Standards for Sushi Grade Tuna
Thoughts on Frozen Tuna
I was recently in a local supermarket with a decent seafood selection. I was waiting my turn, but couldn’t help listening to the dialog between a frustrated shopper and the seafood counter attendant over the type of tuna she should purchase for her sushi party later on that evening. As is usually the case, the pink not quite as appealing chunks of previously frozen “sushi grade” tuna were iced down and positioned next to the immaculately beautiful bright red chunks of yellowfin tuna that glistened like hunks of giant rubies. She was frustrated because the tuna deemed sushi grade was a definite turn off. “I wouldn’t want to eat that tuna cooked, much less raw!” She exclaimed. She couldn’t understand why the more appealing tuna wasn’t “sushi” grade. After all, you weren’t supposed to use frozen tuna for sushi. And what’s more, she pondered if the “sushi grade” tuna could be used for sashimi.
On Sushi/Sashimi Grade Tuna
Please be advised that consuming raw tuna carries with it a risk for food bourne illness such as parasites. It is for this reason that many markets carry “sushi” or “sashimi” grade (these terms are more for marketing than they are an actual grade) tuna that has been previously frozen. Other than cooking to a proper temperature, freezing can help to kill potential parasites that could be problematic. But even eating tuna raw that has been previously frozen still carries a risk.
Are You Eating Frozen Tuna?
Tuna found in sushi bars and restaurants that serve tuna steaks generally do not serve the style of pinkish, previously frozen “sushi” grade tuna marketed to home consumers. The less than desirable tuna filters down the market and lands where the tuna buying dollar is the weakest – the home consumer. Top tiered tuna commands a hefty price and sells in high quantities giving restaurants a definite advantage. Much of that tuna sold has not been previously frozen. That’s not to say that frozen tuna is not sold in restaurants. In fact, many restaurants have to freeze portions of tuna in order to have a steady supply on hand for customers that will not accept “we’re out of tuna” as an answer. Some purchase high quality, super frozen tuna, or tuna that has been frozen to extremely low temperatures. All frozen tuna is not created equal. What makes the difference is the quality of the tuna before it is frozen, how rapidly it was frozen and to what temperature it was frozen. In some cases, frozen tuna looks and tastes fresher than tuna that has never been frozen. How? If extremely fresh tuna is frozen to a low temperature within hours of being caught, there is no time for the tuna to lose freshness as it would in distribution.
But many people are still uncomfortable with the idea of eating frozen fish. Somehow the notion of frozen has become synonymous with low quality. And though this is sometimes the case as with the “sushi” grade tuna our frustrated shopper friend pondered, various freezing technologies have changed things dramatically. So rather than asking, “Am I eating frozen tuna?” perhaps we should reconsider our concept of fresh and ask instead, “How long will it take me to embrace it?”
So what did our frustrated shopper do in the end? Still very deep in thought, she stepped aside to let me make my selections, one of which was the nicer tuna. She turned and asked, “Do you think that tuna is good enough for sushi? I just don’t think I could eat tuna that’s been frozen.”
I nodded. The tone in her voice suggested that she had already made up her mind to buy the nicer tuna and I never revealed my profession to give her a justifiable reason to take my word on it. Comforted that I agreed, she gave the seafood counter attendant her order. As I started to walk away, she added, “This is a great price. Do you think I could buy a little extra and freeze it for the next time I make sushi?”