October 18, 2020
January 10, 2022

Ika Sushi


Photography of Ika Sushi

What is Ika ?

The group of squid (tsutsuika-moku) and cuttlefish (kouika-moku) is called ika in Japan and includes a large number of possible species of ten armed celaphods. More than 300 species are counted among the ika. Of these, about 30-40 species have considerable commercial importance and are often an integral part of the respective country's cuisine [Jereb et al, 2010]. The waters around Japan alone are home to dozens of species, many of which are used to make sushi and sashimi.

Ika as Ingredient for Sushi or Sashimi

Before the spread of industrial refrigeration equipment and delivery logistics, ika was considered one of the classic cooked ingredients (nimono-dane) for edomae-sushi. Today ika is mainly used as a raw component, occasionally blanched or roasted variations are also encountered. When used as nigirizushi, the topping (tane) is intentionally provided with distinctive cuts (kakushi-bōchō) so that its shape fits better to the rice ball.

As I mentioned, as a sushi neta, sumi ika surpasses summertime aori ika (bigfin reef squid).

- Jiro Ono, Sushi Chef (Sukiyabashi Jiro) [Satomi, 2016]

A piece of squid sushi nigiri (hand-shaped sushi) that has been coated with squid ink and is sitting on the counter of a sushi restaurant.
Ika Sushi (いか寿司)

A gum-like consistency or an odd taste is a sign of inadequate freshness or that the type of ika used is less suitable for making sushi or sashimi. The translucent white meat of good quality ika is crisp, yet tender and pleasantly delicate and sweet in taste. When prepared as sashimi, in addition to the classic sliced preparation, there is also the option of cutting the meat into thin strips (ika somen). The arms are not normally used for sushi or sashimi, but are well suited for preparation on the grill (ika yaki, いか焼き) or cooked in hot water. Juveniles, whose general name is ko-ika (コイカ), are a speciality that is only available for a short period of time and are highly appreciated. Freshly grated wasabi, a piece of perilla leaf (shiso) or some citrus juice (sudachi) are very well suited as side dish or garnish.

Best Season

The best time of the year is strongly dependent on the species and the region where they were caught. Especially imported commodity is available as frozen product all year round.

Ika in Japan

Japanese fishing for ika can be traced back to the Heian period (794-1185). Ika were presented to the imperial court during the Heian period (794-1185) according to the engishiki (延喜式), a book on laws and customs [Arkhipkin et al., 2015].

Squid Dance

In the city of Hakodate in Hokkaido Prefecture, is one of the largest ika fishing regions of Japan, the Pacific squid (surume-ika) is considered the landmark of the city. Hakodate is not only known as an important port where surume-ika is landed, but since the 80s it is also known for the ika odori, a dance thematically dedicated to squid and is considered as one of the main feature of the Hakodate Harbor Festival (hakodate minato matsuri).

Characteristics & Ecology of Ika

A live squid (Yōroppa-yariika) lies on a illuminated plate

Ika can be found in all oceans of the world, from shallow to deep waters. There are no species found in fresh water. The group of squids are adapted to life in the open water, whereas cuttlefish prefer a habitat near the bottom. The total length varies depending on the species from a few centimeters to several meters. Ika are mainly short-lived animals that live for one to three years depending on the species and typically die shortly after spawning. Ika-species have ten arms, two of which serve as tentacles, which are very mobile and serve to feel or grab the prey.

Squids are known being able to release a brown to grey-black fluid. This secretion is located in a muscle sack which is colloquially called ink sack. If a squid feels threatened, it releases its secretion and can flee hidden in the protection of the colored water cloud. When fleeing from an enemy, it moves at high speed by sucking seawater between its head and body and blowing it out of the funnel at once. Another characteristic of squids is that they can change the color of their body. This ability is used for various purposes such as camouflage and indirect communication.

Bigfin Reef Squid (Aori-ika)

Photo of a male bigfin reef squid (aori-ika) at a Japanese fish market.
Clearly visible are the short white horizontal lines on the back of the male aori-ika.

The bigfin reef squid, whose name in Japanese (aori-ika, アオリイカ), is easily recognized by its large, rounded fins, which extend almost the entire length of its mantle. The origin of the name is based on the fact that the fins along the body resemble an aori (障泥), a horse harness for protection against mud. The distribution of aori-ika extends from Japan to Australia and New Zealand and from Hawaii to East Africa, north to the Red Sea and south to Madagascar.

Aori-ika is mostly caught near the coast and landed within a short time to be traded as fresh as possible. The bright and slightly transparent meat is highly appreciated in Japan for the preparation of sushi and sashimi and is called by many the “King of Cuttlefish” (ika no ōsama) [Arkhipkin et al., 2015].

