What are the differences between Unagi and Anago?

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Unagi vs Anago: A fascinating conundrum

Japanese cuisine is known for a variety of intriguing ingredients and flavours. An ingredient that plays a major role in Japanese food is eel. There are two types of eel that are popularly used in Japanese cuisine namely Unagi and Anago. Whether you are an experienced consumer of Japanese food, an occasional consumer of Japanese cuisine or someone who may have never tried Japanese cuisine, you may have come across the terms Unagi and Anago. Perhaps you may even be unsure about these ingredients and if there are any differences between the two eels. Whatever the case may be, by the time you are done reading this, you’ll come away from it with a better understanding of Unagi and Anago. So, shall we begin our exploration?

What is Unagi?

Unagi is the Japanese term for a freshwater eel that is found in Japan. This eel can also be found in other East Asian countries such as Korea and China, as well as South-East Asian countries such as the Philippines and Vietnam. With regards to what it is called in English, it is generally called the Japanese freshwater eel.  

What is Anago?

With regards to the term Anago, it is a Japanese term that means saltwater eel and is used to refer to a wide variety of saltwater eels known as conger eels. Nevertheless, when the term Anago is used in reference to the type of Anago that is commonly used in Japanese cuisine, it is referring to a kind of Anago that is specifically called Ma-Anago in Japanese. In English, Ma-Anago goes by the name of the Whitespotted Conger Eel. Like Unagi, Ma-Anago can also be found near East Asian countries such as Japan, Korea and near China around the East China Sea.

What are the differences between the two?

Now that we have given a short introduction regarding what these two eels are, let us now explore some of the differences between Unagi and Anago/Ma-Anago.

Different species

As mentioned briefly above, one difference between Unagi and Ma-Anago is the fact that Unagi is a freshwater eel while Ma-Anago is a saltwater eel. What this difference means is Anago is found in a saltwater habitat (the sea) while Unagi are found in freshwater habitats. Furthermore Unagi only travel out to sea to reproduce. 

According to research done on Unagi breeding habits, Unagi travel about 3000 kilometres away from Japan to the waters near the Northern Mariana Islands located in the western part of the Pacific Ocean to reproduce before returning to their freshwater homes. This pattern of behaviour applies for both the adult Unagi that reproduce and their juvenile young that return back to the freshwater habitats of their parents after they are born.

The bodily features of Unagi and Anago 

Another difference between Unagi and Anago is the bodily features of the two eels. Unagi has a plain dark brown coloured body. Anago on the other hand, has a brown coloured body with white spots.

The size of Unagi and Anago

The two eels also differ from one another in terms of size. Unagi is larger than Anago with the largest Unagi specimens having a size of 150 centimetres while Anago can grow to the size of up to 71 centimetres

Taste and Texture

The taste and texture of Unagi and Anago is yet another key difference between the two eels. Unagi is more chewy than Anago and has a rich sweetness to it. Anago on the other hand has a softer texture and has a mild sweetness to it. Unagi is also more oily as compared to Anago which is a reason for the difference in the strength of the flavours of the two eels.

How they are used in Japanese cuisine

Another difference between Unagi and Anago is how these two eels are used in Japanese cuisine. Unagi is generally grilled and turned into a dish that is called Kabayaki (a kind of grilled eel dish that is covered by a special sauce called Tare) and is either eaten on its own or is eaten with rice, noodles or as sushi topping (sushi neta in Japanese).

With regards to Anago, it is commonly used as a sushi topping or is fried as a tempura dish. Furthermore, while it can be grilled like Unagi, Anago is generally not grilled with Tare sauce. The name of grilled Anago in Japanese is Anago Shiroyaki in reference to the white colour of the grilled meat. It is worth noting that Unagi can be served without the Tare sauce as Unagi Shiroyaki.

Where to buy Unagi and Anago

Now we approach the matter of where Unagi and Anago can be purchased. There are a few places where these products can be found. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Speciality stores

One place where Unagi and Anago can be found is stores that specialise in selling Japanese products. An example would be the Japanese specialty store Isetan that carries a wide variety of Japanese products.


Another place where you can find Unagi and Anago products are supermarkets. Some examples of Supermarkets that carry Unagi and Anago items include NTUC Fairprice and Giant to name a few.

Online stores

Yet another alternative way of finding Unagi and Anago products is through the medium of online shopping. While the supermarkets and speciality stores mentioned above do have online shopping options, there are other online shopping platforms that you can turn to. Some examples of online stores include Pickme, Shopee and Redmart to name a few options.

Looking back on this enlightening experience

Over the course of our exploration, we have uncovered quite a few fascinating treasures of information regarding Unagi and Anago that have shed light on some little known differences between the two food ingredients. Now you have acquired some knowledge that not only deepens your appreciation for the intricate nuances of Japanese cuisine, you also will be able to have many deep and meaningful discussions during lunch and dinner meetups with friends and family that will be sure to leave them amazed at your wisdom. Till the next time we go on another fascinating culinary journey, take care and remember to relish every aspect of whatever cuisine you eat.

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