Unagi And Anago Are Both Eel, But What's The Difference?

Contrary to how similar they look, the eels have quite a few differences in taste, appearance, and texture.

Cover image via Sanbiki & Suksao/Freepik

Follow us on InstagramTikTok, and WhatsApp for the latest stories and breaking news.

Have you ever stared at a menu in a Japanese restaurant and wondered about the difference between unagi and anago?

Image via GIPHY

Usually, I'd just pick whichever sounds the yummiest — whether grilled, baked, or steamed, Japanese eel rice bowls and sushi always taste delicious. :P

But is there any difference between unagi and anago, or are they just different words for the same meaning?

Unagi actually refers to freshwater eel and anago refers to saltwater eel.

Although both are widely used in Japanese cuisine, they have quite different characteristics, textures, and flavours.

Unagi sushi (left) and anago nigiri sushi (right).

Image via Sanbiki

Unagi has a rich, sweet, and savoury flavour. It is often grilled and glazed with a sweet soy-based sauce called tare, which gives it a distinctive taste.

Anago, on the other hand, has a milder and more delicate flavour compared to unagi. It is usually simmered in a light soy-based broth, offering a subtle taste.

So, while unagi is seen as a fattier, richer-flavoured fish, anago is a lighter, "more sophisticated" fish.


Image via Mak/Unsplash

In terms of appearance of the animals themselves, the eels might seem quite similar at first glance, but there are subtle differences

Unagi, or freshwater eel, have an elongated shape, which makes it easy for them to navigate through water.

or sea eels, have a more flexible body to adapt to marine environments.

Unagi also have rougher skin textures and a darker colouration, typically showcasing shades of green or brown. In contrast, the skin of anago is usually smoother, displaying a lighter colour with hues of beige or light brown.

Fresh unagi.

Image via Sushiya

Fresh anago.

Image via Savor Japan

Both eel species behaviours are adapted to their respective environments

Unagi, as freshwater eels residing in lakes and rivers, often exhibit a tendency to burrow or conceal themselves in mud or sand. They can even move on land. 

In contrast, anago, which prefer the sea, are more accustomed to navigating open water and swimming freely.

Simply put, unagi and anago stand apart as different fish, as well as in terms of their texture and taste on a plate

So, the next time you're in the mood for Japanese food, you can be confident in choosing between unagi and anago, and get to savour every eel-ement of both! :P

Image via GIPHY

Shrimp and prawns are actually two different species as well:

We found out why freshwater prawns are so costly in Malaysia:

Read more fun facts on SAYS:

You may be interested in: