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Ikura is a food often served in Japanese cuisine either by itself or as part of another dish and is often a garnish on various types of sushi. It consists of salmon roe, or salmon eggs, that have been prepared in a brine and are separated into individual eggs, though several are typically served together. They are fairly salty and can be used in place of salt and other seasonings to increase the flavor of a dish, though some tasters may find the salt and fish flavor detract from the rest of the ingredients. Ikura can be served raw or cooked in the preparation of a larger dish.
A number of different types of roe or fish eggs are eaten in various types of cuisine, and in Japanese cooking, ikura is one of the most popular. In general, there are two basic ways in which the salmon roe can be prepared. The individual eggs can be removed from the salmon and prepared and served separately, allowing a chef to control the number of eggs served; this is referred to as ikura. A preparer can also remove the entire pouch of eggs or roe from the salmon and keep them all together, called sujiko, often soaking it in a brine solution. Though brined, sujiko is often somewhat sweeter than the individual roe and a more vivid red in color.
Ikura typically tastes quite salty, similar to caviar that is often seen as a delicacy in the West, and is fairly high in sodium. The salmon roe is also quite high in iron and protein, so it can contribute to the nutritional value of a dish. Ikura is usually round and deep red in color, with fresh ikura “popping” when eaten. They are often served with sushi, especially popular with types of sushi in which the rice is on the outside, allowing the roe to stick to the rice, or served simply on top of a bowl of rice and as garnish for numerous other dishes.
There are other types of fish roe used in Japanese cuisine, though ikura is one of the most common. Tobiko is the roe of flying fish and is a bright orange in color, while masago is the roe of smelt and is similar to tobiko. Uni consists of sea urchin roe that is carefully removed from a sea urchin and can be eaten raw or cooked. This sea urchin roe is also quite popular in other areas, and can be found in Korean and Chilean cuisine.