what is masago

what is masago
what is masago

           What is masago

Different kind of edible food exists in the world but due to our location, allergies, or personal decisions, we continually eat a particular set of food repeatedly.

The unfamiliarity with diverse names used to refer to a certain food based on geographical location or language is another challenge. A particular food can be named white” in Africa but in Asia, it is known as black.

Therefore it is possible that you have eaten a particular food but the distinct names in which it is referred to in different parts of the world make it seem unfamiliar.

Masago is an example of edible food that a lot of people haven’t heard of, it is basically a kind of fish roe.

What are Roes?

Roe is fully ripe egg masses found in the ovaries of fishes or some aquatic animals such as urchins and shrimps.

They are an unfertilized cluster of eggs gotten from fishes or other aquatic animals.

It could be found as an internal bundle of eggs situated in the ovaries or it can be released as a bundle externally.

Roe is seafood that has beneficial attributes, it is rich in healthy fat and it has a low-calorie level.

The fully ripe and unfertilized eggs of a fish (sturgeon, capelin, Salmon) are known as Fish roe.

There are different kinds of fishes and aquatic animals in the world, hence there are different flavors to a roe.

A Roe can be sweet, sour, or even bitter based on the species of the fish. The cooking method and additional flavors can also influence the taste of the roe.

The most common fish roe gotten from the sturgeon is known as the caviar.

According to USDA, roes are rich in nutrients that the body requires, they are low in calories and quite rich in healthy fat. Roes contain Vitamin B12 (thiamine), omega 3 fatty acid, vitamin c, cobalamin, magnesium, vitamin D, iron, calcium, and vitamin B6.

100 grams of Roe contains;



Monounsaturated fat


Polyunsaturated fat


Saturated fat


Total fat














Dietary fiber



Though roes are low in calories they contain a high content of cholesterol which increases the risk of heart diseases and also the level of sodium in Roes is equally high.

Benefits of Fish roe  

The high nutrients contained in fish roe can be seen from the nutritional facts, it provides lots of nutrients that the body requires in order to function effectively.

1 The high Vitamin B12 content in Fish roe is beneficial to the body in so many ways. A deficiency in Vitamin B12 also known as Cobalamin can lead to a decrease in the production of healthy red blood cells. This leads to an illness known as anemia (megaloblastic anemia).

Cobalamin helps in the synthesis of the genetic material deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), it is also helpful in heart health, it decreases the level of homocysteine as high level of this amino acid has been linked to heart diseases.

2 Fish roe contains healthy fat(I.e. omega 3 fatty acids). Omega 3 fatty acids play vital roles in the prevention of heart diseases.

It lowers the blood pressure, reduces the risks of abnormal heartbeat, it decreases triglycerides as high levels increase the risks of a heart attack. It also helps in the prevention of stroke.

3 Protein contained in Fish roe increases the satiety rate, therefore, reducing appetite and improving weight loss.

It also helps in the development and increase of muscle mass and strength.

It aids in the building of the muscles, bones, enzymes, hormones, and skin.

4 Fish roe contains glutamine which helps in maintaining the barrier between the intestine and the other part of the body(I.e. prevents leaky gut). It also helps to heal the body tissue and burn fat.

  1. Leucine and Lysine in fish roe also have certain important functions such as;
  • Control of blood sugar
  • Production of growth hormone
  • Calcium absorption and retention
  • Promote wound healing

Masago (Smelt Roe)

From the definition of roes above, we can say that Masago is edible eggs found in a fish specifically the Capelin. The masses of unfertilized eggs found in the Capelin is the masago, (it is the roe of the Capelin)

The Capelin is a little fish with a kind of silvery olive color, olive color at the dorsal end, and silver color centrally (I.e on their bellies).

It is usually found in Oceans(the North Pacific, Arctic, and North Atlantic ocean).

The Capelin belongs to the Osmeridae family, they are tiny fishes with a length of 8-10inches(i.e. 25cm in females and 20cm in males). Their little size and availability make them easy targets (preys) to other aquatic animals such as (Squids, whales), mammals e.g. humans, this earned them the title “forage food” as they are a source of food to predators.

Taxonomy of the Capelin showing its kingdom, class, phylum, order, species.

Kingdom: Animalia

Subkingdom: Bilateria

Infrakingdom: Deuterostomia

Phylum: Chordata

Superclass: Actinopterygii

Class: Teleostei

Order: Osmeriformes

Suborder: Osmeroidae

Family: Osmeridae

Genus: Mallotus

Species: M. villosus

Binomial name: Mallotus villosus

The ocean current and concentration of water in a particular location play a significant role in the distribution and migration of capelin. Feeding migration for young capelin usually occurs during summer and spring while September and November precede the return migration.

