Updated: February 05, 2020
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Anago VS Unagi: Here Is How They Differ

Here's all you need to know about the differences between anago and unagi, two popular ingredients of Japan's traditional cuisine!

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Anago and unagi, what is the difference?

In Japan, anago and unagi are both important ingredients of traditional cuisine. Anago (穴子) is a saltwater eel, and usually refers to the conger eel, while unagi (鰻) is a freshwater eel (commonly called the Japanese eel) which is found not only in Japan, but also in Korea, parts of China, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

The pictures below show how the eels differ in appearance. The unagi is almost black and is usually much bigger than the light brown anago.
animali_unagi
unagi, softwater eel
animal_anago
anago, saltwater eel
The taste, texture and nutritional properties of each are also very different. Unagi has around twice the amount of fat as anago, so the taste is much richer and the texture is softer. In terms of vitamins and minerals too, unagi has a much higher content of vitamins B, D, E, and calcium compared to anago. This is not to say that anago has poor nutritional value; it actually has a very high one. Unagi, however, is known as a superfood that supposedly provides a lot of stamina and was traditionally a food of choice to help fight summer fatigue induced by the sweltering hot Japanese summer.

Difference in cuisine

The way that unagi and anago are used in Japanese cuisine is actually quite different, as explained below.

Unagi

The most common way to prepare unagi is by cooking it on skewers, occasionally dipping it in a soy-based sauce during the process.
unagi_tenderized
unagi being steamed
First, unagi is often tenderized by being placed in a wooden steamer for a few minutes before being grilled.
dipping_unagi
It is then dipped in a "tare" sauce before being cooked as well as intermittently throughout the cooking process.
unagi_broiled
The unagi is grilled until its exterior becomes dark brown and crispy. The interior, however, remains very soft and delicate.
unaju
Pieces of unagi are usually served placed over a bed of rice in a lacquered rectangular box. Served in this way, it is called unaju. You also find it served in a standard bowl over rice, in which case, in is called unadon.

Anago

Anago is often found as a sushi neta (topping) or cooked tempura style.
anago_sushi
As a sushi topping, it is not served raw. Instead, it is simmered in a sweet and savoury sauce before being used as neta. As such, there is no need to dip anago sushi into soy sauce before eating it.
anago_tempura
Another popular way to cook anago is by deep-frying it, tempura style.
anago_tendon
If you have the chance, you should definitely try anago as a topping for tendon (a bowl of rice topped with various tempura ingredients). The contrast between the crispy exterior and the fluffy interior is heavenly.

Difference in price

Anago dishes are on average much cheaper than unagi dishes. Unagi is somewhat of a delicacy, and an unaju box such as the one pictured above typically costs somewhere around ¥3,000 to ¥6,000. In contrast, an anago rice bowl typically costs between ¥1,000 and ¥2,000.

In closing...

Anago and unagi are both delicious and worth trying! Hopefully this article has answered your questions regarding the difference between the two. Happy eating!
tabikamome
Japanese food culture enthusiast. Love to explore new areas and discover local specialties.

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