Ten sushi trends for 2012

Here are our picks for the top ten trends in sushi for 2012. It’s a mixed bag – we have the good, the bad and the ugly all represented.

Be sure to let us know if we left out anything you think is going to be big in 2012. These are just our hunches after all. Also if you disagree with one of our predictions, please say so and we’ll see after this year passes if either of us were correct!

farmed mussels

10. farmed shellfish

Americans and Europeans seem to be fairly stereotyped as consuming disproportionate amounts of finned fish in their sushi bars. That may be true, but we think it is slowly changing course.

Sustainable sushi experts like I Love Blue Sea‘s founder Martin Reed are quick to point out that farmed shellfish are on balance strongly beneficial to the environment. That’s mainly due to being “filter feeders”, but it’s also in stark contrast to most farmed fish operations, which are often ecological nightmares.

Americans will begin to vary their sushi bar consumption to include more farmed shellfish in 2012. Just you watch and see!

Sushi pizza from Sushi Joe

9. sushi pizza

Most earthlings would probably tell you, if asked, that they like pizza. Making sushi bar fare to be sold as sushi pizza is not new, but continues to gain in popularity.

As we suggested in our series, “Deconstructing Sushi Pizza“, some real effort needs to go into representing the essence of pizza as a creation of crust, sauce, cheese and toppings, but doing so in the context of sushi ingredients.

We’ve yet to see anyone really hit it out of the park on this one. But one local place, Sushi Joe made us some pretty damn good tasting sushi pizza in 2011. But this game is far from over.

wasabi

8. wasabi

Very little wasabi is served in the West. Most westerners who eat sushi never actually try real wasabi, due largely to the cost. This past year wasabi harvests did not exactly flood the market.

But domestic wasabi production continues to mature. Companies are growing pretty decent wasabi in Oregon and even North Carolina these days. If yields are good, we could see downward price pressure which would lead to more sushi bars making the decision to carry fresh wasabi and grind it to order.

tonkotsu ramen

7. ramen

What is it about ramen that has so far failed to excite Gai-jin? In Japan a master ramen maker is someone every town wants. But here it seems to be awful packaged dreck suitable only for starving, broke college kids, stretching their dollars to last until the end of the term.

Last year, some specialty ramen pop-up stores began to appear in Los Angeles. In Japan, a ramen maker closely guards his trade secrets, and experts can command high prices from loyal patrons. In LA we saw the emergence of appreciative ramen consumers, willing to pay for premium ramen. We think that trend will spread to other parts of the US this year, and worldwide in the next few years.

eat more shark

6. shark sushi

Shark finning has become the posterboy for cruel and unsustainable practices. Many countries are now finally requiring ships to bring the entire animals into port instead of discarding them at sea.

The unintended consequence may be to spark some interest in consuming shark meat. Most species are not amenable to eating raw, but a few actually are! Eating mako shark sashimi is better than if the fin harvesting operation simply threw the finless shark body overboard to drown, right?

albacore

5. albacore tuna

This is a trend we like. The prized bluefin tuna is already rare, and most yellowfin harvests are not done in a sustainable way that limits bycatch, and conserves healthy numbers of the species. Albacore is a better choice to satisfy the huge demand for tuna.

Last year, Whole Foods started selling sushi made with albacore tuna, and others will surely follow suit. If your local sushi bar carries albacore instead of bluefin, thank them for making that choice!


Walmart sushi

4. grocery store tuna

Iron Chef Morimoto famously condemned the entry of CVS pharmacies into the ranks of sushi vendors last year. But pretty much every large retailer of prepared foods did the same in the last couple of years. Wal-marts carry packaged sushi, need I say more?

In Japan the 7-eleven stores have long carried inexpensive sushi and onigiri. We have food trucks already. How long will it take your local gas station quickie mart to start carrying it too?

soy wrappers

3. soy wraps

What is so appealing about these nori substitutes? Must be the colors, since nori typically comes in only dark green, but these wrappers can be had in a wide variety of colors. They are also vegan-friendly, lactose free, gluten free, kosher, fat-free and cheap.

Nori is actually a rich source of nutrients, so it’s a shame to see people abandoning it. This is one bad fad, but sadly we think it will continue unabated in 2012.

tuna farming

2. farmed tuna

We think this is a horrible trend, but one that will gain considerable momentum in 2012. Scarcity is driving companies to turn to tuna farming, which has far more negatives than positives.

Kindai is the usual example trotted out by tuna farming apologists. But their method of raising tuna from eggs instead of capturing immature wild tuna is very difficult — no other company is doing this as far as we know. If you have to capture immature specimens to fatten up, you’re preventing a generation of desperately needed juveniles from growing up to breed.

But more to the point, it’s akin to farming tigers. These are top predators that swim thousands of miles and eat many times their weight in fish. To feed large quantities of tuna in a farmed environment requires catching enormous amounts of smaller fish to feed them. Then there are all sorts of other complications associated with every kind of fish farming. Not unlike the massive problems we see in commercial meat farming operations on land.

$$$

1. higher prices

OK we took the easy way out for number one. This is really a no-brainer. Increasing demand for seafood plus increasing demand for sushi fish plus increasing pressure on stocks of more popular fishes equals higher prices.

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