Capelin has edible flesh but it is more preferred for its roe and many other products such as fish meal and fish oil products.

The masago of Capelin is highly sought after but the flesh of Capelin is not necessarily useless, as it also has a good taste that is quite similar to the flesh of a herring. It is used in the production of certain fish oil and fish meals.

The taste and appearance of Capelin roe (I.e. Masago) make it an easy alternative or substitution for Tobiko.  This causes a lot of confusion as most people feel like Masago is the same as Tobiko. However, some meticulous people can tell the difference when eating it as their a different feel when eating either Masago or a Tobiko.

The reproductive ability of Capelin is extremely high usually in the main spawning period which is during summer or spring. They reproduce through spawning(I.e laying or depositing a mass of eggs), Spawning takes place at the night.

The female Capelin starts breeding between age 2-4 and continues till they die.

Studies have shown that most Capelin are between the ages of 3- 4 years when they are spawn.

The mortality rate of Capelin after breeding is very high(the male Capelin dies immediately after the spawning season).

Capelin do not breed in freshwater rather they spawn on the sand, beaches, or gravel, After Spawning the female tries to head back to the water some might survive whole others die but the male Capelin remains on the sand(where the spawning occurred) till it’s death.

Most times, Capelin are largely affected in the Barents Sea(marginal sea of the arctic ocean located off the northern coast of Norway and Russia. Source: Wikipedia) by the presence of herring (Herring is a fish that feeds on Capelin).

Herring competes with Capelin for food and still feeds on them, this causes a diminishing in the availability of Capelin. Herrings are not the only factor influencing the decline in the availability of Capelin other unknown factors also play a role in the downsizing of Capelin.

Masago is a kind of fish roe, it is gotten from a Capelin before the spawning season begins.

When the fish(Capelin) is filled with ripe eggs, it is caught and the eggs known as Masago are extracted from the ovaries of the fish.

“Capelin” is the fish that masago is harvested from, masago roe is also referred to as Smelt roe. The Capelin fish is from the Smelt family hence the name “smelt roe”.

Masago is not well known in the world as the eggs are more preferred than the fish itself. Due to its length and size, it is mostly mistaken for a sardine.

Masago has a pale yellowish color and is used to make sushi rolls, though most times colors are added to increase the beauty and make it more attractive and interesting to look at.

what is masago
what is masago

Nutritional facts of fish roe (Masago):

Fish roe is quite low in calories and carbohydrates, it contains many nutrients that provide positive health benefits. 28 grams of fish roe contains;

  • Calories: 40
  • Carbs: not up to 1g
  • Vitamin B12: 47%
  • Fat: 2g
  • Riboflavin (B2): 12%
  • Protein: 6g
  • Folate (B9): 6%
  • Selenium: 16%
  • Vitamin C: 
  • Vitamin E: 10%
  • Phosphorus: 11%

Difference between Tobiko and Masago

Most times Tobiko and Masago are used interchangeably this is due to the Similarities in their appearance and taste.

Tobiko and Masago are both fish roe((I.e they are ripe eggs harvested from the ovaries of a fish).  They contain many relevant nutrients that the body requires and they are low in calories.

They are not gotten from the same fish.

Tobiko is the roe from flying fish while masago is the roe from the Capelin fish.

1 Though Masago and Tobiko are relatively small in size, masago tends to be a little bit smaller than Tobiko.

2 The original color of the Masago is pale yellowish unlike that of the tobiko which is naturally a very bright red. Masago is often dyed to increase the brightness and make it more appealing.

3 Tobiko is much more expensive than Masago, hence the reason is it mostly replaced with the latter.

4 Though they have quite the same taste, the Tobiko is said to have a more crunchy feel to it.

Due to its cost and quality, tobiko is thought to be a higher value ingredient.

Capelin is an important forage fish and is essential as the key food of the Atlantic cod.

Like other types of fish roe, masago is low in calories but high in many important nutrients.

what is masago
what is masago

Health benefits of Masago

Just like the fish roe has so many health benefits, Masago (a kind of fish roe) also provides nutritional and beneficial advantages to the body.

1 From the nutritional facts of Masago, we can observe that just 28 grams of Masago contain over 6g of protein. This shows that the level of protein in Masago is extremely high.

Masago has all the 9 essential amino acids that make it a complete protein, it contains a high content of protein which serves as building blocks of the muscles, bones, enzymes, and hormones.

