What Does Unagi Taste Like?

Unagi is a freshwater eel eaten often in Japan. It is popular due to its unique texture and taste and is used in everything from sushi to grilled rice bowls. But what exactly does it taste like?

Unagi has a light and sweet flavor. It is also incredibly porous, absorbing the flavor of whatever sauce is used with it. 

Keep reading to learn more about the flavor and texture of unagi, as well as how the most common cooking methods affect the flavor.  

The Flavors of Unagi

Unagi is usually described as light and sweet. Some people describe it as similar to catfish in flavor. There is little to no fishy taste that some seafood can have. 

However, most of the time, unagi is prepared in a sauce. Unagi is very porous, so when it is cooked in a sauce, it absorbs the flavor. Often, unagi is cooked in a sauce known as unagi sauce. This usually tastes something like a mix between soy sauce and barbeque sauce with its thick, sweet, and savory flavor. The sauce is usually caramelized, which leads to a thicker, more flavorful taste. 

The Texture of Unagi

Unagi is often described as having a similar texture to a white fish. It has a flaky texture similar to most white fish. Some people also describe it as having a similar texture to uncooked salmon. For that reason, it can be a great starter if you want to get into the world of sushi. It has a very similar texture to uncooked fish, with a rich and delicious taste. It also has a slight chew to it but almost melts in the mouth. 

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The Smell of Unagi

Unagi by itself doesn’t have a strong smell. Similar to the taste, unagi has a faint sweet smell with no fishy hints. When made with unagi sauce, it smells like barbeque sauce, rich and tangy. 

How Do Different Cooking Methods Change The Flavor and Texture?


Broiling unagi gets the top side of the eel nice and crispy and caramelizes the sauce while keeping the meat inside soft and moist. Some of the sauce gets a delicious crisp texture which compliments the softness of the fish well. 


Steamed unagi is much softer. It lacks the crispness from broiling or grilling, creating a melt-in-your-mouth soft texture. The flavor is still mild and sweet, making it a great flavor to pair with sushi rice


Grilling unagi grants it a similar texture to broiling, with a great combination of a crispy outer layer and soft inner layer. Grilling fish also gives the taste a smokier flavor, which works great with the barbecue flavor. 


Unagi is delicious, imparting a sweet and light flavor that pairs perfectly with the tangy vinegar taste of sushi rice. It is most often cooked with an unagi sauce, which is similar to a sweet barbeque sauce. The texture of unagi is similar to white fish, as it is flaky and soft. It has a slight chew while also melting in the mouth. 

Overall, it is a great start to get into trying sushi if you are on the fence about the texture or taste of raw fish. It has a similar texture to uncooked salmon but lacks any fishy taste and the strong barbeque taste makes it easily palatable. It is worth trying it at least once.