Tarako vs Mentaiko: The Difference between the Japanese Eggs
When it comes to traditional Japanese dishes we customarily eat during New Year’s holidays, “Osechi (御節)” is one of the representatives.
As you may know, the traditional Japanese New Year’s dish of assorted delicacies, Osechi consists of various kinds of small dishes in a Japanese lacquered food box called “Jubako (重箱)”.
As for the last 2 Japanese foods, Kazunoko and Ikura are both seasoned fish roe and expensive as compared to common seasoned fish eggs eaten throughout the year in Japan, such as Tarako and Mentaiko.
What is the Difference between Tarako and Mentaiko Roe?
Actually, Tarako and Mentaiko, both basically refer to cod roe. However, in modern times, Mentaiko often refers to what is somewhat different from Tarako or cod roe, and many Japanese can’t clearly tell the difference between them. Thus, this time I will explain it.
The food name, “Tarako (たらこ or 鱈子)” literally means cod roe in Japanese, but when Japanese people just say “Tarako”, it usually refers to seasoned cod roe with the egg sac surrounding it.
Tarako is made by pickling cod roe in salt, in other words, it is salted cod roe.
Mentaiko means cod roe in the dialect of Fukuoka Prefecture, so originally Tarako and Mentaiko are the same things, just cod roe.
Karashi Mentaiko (辛子明太子)
However, when we Japanese hear Mentaiko, that reminds many of us of “Karashi Mentaiko (辛子明太子)”.
Actually, Karashi Mentaiko is originally a traditional Korean food whose main ingredient is walleye pollack roe. Walleye pollock or Alaska pollock is a species of the cod family Gadidae.
In 1949, a Japanese business person altered the flavor of the original Korean Karashi Mentaiko in order to suit Japanese tastes and invented Japanese-style Karashi Mentaiko.
Hence, the raw material of Karashi Mentaiko isn’t cod roe, but walleye pollack roe. Besides, unlike Tarako roe, Karashi Mentaiko is spicy because it is made using red chili pepper.
Despite that, Karashi Mentaiko looks similar to Tarako and original Mentaiko, and in recent years, many Japanese call Karashi Mentaiko simply “Mentaiko” or “Mentai (明太)”.