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What Really is Sushi? My Enlightening Conversation with Chat GPT

Illustration of quinoa sushi in a plastic package, sold at natural supermarket in the United States by Dall•E
Illustration of quinoa sushi in a plastic package, sold at a natural supermarket in the United States by Dall•E

One interesting thing I have learned after teaching sushi classes for over a decade is this: The more I teach, the more I feel I know less about sushi.

This becomes more evident as I learn more about sushi that uses grains other than sushi. Take quinoa sushi. It is not rice, yet it is sold as “sushi” in natural supermarkets like Whole Foods.

As far as I know, sushi is seasoned rice with ingredients by definition, until I discovered quinoa sushi. So, what do I make of quinoa sushi? Should I accept it as sushi or deny it because it doesn’t use sushi rice?

The discovery of quinoa sushi made me curious: Is there sushi that does not use rice in Japan? Maybe I didn't know about it.

After some research, I found out that in Japan, there IS sushi that does not use rice. Not only that, there is sushi, using okara.  Okara is a by-product of making soy milk. This Okara sushi something that has been served for at least a century or maybe more, which is way longer than quinoa sushi.

Now, I figure it’s time to ask about everything Sushi GPT.

What is sushi?


What is the definition of sushi?


Sushi, at its essence, is a dish that primarily consists of sushi rice seasoned with a mixture of rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. This seasoned rice is then accompanied by a variety of ingredients, which may include fish (both raw and cooked), vegetables, and sometimes meats. The term "sushi" is derived from the Japanese words "su" (酢), meaning vinegar, and "meshi" (飯), meaning rice, which reflect its foundational components.

It's important to clarify a common misconception: sushi does not equate to raw fish. Raw fish, known as sashimi, is often associated with sushi but is a distinct and separate entity. Sushi's diversity is vast, encompassing a wide array of forms and styles, including nigiri (slices of fish or other toppings over balls of rice), maki (sushi rolls), and others.


In summary, sushi is a versatile and varied Japanese dish characterized by its seasoned rice and an assortment of other ingredients, not limited to raw fish.



How do you explain the recent new sushi styles, including Quinoa sushi?  Quinoa is not rice.


The evolution of sushi to include ingredients like quinoa reflects the dynamic and adaptable nature of culinary traditions, especially in the context of globalization and changing dietary preferences. While traditional sushi is defined by its use of vinegared rice, contemporary sushi styles, including those incorporating quinoa, are part of a broader trend towards fusion and innovation in cuisine.


Quinoa, a grain known for its nutritional benefits, including being a complete protein and gluten-free, has been integrated into sushi to cater to health-conscious consumers and those with dietary restrictions. This adaptation also reflects a growing interest in plant-based and alternative ingredients in traditional dishes.


Here are a few points to consider in explaining the rise of quinoa sushi and similar innovations:


Cultural Fusion:

As sushi became popular globally, it naturally fused with local tastes and ingredients. Quinoa sushi is an example of this fusion, combining a traditional Japanese form with a South American grain.


Health Trends:

With rising awareness about healthy eating, quinoa's high protein and nutrient profile make it an attractive alternative to white sushi rice, which is higher in carbohydrates.


Dietary Needs:

Quinoa sushi caters to those with specific dietary preferences or needs, such as gluten intolerance, offering a sushi experience to a broader audience.


Culinary Innovation:

Chefs and food enthusiasts are constantly experimenting with new ingredients and techniques, pushing the boundaries of traditional cuisines to create novel culinary experiences.



Quinoa is often touted for its sustainable farming qualities. Its use in sushi might appeal to environmentally conscious consumers.


It's important to note that while these new styles like quinoa sushi offer a twist on the traditional, they also challenge the conventional definition of sushi. Purists might argue that replacing sushi rice with quinoa moves the dish away from its cultural roots. However, others might see this as a natural evolution and a testament to sushi's global appeal and versatility.


Type of sushi not using regular sushi rice


Is there any sushi that uses ingredients other than rice and quinoa?



Yes, there are several innovative variations of sushi that use alternatives to traditional sushi rice or quinoa. These alternatives cater to diverse dietary preferences and creative culinary trends. Some notable examples include:


Cauliflower Rice Sushi:

For those following a low-carbohydrate or ketogenic diet, cauliflower rice serves as a popular substitute. It's made by pulsing cauliflower florets in a food processor until they achieve a rice-like texture and then lightly cooking it.


Brown Rice Sushi:

Health-conscious individuals often opt for brown rice due to its whole grain benefits, higher fiber content, and more nuanced flavor profile compared to white sushi rice.


Black Rice Sushi:

Black or forbidden rice, known for its high antioxidant content, is sometimes used in sushi. It has a nuttier flavor and a chewier texture than white rice.


Bulgur Wheat Sushi:

Bulgur wheat, a staple in Middle Eastern cuisine, is occasionally used as a sushi base. It’s a whole grain, like brown rice, and offers a different texture and taste.

Couscous Sushi: This North African grain made from semolina wheat is sometimes used in fusion sushi dishes, offering a lighter, fluffier texture.


Wild Rice Sushi:

Though not a true rice (it’s a grass), wild rice can be used for a nuttier, chewier sushi experience. It's often blended with other grains for a varied texture.


Barley Sushi:

Barley is another whole grain option that brings a chewy texture and a slightly nutty flavor to sushi.


In Japan, there are sushi using okara. URL here.


In Japan, there is a unique type of sushi known as "Uno Hana Kizushi" or "Touzushi," which uses 'okara' (soy pulp) instead of traditional sushi rice. Okara, a byproduct of tofu and soy milk production, is used as a substitute for the vinegared rice typically found in sushi. This dish is a distinctive example of local culinary innovation, demonstrating the versatility and adaptability of sushi as a food form. It's a reflection of regional tastes and ingredients, incorporating locally available and traditional components like okara.

"Uno Hana Kizushi," also known as "Touzushi" or "Dakizushi," is a traditional dish from the Kitaura area of Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan, which faces the Sea of Japan. This region has a rich history of supporting its people's livelihood through fishing, and this heritage is reflected in its local cuisine. A standout dish is the Uno Hana Kizushi, which is unique for using okara (soy pulp) instead of sushi rice. The common topping (neta) for this sushi is sardines that have been pickled in vinegar, although in Hagi City, other locally caught fish like Himeji or horse mackerel are sometimes used as alternatives to sardines.

Each household has its own version of this dish, but typically, the vinegar-pickled fish is used to wrap the flavored okara. This dish was historically valued as an inexpensive, easy-to-prepare staple and a preserved food, often served to unexpected guests and as an accompaniment to alcoholic beverages. Traditionally, it has been an essential part of celebrations like New Year's, weddings, and festivals.


The dish is prepared by salting sardine fillets, then soaking them in a mixture of vinegar and sugar. Toasted sesame seeds are mixed with the seasoned okara, which is then shaped similarly to sushi rice and wrapped with the sardine fillets. Additions like julienned red ginger can be included between the okara and sardine or on top of the sardine. In some variations, leftover Uno Hana Kizushi can be coated and deep-fried, similar to croquettes.


Currently, this dish is not only a home-cooked meal for special occasions but is also offered in local restaurants and sold as a delicacy in supermarkets and roadside stations.

Re-Defining Sushi

Illustration of Japanese-style sushi on a stylish rectangular plate, a traditional sushi arrangement ready for a high-end bar in Tokyo, Japan. Light background. By Dall•E
Illustration of Japanese-style sushi on a stylish rectangular plate, a traditional sushi arrangement ready for a high-end bar in Tokyo, Japan. Light background. By Dall•E


Given these sushi that do not use rice, can you now write a refined definition?


Sushi, traditionally defined as a dish featuring vinegared rice combined with various ingredients like fish, vegetables, and meats, has evolved to encompass a broader range of styles.

In some regional or modern interpretations, ingredients such as okara (soy pulp), quinoa, or other grains and substances may replace the traditional sushi rice. These variations reflect local culinary traditions, dietary preferences, and creative innovations in cuisine.

Thus, a refined definition of sushi could be: A dish typically comprising seasoned rice or alternative bases, paired with a variety of toppings and fillings, which may include fish, vegetables, and meats, presented in various forms and reflecting both traditional and contemporary culinary practices.


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