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.
Osechi consists of many varieties of small side dishes neatly arranged in a lacquered food box called Jubako (重箱).
The last two are seasoned fish roes, which are expensive compared to other fish eggs commonly eaten throughout the year, such as Tarako and Mentaiko.
Tarako vs. Mentaiko
Both Tarako and Mentaiko are the Japanese words for cod roe.
However, in modern times, Mentaiko often refers to what differs from Tarako or cod roe.
And for that reason, many people can’t tell the difference between them.
The literal meaning of Tarako (たらこ/鱈子) is cod roe.
But Japanese people often use the word to refer to salted cod roe with the sac intact.
On the other hand, Mentaiko is the word for cod roe in the dialect of Fukuoka Prefecture.
So Mentaiko is originally identical to Tarako.
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).
Karashi Mentaiko 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 one.
Hence correctly, the main ingredient of Karashi Mentaiko isn’t the roe of codfish we know but Alaska pollack roe.
Besides, Karashi (辛子) means spicy in its name, and unlike Tarako, Karashi Mentaiko contains red chili pepper.
Further, in recent years, many Japanese tend to call it simply Mentaiko or Mentai (明太). And for that reason, many people confuse Mentaiko with Tarako.