Smelt Roe: A Delicate Flavor of the Sea (Plus, How It Compares to Flying Fish Roe)


Smelt Roe Masago

Looking for a flavorful and sustainable seafood option? Smelt roe (masago) offers a burst of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and a unique texture. Let’s explore everything you need to know.

What is Smelt Roe?

Smelt roe comes from the smelt, a small, silvery fish found in saltwater and freshwater environments. These fish are an essential part of marine ecosystems. When harvested responsibly, smelt roe is a sustainable seafood option. The eggs are tiny, typically bright orange or reddish, and have a slightly grainy texture similar to delicate couscous.

It’s important to note that smelt eggs are harvested before they become roe. Smelt eggs are typically smaller, less intensely colored, and may have a different texture than the matured roe (masago) used in sushi.

What about Smelt Eggs?

Are smelt eggs edible?

Yes, smelt eggs are edible! However, they are less commonly consumed than smelt roe (masago) due to their smaller size and less developed flavor. If you can find them, here are a couple of ways to prepare smelt eggs:

  • Pan-fried: Lightly pan-fried eggs in a touch of butter or oil. Season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice for a simple but satisfying preparation.
  • Scrambled: Treat smelt eggs like small fish roe and whip up a quick scramble. Their delicate texture adds a unique dimension to this breakfast classic.

How to tell the difference between smelt eggs and smelt roe

Distinguishing between smelt eggs and smelt roe can be tricky, but here are the key things to look for:

  • Size: Smelt eggs are significantly smaller than the smelt roe. Roe tends to be about the size of a grain of couscous, while eggs will be much tinier.
  • Color: Smelt eggs are generally a paler orange or yellow compared to the bright, almost neon orange of masago.
  • Texture: Mature smelt roe (masago) has a distinct ‘pop’ when you bite into it. Smelt eggs will feel softer and less defined in texture.

Harvesting smelt eggs sustainably

  • Disclaimer: It’s crucial to check with your local fishing regulations and guidelines before harvesting smelt eggs. There may be restrictions on harvesting to protect fish populations.

If harvesting smelt eggs is permitted in your area, prioritize these practices:

  • Responsible Timing: Only harvest eggs during the designated smelt spawning season.
  • Gentle Handling: Handle female fish extremely carefully to minimize stress and ensure safe release after harvesting.
  • Respect Quotas: Adhere strictly to any limits on the number of eggs harvested to ensure sustainable populations.

What Does Smelt Roe Taste Like?

It boasts a delicate, slightly salty flavor with a hint of the ocean. It’s less fishy than some other types of roe and has a subtle sweetness that makes it quite approachable.

How to Cook and Enjoy Smelt Roe

  • Simple and Pure: Lightly pan-fry smelt roe in butter with a squeeze of lemon for a classic preparation.
  • On Toast or Crackers: Spread cream cheese on toast or crackers and top with smelt roe for a delicious appetizer.
  • In Sushi: Smelt roe (known as masago in Japanese cuisine) adds a burst of flavor and texture to sushi rolls.
  • Add to Sauces and Pastas: Mix smelt roe into creamy pasta sauces or seafood dishes for an extra touch of umami.

Where to Buy Masago

You might find masago at specialty seafood markets or Asian grocery stores. If it’s not available fresh, you may sometimes find it frozen.

Smelt Roe vs. Flying Fish Roe (Tobiko)

You might wonder how masago compares to the more common flying fish roe (tobiko). Here’s the scoop:

  • Flavor: Smelt roe is milder and slightly sweeter than tobiko’s stronger ocean flavor.
  • Texture: Masago has a finer, softer texture than tobiko’s slightly crunchier texture.
  • Uses: Both are versatile, but smelt roe may be better suited to where its subtle flavor won’t be overpowered.

Recipes with Smelt Roe

  • Elevated Lemon Butter Smelt Roe: Three Ways

Lemon Butter Smelt Roe
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Base Recipe:

  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup smelt roe (masago)
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • Pinch of salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Chopped fresh herbs (optional): chives, dill, or parsley


  1. Melt butter in a small skillet over medium heat.
  2. Once the butter is melted and foaming slightly, add the smelt roe. Cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring gently, until the roe becomes slightly translucent and releases its aroma.
  3. Add the lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Continue cooking for another minute, allowing the flavors to meld.
  4. Remove from heat and stir in your chosen fresh herbs (if using).


1. Classic with a Twist:

  • Add a pinch of red pepper flakes with the butter for a subtle kick.
  • Garnish with a dollop of crème fraîche or sour cream for a touch of richness and creaminess.

2. Mediterranean Delight:

  • Sauté a small clove of minced garlic with the butter before adding the smelt roe.
  • Stir in a teaspoon of chopped sun-dried tomatoes and a pinch of dried oregano before serving.
  • Garnish with a drizzle of balsamic reduction and a sprinkle of crumbled feta cheese.

3. Asian Fusion:

  • Substitute half of the butter with toasted sesame oil.
  • Add a teaspoon of soy sauce and a pinch of ground ginger with the lemon juice.
  • Garnish with toasted sesame seeds and thinly sliced scallions.

Serving Suggestions:

  • Serve the lemon butter smelt roe warm atop toast points, crackers, or crostini.
  • For a more substantial appetizer, spoon it over cooked pasta or steamed vegetables.
  • Add a dollop to your favorite seafood dish for an extra burst of flavor and texture.


  • Use high-quality smelt roe for the best results.
  • Don’t overcook the smelt roe. It should still have a slightly “pop” when bitten into.
  • Adjust the amount of lemon juice to your taste preference.
  • Experiment with different fresh herbs to discover your favorite pairing.

Enjoy exploring these variations and creating your perfect Lemon Butter Smelt Roe experience!

  • Smelt Roe Pasta with Creamy Garlic Sauce

Smelt Roe Pasta
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This luxurious seafood dish takes advantage of smelt roe’s (masago) delicate flavor and adds a touch of elegance to your pasta night.


  • 1 lb (454 g) dried pasta of your choice (tagliatelle, fettuccine, or spaghetti work well)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) dry white wine
  • 1 cup (240 ml) heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) smelt roe (masago)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Optional garnishes: Lemon zest, chopped fresh chives, crumbled bacon


  1. Cook the pasta: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package instructions for al dente. Reserve about 1/2 cup (120 ml) of the pasta water before draining.
  2. Sauté the garlic: While the pasta cooks, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and cook for about 30 seconds, until fragrant but not browned.
  3. Deglaze with wine: Pour in the white wine and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Let the wine simmer for 2-3 minutes, allowing the alcohol to cook off.
  4. Add cream and cheese: Increase the heat to medium-high and stir in the heavy cream and Parmesan cheese. Bring the sauce to a simmer and cook for 2-3 minutes, until slightly thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Combine and finish: Add the drained pasta and reserved pasta water to the sauce. Toss everything together until well coated and the sauce reaches a desired consistency. If needed, add more pasta water for a looser sauce.
  6. Incorporate smelt roe: Gently fold in the smelt roe, taking care not to break the delicate eggs.
  7. Serve: Plate the pasta and garnish with chopped fresh parsley. For an extra flavor and texture boost, consider adding a sprinkle of lemon zest, chopped chives, or crumbled bacon.


  • Spicy kick: Add a pinch of red pepper flakes with the garlic in step 2 for a touch of heat.
  • Seafood medley: For a more robust seafood flavor, consider adding cooked shrimp, scallops, or flaked white fish to the pasta with the smelt roe in step 6.
  • Lighter version: Substitute low-fat or fat-free cream for the heavy cream and use a lighter cheese like ricotta salata.


    • Use high-quality smelt roe (masago) for the best flavor and texture. Fresh is ideal, but frozen can also work if thawed properly.
    • Don’t overcook the smelt roe. It should retain its vibrant color and delicate texture.
    • Adjust the consistency with reserved pasta water if the sauce seems too thick after adding the pasta.
    • Taste the sauce and adjust seasonings as needed before serving.

Smelt Egg Sushi (Disclaimer)

Smelt Egg Sushi
<span> <span style=font family tahoma arial helvetica sans serif>Smelt Egg Sushi<span>
  • Important Note: This recipe is provided for informational purposes due to potential food safety concerns and the uncommon nature of preparing smelt eggs in this manner. Proceed cautiously and ensure the eggs are obtained from a reliable source and handled safely.


  • Fresh smelt eggs
  • Sushi rice
  • Nori (seaweed sheets)
  • Soy sauce
  • Wasabi
  • Pickled ginger


  1. Prepare the rice: Cook sushi rice according to package directions. Lightly season with rice vinegar, sugar, and salt.
  2. Clean the eggs: Gently rinse the smelt eggs to remove any debris.
  3. Assemble the sushi: Spread a layer of rice over a nori sheet. Carefully arrange a line of smelt eggs across the center of the rice.
  4. Roll and slice: Roll the nori into a tight cylinder and slice into bite-sized pieces.
  5. Serve: Enjoy your smelt egg sushi with soy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger.

Nutritional Value of Smelt Roe

Smelt roe is a good source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and various vitamins and minerals. A small serving can contribute to your daily needs for heart-healthy fats and essential nutrients.

People Also Ask

  • Is smelt roe the same as masago? Yes, smelt roe is known as masago in Japanese cuisine.
  • Is smelt roe good for you? Masago can be a healthy part of a balanced diet, offering protein, omega-3s, and other nutrients. As with any seafood, moderation is key.
  • Can you eat smelt roe raw? While smelt roe can be eaten raw, it’s more commonly lightly cooked due to both flavor and potential food safety concerns.

A Seafood Delicacy Worth Discovering

Masago is a delicious and unique option to expand your seafood palate. Its delicate flavor and culinary versatility make it a worthwhile addition to your kitchen adventures!