Until the mid-1990s, the shiro-, aka-, and kua-ika populations in Okinawa were thought to belong to the same species. Genetic studies have confirmed that they are closely related but independent species [Izuka et al., 1994].

Golden Cuttlefish (Sumi-ika)

The golden squid is commonly called sumi-ika in Japan, sumi () is the Japanese word for an inkstick, an important part of traditional Japanese calligraphy. Since they belong to the order of cuttlefish (kouika-moku), they are also called kou-ika. In addition, they also have the designation ma-ika, which in Japanese means “real squid”. Juveniles are called shin-ika and are only available for a short time in late summer and are highly sought after.

Sumi-ika is one of the medium-sized squids, weighing about one pound (half a kilo), and is considered an important part of Japanese cuisine. Sumi ika is highly appreciated for its voluminous and tasty meat for the preparation of sushi and sashimi. The high content of free amino acids makes the meat particularly full-bodied, umami and sweet.

Kisslip Cuttlefish (Mongou-ika / Kaminari-ika)

The kisslip cuttlefish (kaminari-ika) is highly appreciated for its thick and tasty meat and in the past it was mainly called mongou-ika.[Fujiwara, 2020] Since the available supply of the catch landed could not meet demand, comparable species from Europe and Africa were imported into the Japanese market relatively quickly. More recently, the term has found a very inflationary use for many large imported squid species. As a result, comparable imported species of mongou-ika now dominate the Japanese market, making kaminari-ika a sought-after ingredient for sushi.

Other species

Apart from the species mentioned above, other species also find their way onto the counters of many Sushi-Restraunts. In Japan these are, among others, torafukou-ika or imported common squid from Africa and Europe (youroppa-kouika or declared as mongou-ika).

In the U.S. and Europe, Humboldt squid, North American squid, common squid, and some other imported species are used predominantly as sushi toppings.


Squid and cuttlefish (ika) are of enormous importance to the global fisheries industry, whose share, together with octopus, accounts for 7% of global fisheries [FAO, 2020]. The selling price of ika is highly dependent on the species, quality, origin, supply and demand. At the beginning of the 2000s, Japan relinquished its leading position to China, both in terms of total catch and consumption.

Diagram showing the distribution and course of the catch of squid and cuttlefish (ika).
Compared to the cuttlefish, squids form the predominant part of the worldwide catch of ika.

Catching methods of Ika

Since the advent of modern fishing in the 20th century, ika has been fished in large quantities. Especially when fishing with trawl nets, the natural behaviour of the animals is exploited. During the day, they gather above the sea floor. Bottom trawling aims to catch ika species directly on the seabed, while pelagic trawling aims to catch shoals in medium-deep or bottom-near waters. Another method is fishing with drift nets, which hang vertically in the sea without being anchored to the bottom and drift through the open sea. Jigging involves luring larger species in particular to the water's surface at night with bright lights and then fishing from a boat with lowered lines.

Bottom trawling is criticized for causing considerable and irreparable ecological damage. Apart from the mechanical destruction of the bottom, fishing with nets dragged across the sea floor is not very selective and leads to high by-catches. The use of pelagic trawls and driftnets is less destructive, but also vulnerable to by-catches and designed to catch large quantities of the target species. Jigging, on the other hand, is much more selective without having a destructive effect on the habitat.

Squid sushi on a plate. 
				City Foodsters (Grace Chen, Jason Wang). 
				Sumi-Ika (Squid), Sukiyabashi Jiro, Tokyo, JP. 
				Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).
Squid (ika) sushi nigiri on a plate. 
				Aori ika, Sushi Amane, New York NY. 
				Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).

Further information on the author can be found in the section on image credits.

Video about Ika

External video embedded from youTube.com: SUSHI LABO. Squid Sushi Nigiri【How to Make Sushi】

Warnings Regarding Ika Sushi or Sashimi

  1. PARASITES: The meat, especially that of wild-caught specimens, may be infested with parasites that cause infectious diseases. Infection can be avoided if the raw meat has been adequately frozen. Pickling and soaking in salt or vinegar solution is not sufficient to eliminate the parasites. If the product has been farmed, only raw unprocessed seafood from production facilities whose products are approved for raw consumption should be consumed. [FDA, 2021]

Species of Ika

The following species are regarded as authentic. Either historically, according to the area of distribution or according to the common practice in today's gastronomy:

