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Tarako vs Mentaiko: What’s The Difference Between Japanese Cod Roe

Tarako and mentaiko are both Japanese cod roe types often seen throughout Japanese cuisine. Many people confuse the two together, as they're both pollock roe. However, mentaiko is tarako. However, tarako is not necessarily mentaiko. Confused yet? Continue reading to learn all about this cod roe, from what it tastes like to how you can use it in recipes!

What is Japanese Cod Roe: Tarako vs. Mentaiko

As you may have guessed, tarako and mentaiko are seafood ingredients. Tarako translates to "children of cod," while mentaiko means "cod roe," each offering a straightforward explanation of the ingredients. These fish egg (Japanese) ingredients come from the Alaskan Pollock, a fish from the cod family. So, you'll hear them called cod roe and pollock roe. 

Here’s the main difference – they’re seasoned differently. Tarako is salted, while mentaiko is usually marinated. 

What can you do with tarako? What can you do with mentaiko?

There are many dishes that you can make with each ingredient, which is what makes them so popular in Japan. You can even eat them by themselves for a tasty snack. Both offer a salty flavor that has a seafood (non-fishy!) flavor. Mentaiko usually also has a briny taste and an umami taste because of the marinade it sits in. 

You’ll recognize these ingredients by their appearance – smaller, oval-shaped egg sacks. Tarako is pink, while mentaiko varies in color depending on the spices in the marinade.

Varieties of Tarako and Mentaiko

There are a few different types of tarako and mentaiko that you can purchase at the store. It's important to note that you can purchase this ingredient as frozen pollock roe or fresh. 

Tarako

This is the standard type of cod roe which is only salted. 

Mentaiko

Mentaiko, as mentioned above, includes a variety of marinades and seasonings. It will appear in different colors depending on the seasoning that's included.

Karashi Mentaiko 

Karashi mentaiko is also known as spicy cod roe. This type of mentaiko includes a chili pepper marinade that turns the cod roe a reddish color and creates a fiery flavor. 

How to Prepare Japanese Cod Roe?

You can create mentaiko udon or mentaiko sauce for a flavorful dish. You can also fry mentaiko and tarako. Or, mix them with pasta dishes to make tarako or mentaiko pasta. You can even use these ingredients in homemade sushi. 

Dishes for Pollock Roe 

Here are some ways that you can use pollock roe. Of course, these are only a few dishes that can include tarako or mentaiko. Feel free to get creative with this ingredient; you’ll find it’s quite versatile!

Udon noodles flavored with mentaiko cod roe.

Cod Roe Recipes

Below you’ll find tips on how to make each dish, including how to prep the cod roe!

Raw Sushi 

Turning pollock roe into raw sushi is one of the easiest ways to use this ingredient. Separate the tarako or mentaiko pieces from the container, prep your sushi rice, and add one piece of the roe to the top of your nigiri. Serve it with soy sauce, and it's ready to go!

Steamed Rice and Olive Oil

Creating a code roe rice dish is also quite easy and only requires a few steps. Once your steamed rice is prepped, serve it in a small bowl. Then, sear the cod roe with olive oil for a minute on each side. Add the tarako or mentaiko to the top of the rice and sprinkle on furikake rice seasoning

Stuff Rice Balls (Onigiri) and Wrap Them in Seaweed

Instead of creating nigiri, you can make onigiri. You’ll need the same ingredients – prepped sushi rice, cod roe, and seaweed. Add rice to a mold, put a piece of tarako or mentaiko in the middle, top it with rice, and press it into a triangular shape. Then, wrap it with seaweed, and you have your own onigiri!

Tarako cod roe onigiri rice balls

Mentaiko Pasta Sauce

This mentaiko recipe is a great way to use cod roe! You can easily make this Japanese fusion recipe using heavy whipping cream, milk, butter, and soy sauce. Cook any pasta of your choice. Then, mix the remaining ingredients in a separate bowl. Add tarako or mentaiko in raw (removed from the sack), mix well, and combine with pasta. You can also use a premade sauce if you want a quicker option. Here are some of our favorites: Nissin Mama Pasta Sauce: Tarako Cod Roe, S&B Pasta Sauce: Mentaiko, and S&B Pasta Sauce: Tarako Cod Roe.

Chazuke 

Chazuke is a simple rice dish, or rice soup, that you can add cod roe. After steaming rice, add it to a bowl and top it with hot green tea, dashi (broth), or hot water. Then, add raw pollock roe on top. You can also add furikake if you’d like.  

Cod Roe Baguette

Believe it or not, you can also add cod roe to baguettes (and pizza!). You’ll want to opt for spicy cod roe for this recipe! Mix mascarpone, garlic, lemon, and raw cod roe (removed from the sack). Then, spread it on toasted baguette slices. 

Code Roe Tempura 

Yes, you can even fry cod roe! Dip your cod roe pieces into the tempura batter, and deep fry for a few minutes until you have a crispy exterior and a golden-brown color. Then, pair it with tempura sauce and dip away to your heart’s content. 

Shirataki with Cod Roe

Shirataki noodles are created from the konjac plant. They’re a healthier option for those who want a lower-calorie noodle dish. Stir-fry these noodles and then top them with raw cod roe for a tasty snack or meal. 

Japanese Cod Roe Tips & FAQ

Here are some tips to help you enjoy tarako and mentaiko at home!

Where to Buy Tarako and Mentaiko

You can find tarako and mentaiko at your local Asian market. Since it's sold frozen or refrigerated, you'll want to check the freezer and fridge sections. You may need to purchase this Japanese ingredient online if it's unavailable. 

How to Store 

You can keep cod roe in the fridge or freezer. If you're keeping it in the fridge, you'll need to consume it within 2-3 days. Make sure to put it in an airtight container first. It will last about two or three months in the fridge. Put it in the fridge to defrost, and it's ready to go. 

Eating raw

Since tarako and mentaiko arrive already prepped, you can eat them as-is. You don't need to trim anything off or slice it; you can serve it over rice and consume it. If you don't feel comfortable eating cod roe raw, pan-fry it for a few minutes with some oil first. 

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