What Does Eel Taste Like? (Unagi Taste)

Unagi, or freshwater eel, is a fascinating ingredient that brings a distinct flavor to the dishes it graces. It’s a delightful dance of sweet, rich, and slightly smoky notes that can transform a simple dish into something truly extraordinary.

Most people you know have never tried Unagi. In fact, they might think it is similar to eating a snake and be completely repulsed by it! But it’s not, and I’m excited to share it with you.

What Does Unagi Taste Like?

Unagi has a flavor that blends sweet, savory, and smoky notes that come together to create a complex and satisfying taste. The sweetness is subtle and balanced by a rich, savory undertone. The smokiness is a gentle whisper in the background, adding an extra layer of depth to the flavor profile.

What Does Eel Taste Like

The texture of Unagi is another part of its charm. It’s tender and slightly chewy, with a juiciness that makes each bite a pleasure. The meat is firm yet melts in your mouth, creating a sensory experience that’s hard to replicate.

As for the aroma, Unagi has a pleasant smell that’s reminiscent of the grill. It’s a smoky, savory scent that’s incredibly appetizing, making it hard to resist the temptation to take a bite.

Unagi is often served with a sweet soy-based sauce, which enhances its natural umami and adds a delightful sweetness that complements the rich flavor of the eel. This combination is a classic in Japanese cuisine, and it’s easy to see why. The sauce and the Unagi work together perfectly, enhancing the other’s best qualities.

So, does Unagi taste good? Absolutely! It’s a unique and delicious taste, and it’s sure to bring a touch of luxury to any meal.

Types Of Unagi

Unagi might be a singular term, but different types of eel can fall under this category.

  • Japanese Unagi: This is the most common type of Unagi, especially in sushi restaurants. It’s known for its rich, sweet, and slightly smoky flavor. The meat is tender and succulent, making it a favorite among many.
  • Anago (Sea Eel): While not technically Unagi, Anago is often compared to it due to its similar uses in Japanese cuisine. Anago has a lighter, more delicate flavor and a softer texture than Unagi. It’s less oily and has a more subtle sweetness.
  • Conger Eel: Conger Eel is another variety that’s often compared to Unagi. It’s larger than the typical Unagi and has a firmer texture. The flavor is more robust and less sweet, with a stronger fish taste.

What Does Unagi Compare With?

Unagi has a unique flavor, but if you’re trying to find a comparison, there are a few foods that come close:

  • Chicken: Some people compare the texture and taste of Unagi to chicken, especially when it’s cooked. It’s a bit of a stretch, but if you’re trying to imagine what Unagi might taste like, think of a chicken with a richer, sweeter, and slightly smoky flavor.
  • Salmon: Unagi can be compared to cooked salmon in terms of texture. They both have a certain level of oiliness and a tender, flaky texture. However, Unagi has a sweeter and smokier flavor compared to salmon.
  • Swordfish: Swordfish is another comparison for Unagi, mainly due to its firm and meaty texture. However, the flavor of Unagi is more complex and sweeter than swordfish.

What Is Unagi Sushi?

Unagi sushi is a popular dish in Japanese cuisine that features the unique taste and texture of Unagi, or freshwater eel.

unagi sushi dragon rolls

The Unagi is typically grilled and glazed with a sweet soy-based sauce, then served atop a small mound of sushi rice. The result is a delightful combination of sweet, savory, and slightly smoky flavors, and all wrapped up in a single bite.

The appearance of Unagi sushi is quite distinctive. The eel has a shiny, caramelized surface from the glaze, and it’s often cut into long, thin strips that lay elegantly over the rice. The contrast between the dark, glossy eel and the white sushi rice makes for a visually appealing dish that’s as pleasing to the eye as it is to the palate.

Eating Unagi is an experience that engages all your senses. From the visual appeal of the glossy, caramelized eel to the tantalizing aroma, every aspect of Unagi invites you to take a bite. But how exactly do you go about eating Unagi, especially when it comes to Unagi sushi? Let’s walk through it together.

Unagi Nigiri

One of the most common forms of Unagi sushi is Unagi Nigiri. In this dish, a slice of grilled, sauce-glazed Unagi is draped over a compact mound of sushi rice. The Unagi is often slightly warm, contrasting with the cool, vinegared rice. It’s a simple presentation, but the combination of flavors and textures is truly delightful.

Unagi Maki (Eel Roll)

Unagi Maki, or Eel Roll, is another popular way to enjoy Unagi in sushi form. In this variation, Unagi is rolled up with sushi rice and often cucumber or avocado in a sheet of nori (seaweed). The roll is then sliced into bite-sized pieces. The addition of cucumber or avocado adds a refreshing crunch or creamy texture, providing a nice contrast to the rich Unagi.

Unagi Donburi (Unadon)

While not technically sushi, Unagi Donburi, or Unadon, is worth mentioning. It’s a dish where grilled Unagi is served over a bowl of steamed rice. The eel is typically basted with a sweet soy-based sauce, giving it a glossy, caramelized surface. This dish allows the flavor of Unagi to truly shine, and it’s a popular way to enjoy this unique ingredient.

Unagi FAQs

What is Unagi, and how is it used in Japanese cuisine?

Unagi is the Japanese word for freshwater eel, specifically, the species known as Anguilla japonica. In Japanese cuisine, it’s often grilled with a sweet soy-based sauce and served as sushi or over rice in a dish called Unagi Donburi.

How is Unagi prepared and cooked?

Unagi is prepared using a method called ‘kabayaki,’ where it’s split, deboned, skewered, and grilled, then steamed and grilled again while being basted with a sweet soy-based sauce. This process gives Unagi its distinctive glossy surface and rich flavor.

What does Unagi taste like?

Unagi offers a complex flavor profile that’s sweet, savory, and slightly smoky. Its texture is tender and slightly chewy, creating a satisfying mouthfeel.

How is Unagi different from other types of eel?

Unagi refers specifically to the Japanese freshwater eel and is known for its richer, sweeter taste and slightly firmer texture. This differentiates it from other types of eel, like Anago (sea eel), which has a lighter, more delicate flavor and softer texture.

About Justin Micheal

Hey, I’m Justin and the home cook behind Food Meets Flavor. I have a passion for cooking and making food delicious. So, I started this blog to help others understand what different types of food taste like and how to make everyday meals taste even better.