Shirako (白子) is milt, more commonly known as fish sperm.
The Japanese characters literally translate to “white child”. Quite the figurative name. 😂
So, why exactly am I writing about fish sperm?
Because, it is considered as a food in Japan! Yes, people actually eat it.
If you want to learn more about this strange delicacy, read on for:
- What exactly is shirako?
- Types of shirako
- What does shirako taste like?
- How is it served
- and more…
Let’s get started!
What is Shirako? Is it Really Fish Sperm?
Yes, shirako is really fish sperm.
Technically, it is the testicles of male fish (which contains sperm).
Since only a very small amount can be obtained from one fish, shirako is considered a delicacy, and can be very expensive (depending on type).
Types of Shirako
In Japan, the most common types of shirako are from cod and salmon.
You can also find shirako from blowfish/pufferfish (i.e. fugu), anglerfish, monkfish, sea bream, mackerel, and squid.
Cod shirako is the cheapest type, and can be easily found in supermarkets and restaurants.
Cod shirako has may different names, depending on which part of Japan you are in. In Hokkaido it is called ‘Tachi’, and in Kyoto it is called ‘Kumoko’.
Rarer types of shirako like fugu and squid are expensive, and typically only found in high-end restaurants.
How Expensive Is Shirako?
On popular online shopping site Rakuten, you can buy 500g of cod shirako for around 2500 yen ($18 USD).
Meanwhile, fugu shirako is much more expensive. 300g will cost around 13,000 yen ($90 USD).
What Does Shirako Taste Like?
Shirako has a rich, creamy taste, full of umami.
It has a plump, soft texture that melts in your mouth.
Some people love it, and some people hate it.
The only way to find out is to try it yourself! 😛
How to eat shirako? How is it served?
Shirako is prepared and served in many ways: grilled, fried, boiled, stewed, etc.
Let’s take a look at 5 common shirako dishes:
Shirako Ponzu (白子ポン酢)
“Shirako Ponzu” is the most common/popular way to eat shirako. It is simply boiled, then topped with ponzu sauce (i.e. a citrus-based soy sauce).
Shirako Gunkanmaki (白子軍艦)
Gunkanmaki is a style of sushi where seaweed is wrapped around the outside of the rice and topping. This style of sushi is used for ingredients like shirako which would easily fall apart otherwise. Gunkan means “warship/battleship”, as the sushi sort or resembles a battleship.
The shirako is slightly boiled, then place on top of the gunkanmaki. It is then typically garnished with green onion or other spicy condiment.
Shirako Yaki (白子焼き): Grilled Shirako
Shirako is simply salted, then baked or grilled. Sometimes a soy sauce is also brushed on.
Shirako Tempura (白子天ぷら)
Shirako is coated with tempura batter, then deep fried. Typically served with salt, or other simple dipping sauce.
Shirako Nabe (白子鍋)
“Nabe” means pot, and typically refers to any sort of hot pot, or stewed dish (i.e. nabemono なべもの).
There are many different types of shirako nabe. One popular type is taro nabe たら鍋, or “cod pot”. Cod fish meat and shirako are both used, along with various vegetables.
Shirako is typically added last, as it is more delicate and would fall apart if cooked too long.
Is shirako nutritious?
Shirako is low in calories, and high in protein. It is also full of various nutrients and vitamins. Let’s take a look its 5 main health benefits (of cod shirako):
It is extremely high in Vitamin B12 (3.1μg per 100g), which is good for your metabolism, and helps in red blood cell production, among many other things.
It is also high in protein (13.4g per 100g), which is needed for building muscle and producing energy. At the same time, it is low in calories compared to fish meat, which is helpful for those trying to lose weight.
It is high in vitamin D (2μg per 100g) which is good for your bones and teeth. Also known as the “sunshine vitamin”
It is high in Vitamin E (1.8 mg per 100g), which is an antioxidant, and helps prevent aging.
It is very high in phosphorus (430mg per 100g), which also helps strength teeth and bones.
Downsides of eating Shirako
The main downsides of eating shirako is that it is high in cholesteral (360mg per 100g), and high in purine. Eating too much purine can cause a build up of uric acid in your system, and lead to gout.
When Is Shirako Season? When should I eat shirako?
Cod shirako season is during the cold winter months (December to February).
This is the most recommended time to eat shirako, as it will be the most readily available and is the only time to get fresh shirako.
Different types of shirako (e.g. salmon) may have slightly different peak seasons.
You can also buy frozen shirako all year round.
Where Is Shirako Found?
In Japan, the most famous shirako areas are in Northern parts of Japan like Hokkaido, Aomori, Akita, Yamagata. Some other coastal areas like Iwate, Miyagi, and Kanzawa are also known for shirako.
Can You Get Shirako In The US?
Yes. Although it is not common, shirako is available in the US.
A quick Yelp search in New York revealed a few Japanese restaurants that serve shirako.
Would you try shirako?
Are you interested in trying shirako?
If you have tried it, what did you think?
Let me known in the comments below!