors listed in the table above can be counted on as the most likely culprits. To that end, it can be easy to determine if it is safe to eat or not.

In the case of fish that are just naturally bitter or became bitter due to the waters they were caught in, you can usually eat them. Most restaurants and sushi makers won’t use fish that contain high levels of mercury.




Fruits like avocado can get bitter when they become overripe and even the act of slicing certain vegetables can activate chemical changes that turn them bitter. In these cases, the sushi can still be eaten despite the unpleasant experience.

How Should Sushi Taste?

There are a lot of tastes that can be associated with sushi and too many seem to have the wrong impressions as to how this dish should taste. To make things a bit clearer, here are some of the flavors that can be associated with this Japanese dish:

·         Sour

·         Sweet

·         Salty

·         Pungent




The sourness is derived from the rice, some of the fruits, and the various flavorings that are often mixed in with the fillings. The sweetness can come from the fish, the fruits, and some of the sugar that can be mixed in with the rice. The saltiness can come with the fillings that can be marinated, smoked, brined, grilled, and so much more.

Finally, the pungent taste and smell can be associated with the seaweed and the caviar that are often mainstays when it comes to sushi. Putting all of these together, a good sushi should have most of these tastes or all of them.

What a sushi should never be is either bland or bitter. If you get sushi taste like those, you are either getting it in prepackaged form or the sushi chef is not a chef, at all.

Should Sushi Smell?

Just as sushi should never be bland or bitter, sushi should never smell. Seriously, you know that you are getting good sushi when it smells of nothing when you get it. Of course, this applies only to sushi with simple flavors and fillings. It can be a different matter when dealing with fillings like smoked eel, for example, where the smoky smell can be quite prevalent.

In any case, when you have something like a California maki or a spicy tuna role, they should not smell of anything. The sense of smell doesn’t really apply to the enjoyment of sushi apart from the wasabi and the soy sauce. Those should be the only prominent scents that you will notice once you are served a plate of sushi.




When the moment a tray is placed in front of you and you notice a strong fishy or pungent scent, you should send it back because you were just given bad sushi. Even if it’s not automatically a risk to your health, you are not getting the full sushi experience, either.

This goes doubly true for when you are in expensive restaurants that charge something like $100 per plate. At that price range, you had best get the very best in terms of sushi quality and service. At that point, your food should be prepared by an actual trained sushi chef who will already know about all of these things.

If you are getting your sushi from somewhere like a gas station fridge, well, you can’t really expect the best. However, it should still not have a fishy scent or the smell of ammonia.

Related Questions

What Does Bas Sushi Do To You?

Bad sushi is often correlated with food poisoning, but there can be a whole range of symptoms and diseases that you can get depending on the condition of the sushi. For those with strong constitutions, a stomach ache could be the worst of it but parasites can be can problem too.

How Do You Eat Sushi Properly?

Contrary to conventional wisdom, sushi is actually eaten using your hands rather than chopstick. It doesn’t matter if it is a block or a roll, you pick it up, dip the bottom side into the soy sauce, and place it in your mouth. Make sure that you don’t use much of the soy sauce to preserve the flavor.

Signs of Bad Sushi

How do you know if the sushi that you got was bad? The first sign that you will likely notice is the appearance. Good sushi will always look vibrant, colorful, and succulent. The way the sushi is molded or cut must be pristine, as well, because this is a sign that it was handled by someone who actually cared.

In contrast, bad sushi will look uneven, haphazardly arranged, and will have a dull color. They will be darkened or will look incredibly dried. The caviar, sesame seeds, or the seaweed wrap will be patchy or inconsistent, as well.

Next to the appearance is the smell. This was already discussed before, but other than sushi that have fillings that were smoked, there must be no obvious smell. You would need to put your nose very close to the sushi to smell the fish, vinegar, and everything else. If there is a strong fishy, ammoniac, or pungent odor, this means that you got bad sushi.

Finally, there is the taste. If the sushi tastes bitter, slimy, or overly salty, this means that you should probably spit it out. There are some cases where bitter sushi can still be safe to eat, but why would you do that?

Signs of a Bad Sushi Restaurant

Speaking of not doing things to yourself, eating at a bad sushi restaurant is just not advised. You can usually tell which restaurants are bad by the type of foods served, how they are served, and how it smells.

Starting with actual sushi restaurants that specialize only in that dish, there should be no obvious smell the moment you enter. At most, you should only detect cucumber or watermelon. If there are any other smells other than those, it means something is wrong.

For other restaurants that offer other foods, fastfood joints are unlikely to serve you anything decent. The same goes for all-you-can-eat buffets and family restaurants with an overly energetic consumer base. Generally speaking, restaurants with truly good sushi exude an air of elegance and maturity.

At the very least, the mere fact that the food being served is that of a luxury variety means that the clientele will have a corresponding status. If nothing else, if the chef preparing the sushi was trained in Japan, you are probably in a good spot.

Recent Content