Tarako vs Mentaiko: Japanese Roe
When it comes to traditional Japanese food we eat during New Year’s holidays or “Oshogatsu (お正月)”, “Osechi (御節)” is one of the representatives, which consists of many varieties of small side dishes neatly arranged in a lacquered food box called “Jubako (重箱)”.
Among them, Kazunoko and Ikura are both seasoned fish roe and they are quite expensive as compared to other fish eggs that are commonly eaten in Japan throughout the year, such as Tarako and Mentaiko.
By the way, we Japanese like to eat those seasoned fish roe with white rice, putting on top of the bowl.
The Difference: Tarako vs Mentaiko
Actually, both Tarako and Mentaiko basically refer to cod roe. However, in modern times, Mentaiko often refers to what is somewhat different from Tarako or cod roe, for which reason, many Japanese can’t clearly tell the difference between them.
So today, let me explain how Tarako differs from Mentaiko. First off, the word “Tarako (たらこ or 鱈子)” literally means cod roe in Japanese, but when Japanese people just say “Tarako” in daily life, that usually refers to salted cod roe with the sac intact.
On the other hand, Mentaiko means cod roe in the dialect of Fukuoka Prefecture, so originally Tarako and Mentaiko are the same things.
Karashi Mentaiko (辛子明太子)
Despite that, when we Japanese hear the word Mentaiko, many will bring to mind “Karashi Mentaiko (辛子明太子)”, which is originally a traditional Korean food whose main ingredient is the roe of walleye (Alaska) pollack, a species of the cod family Gadidae.
In 1949, a Japanese businessperson altered the flavor of the original Korean Karashi Mentaiko to suit Japanese tastes and invented the Japanese-style Karashi Mentaiko.
Hence correctly, the main ingredient of Karashi Mentaiko isn’t cod roe, but walleye pollack roe. Besides, in its name, the word “Karashi (辛子)” means “spicy”, and unlike Tarako roe, Karashi Mentaiko is made using red chili pepper too.
In appearance, Karashi Mentaiko looks similar to Tarako and original Mentaiko, and in recent years, many Japanese tend to call it simply “Mentaiko” or “Mentai (明太)”. And for that reason, many Japanese confuse Mentaiko with Tarako.