Mentaiko: Origins, Varieties & Production Method

by Ella

Mentaiko is a beloved Japanese delicacy renowned for its bold flavor, vibrant color, and unique texture. Originating from Fukuoka Prefecture in southern Japan, mentaiko is made from marinated and seasoned pollock or cod roe, resulting in a savory and slightly spicy delicacy that is enjoyed in a variety of culinary applications. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the origins, varieties, and preparation methods of mentaiko, offering insights and techniques for both novice cooks and seasoned culinary enthusiasts.


Mentaiko, also known as karashi mentaiko or spicy cod roe, is a traditional Japanese dish that has been enjoyed for centuries. The term “mentaiko” is derived from the Korean word “myeongran,” which refers to pollock roe. The dish is typically made by marinating fresh pollock or cod roe in a mixture of salt, chili peppers, and other seasonings, then fermenting it for several days to develop its distinctive flavor profile.


Mentaiko is prized for its rich umami taste, delicate texture, and vibrant red color, which comes from the addition of chili peppers during the marination process. The flavor profile can vary depending on the region and producer, with some mentaiko being more spicy and intensely flavored than others.


Varieties of Mentaiko

While the classic version of mentaiko is made with pollock roe, there are several variations and regional variations of this beloved delicacy:


Tarako: Tarako is a similar Japanese dish made from salted and marinated cod roe, but it is typically not spiced with chili peppers like mentaiko. Instead, tarako has a milder flavor and is often enjoyed as a topping for rice or used in pasta dishes.


Mentai: Mentai is a term used to describe any type of marinated and seasoned fish roe, including both mentaiko and tarako. It is often used interchangeably with mentaiko, especially in non-traditional preparations such as mentai mayo (a popular condiment made from mentaiko and mayonnaise).

Regional Variations: In addition to the classic mentaiko from Fukuoka, there are regional variations of this dish found throughout Japan. Karashi mentaiko from Hakata is known for its intense spiciness, while shio mentaiko from Hokkaido is saltier and milder in flavor.

How to Make Mentaiko

Making mentaiko at home requires a few simple ingredients and some patience to allow the flavors to develop. Here’s a step-by-step guide to making your own delicious mentaiko:


  • Fresh pollock or cod roe
  • Salt
  • Chili peppers (fresh or dried)
  • Sake or rice wine
  • Sugar (optional)


Prepare the Roe: Begin by carefully removing the roe sacs from the fish, being mindful not to puncture them. Rinse the roe sacs under cold water to remove any excess blood or impurities.

Salt the Roe: In a large bowl, sprinkle the roe sacs generously with salt, making sure to coat them evenly. The salt helps to draw out excess moisture and preserve the roe during the marination process. Allow the roe to sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Marinate with Chili Peppers: While the roe is salting, prepare the chili peppers. If using fresh chili peppers, remove the seeds and finely chop them. If using dried chili peppers, crush them into flakes using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. Mix the chili peppers with a small amount of sake or rice wine to create a paste.

Season the Roe: After the roe has been salted, rinse off the excess salt under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Using a small knife, carefully slit each roe sac open and remove the eggs, being careful not to break them. Place the roe eggs in a clean bowl and add the chili pepper mixture, tossing gently to coat the roe evenly.

Ferment the Mentaiko: Transfer the seasoned roe to a clean container or jar and cover it tightly with a lid. Allow the mentaiko to ferment in the refrigerator for at least 2 to 3 days, or up to a week for a more intense flavor. During this time, the flavors will meld together, and the roe will develop its characteristic taste and texture.

Serve and Enjoy: Once the mentaiko has finished fermenting, it is ready to be enjoyed. Serve it as a topping for rice, noodles, or salads, or use it as a flavorful ingredient in sushi rolls, pasta dishes, or omelets. Mentaiko can also be enjoyed on its own as a savory snack or appetizer.

See Also: Authentic Tonkatsu Recipe


Mentaiko is a quintessential Japanese delicacy prized for its bold flavor, vibrant color, and versatile culinary applications. Whether enjoyed as a topping for rice, incorporated into sushi rolls, or used to add a burst of flavor to pasta dishes, mentaiko offers a unique taste experience that delights the senses. By understanding the origins, varieties, and preparation methods of mentaiko, culinary enthusiasts can explore this beloved delicacy and incorporate it into their own culinary creations with confidence and creativity.



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