Japanese Name
Common Names, Scientific Name
aoriika, akaika
bigfin reef squid, glitter squid, northern calamary
Sepioteuthis lessoniana
family: Loliginidae
Firefly squid
Watasenia scintillans
family: Enoploteuthidae
kaminariika, mongouika
kisslip cuttlefish
Sepia lycidas
family: Sepiidae
swordtip squid
Uroteuthis edulis
family: Loliginidae
kouika, sumiika
golden cuttlefish
Sepia esculenta
family: Sepiidae
Japanese flying squid
Todarodes pacificus
family: Ommastrephidae
spear squid
Heterololigo bleekeri
family: Loliginidae

The following species can be considered subsitutes. Either on the basis of genetic relationship or because they are similar in taste or appearance:

Japanese Name
Common Names, Scientific Name
longfin inshore squid
Doryteuthis pealeii
family: Loliginidae
Humboldt squid, jumbo flying squid
Dosidicus gigas
family: Ommastrephidae
European common cuttlefish, common cuttlefish
Sepia officinalis
family: Sepiidae
European squid, common squid
Loligo vulgaris
family: Loliginidae

References & Further Reading

  • [Arkhipkin et al., 2015]: Arkhipkin, Rodhouse, Pierce, Sauer, Sakai, Allcock, Arguelles, Bower, Castillo, Ceriola, Chen, Chen, Diaz-Santana, Downey, González, Amores, Green, Guerra, Hendrickson, Ibáñez, Ito, Jereb, Kato, Katugin, Kawano, Kidokoro, Kulik, Laptikhovsky, Lipinski, Li. World Squid Fisheries. Reviews in Fisheries Science & Aquaculture. Source.Volume 23 (2). Taylor and Francis, London. 2015.
  • [FAO, 2020]: The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA), Sustainability in action 2020. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome. 2020.
  • [FDA, 2021]: Fish and Fishery Products Hazards and Controls Guidance, Fourth Edition – June 2021. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Food and Drug Administration Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. 2021.
  • [Fujiwara, 2020]: 昌髙藤原. ぼうずコンニャクの市場魚貝類図鑑 (engl. Bozu Konyaku's Market Fish and Shellfish Book). Bozu Konnyaku Co., Ltd., Tokyo ぼうずコンニャク株式会社東京, zukan-bouz.com. 2020. https://www.zukan-bouz.com/. Retrieved online on December 27, 2021.
  • [Izuka et al., 1994]: 井塚 隆、瀬川 進、奥谷 喬司、沼知 健一. アイソザイムによる石垣島のアオリイカ個体群の遺伝的独立性の検証 (engl. Evidence on the existence of three species in the oval squid Sepioteuthis lessoniana complex in Ishigaki Island, Okinawa, southwestern Japan, by isozyme analyses). Venus (Japanese Journal of Malacology). Source.Volume 53 (3). The Malacological Society of Japan, Tsukuba (日本貝類学会, つくば市). 1994. doi:10.18941/venusjjm.53.3_217.
  • [Jereb & Roper, 2010]: P. Jereb, C.F.E. Roper. Cephalopods Of The World: An Annotated And Illustrated Catalogue Of cephalopod Species Known To Date. FAO Species Catalogue for Fishery Purposes No. 4, Vol. 2. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome. 2010.
  • [Jiji, 2018]: Jiji. Nippon Suisan develops alternatives for Japanese squid and imported salmon, as sushi and sashimi demand drives up prices. The Japan Times, Tokyo. 2018. https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/02/26/national/alternatives-japanese-squid-imported-salmon-sushi-sashimi-developed/#.WpURuoPFKpp. Retrieved online on December 27, 2020.
  • [Keiji et al., 1991]: 奈須敬二、奥谷喬司、小倉通男. イカ-その生態から消費まで (engl. Squids and Cuttlefish, from Its Biology to Consumption). Seizando Shoten Publishing Co., Tokyo ( 株式会社 成山堂書店、東京都). 1991.
  • [Satomi, 2016]: Shinzo Satomi. Sukiyabashi Jiro. Vertical Inc., New York. 2016.
  • [Sonu, 2018]: Sunee C. Sonu. Squid Supply, Demand, And Market Of Japan. U.S. Department Of Commerce, National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service, West Coast Region. 2018.

Image Credits

  1. City Foodsters (Grace Chen, Jason Wang). Sumi-Ika (Squid), Sukiyabashi Jiro, Tokyo, JP. flickr.com. License: Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0). Changes made: image quality, brightness, contrast, colour matching, sharpening, cropping.

  2. T.Tseng. Aori ika, Sushi Amane, New York NY. flickr.com. License: Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0). Changes made: image quality, brightness, contrast, colour matching, sharpening, cropping.


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