History of sushi

The origin of sushi is believed to have been during the second century A.D. in Southeast Asia because of the need to keep meat fresh without refrigeration. They would cure meat and fish and wrap it in rice to preserve its freshness. It was then left to ferment for several months. If the meat and fish were treated this way, it could be preserved for several months longer than being cured alone. Eventually, when enough time had passed, they would discard the rice and eat the cured insides.

A platter displaying many types of sushi.

The idea eventually spread through China and then to Japan, where fish is a food staple. The Japanese would ferment their cured-fish-and-rice sushi with Japanese rice wine, or sake.

About ten centuries later, people started adding vinegar to their sushi to aid in the fermentation process. This way, they didn't have to wait so many months for the sushi to be ready.

In the 1820's, chefs started using raw fish in their sushi, known as Edo-style sushi. This is the style you will find in most sushi restaurants.

Nearly 100 years later, when Tokyo was dominated by food service stalls, vendors invented nigiri-sushi, or raw fish placed atop shaped rice. This type of sushi is sometimes referred to as "hand sushi" because of its portability.

After World War II, the use of street stalls to sell fish decreased in favor of more sanitary indoor conditions, but the nigiri-style remained.

In the past 20 years, as sushi is being recognized as a healthy alternative, sushi restaurants have flourished in the United States. Rolls like the California Roll, which is made with cucumber instead of fish, were introduced to Westerners who might be weary of the idea of sushi.

Today, thanks to mass production and globalization, sushi is a common meal in many parts of the world.

For a more extensive history of sushi, visit the Sushi Encyclopedia and Sushi Faq.