More protein in your diet helps to increase your satiety rate(I.e. you get satisfied easily) hence you don’t overeat. This helps to maintain weight loss.

2 Masago is a good source of selenium a very powerful antioxidant that helps to protect the body from cell damage. Selenium supports cognitive functioning, helps to boosts and support the immune system.

Increased levels of selenium in the blood can reduce the risks of mental decline also, certain cancers can be prevented by selenium.

3 Omega 3 fatty acid which is considered to be healthy fat is also present in Masago. They aid in the lowering of blood pressure, regulate blood clotting, decrease triglycerides levels, and minimizes the risk of heart attack and stroke.

This polyunsaturated fat (omega 3) acts as a regulator against inflammation.

4 Masago is a rich source of vitamin B12, vitamin B12 helps in the development of red blood cells, it also reduces the risk of heart diseases by reducing homocysteine levels in the body.

5 Research has shown that the roe of fish has the lowest concentration of mercury than other parts of the fish. Also, Capelin as a little fish contains lesser mercury than the bigger fishes.

Therefore, those who are very cautious about the content of mercury they are exposed to can eat Masago as it contains a very low content of mercury.

Side effects of Masago

Just like a lot of things in the world have advantages and disadvantages, Masago also has certain potential downsides.

1 Extinction

Environmental regulatory bodies are quite alarmed about the fishing methods used in obtaining Mosago, they believe that this may negatively affect the species leaving them endangered.

The female Capelin is mostly targeted as a means to obtained Masago, ecological experts forewarns about how this fishing method would affect the general population of Capelin.

2 You can notice from the nutritional facts that Masago has high sodium content. To increase the taste, a lot of taste enhancers that spikes up the sodium content is added.

Sodium causes lots of health problems such as;

  • Kidney stones
  • High blood pressure
  • Hypernatremia
  • Elevated risk of osteoporosis
  • Stroke

3 Quite a number of people are allergic to seafood, Masago is seafood and should be avoided by those with a seafood allergy.

Fish roe is made up of certain components such as vitellogenin which is capable of activating an allergy.

Research has shown that fish roe is the 6th most common allergen in Japan.

4 Presence of Monosodium glutamate, MSG is naturally occurring in some food like tomatoes.

It is a sodium salt, an additive used to enhance the taste of certain edible substances such as Masago.

Research shows that MSG may potentially lead to headaches, allergic reactions, and fatigue.

Many companies combine masago with certain unhealthy ingredients, such as high-fructose corn syrup and monosodium glutamate (MSG).

How to add it to your diet

If you have been on a quest, searching for different ways on how to spice up your meals. Then Masago is the perfect additional ingredient you should try out.

The beauty in Masago is that it can be used in diverse ways.

It can be purchased in different flavors including;

  • Ginger
  • Ink
  • wasabi

Add Masago to your diet in the following ways;

  • Use Masago as an ingredient in a rich dish
  • To make an appetizer (fruit salad) mix masago and fruits.
  • Add masago to your sushi
  • Use Masago as toppings
  • Add Masago into your noodles(Asian noodles).


Fish Roe Identification Colour Size
Masago Capelin egg Pale yellow Small(20 -25.2cm)
Tobiko Flying fish egg Red hue Small but larger than masago
Ikurac Salmon egg Orangish


Larger than Tobiko and Masago
Caviar Sturgeon Usually black Dependent

On specie

Why Do Fish Eggs Come in Different Colors?

The next time you order for a Capelin roe and you are served something quite different from the normal pale yellowish Masago you are used to, don’t freak out.

Masago colors can change based on the ingredients used, sometimes artificial colors and flavors are added to masago and other types of roe as well.

  • Wasabi might have possibly added if your Masago is green.
  • If your Masago is red then it probably has been in it.
  • A black Masago could possibly have squid ink in it
  • Yuzu might be present in a yellow Masago.

The additions of these colors help to boost the appearance of the dish and taste enhancers help to improve the taste of the Masago all for your satisfaction.

Is Masago safe for eating?

Masago eaten in little amount is considered safe for eating, they contain high sodium and cholesterol, therefore, they should be moderately eaten.

Is Masago keto-friendly?

Seafood (fish) are considered to be keto-friendly due to their low carb content, high protein, and omega 3 fatty acid content. They are also rich in vitamin B, potassium, and selenium.

Uses of Masago

  • Fillings for sushi rolls
  • As sushi toppings
  • Decoration(enhances the appearance of dishes).
  • To make Masago sauce(a creamy sauce used on top of Japanese noodles).