June 25, 2007 -- Americans' interest in sushi has grown to such epidemic proportions that some restaurants are struggling to find good tuna. But despite this large appetite for maki, sashimi, nigiri, temaki, oshizushi and inari, much of what Americans think they know about this traditional Japanese dish is all wrong.
From the eating technique to the dipping sauces there are all sorts of misunderstandings, according to author Trevor Colson, who takes a look at the history of sushi and the booming sushi market in his new book "The Zen of Fish: The Story of Sushi from Samurai to Supermarket."
"[When] I started researching the book, I found out that almost everything we do as Americans at the sushi bar is wrong, and the chefs are sitting there going 'Oh my god, I can't believe I have to do this again,'" said Colson in an interview with ABC News.
Several decades ago, the idea of creating a meal out of raw fish wrapped in rice and seaweed was unheard of in the United States. Now sushi is everywhere -- from the shores of California and New York to even the oceanless cities in between.
But according to Colson, the American style of sushi eating is misguided.
"You don't have to use chopsticks," he said. "Use your fingers, that way the chef can pack the sushi loosely. It won't fall apart when you pick it up."
And he says the dipping sauce is not necessary. "Skip the soy sauce. If you have the right chef, he'll put on just the right sauce in the right amount for you," Colson said.
Those who pile ginger on these bite size servings hoping to spice up the sushi are also making a mistake, according to tradition. "Ginger is a palate cleanser," said Colson. "Eat a slice between each piece of fish, not with the fish."
And miso soup? Yup, we get that wrong too. "If you are going to have it, save it for the end of the meal. That's what Japanese people do," Colson said.
Health Food Mystique
Sushi restaurants may be popping up across the country, but despite sushi's popularity, most folks don't even realize what they're eating.
Americans often incorrectly assume the word "sushi" means "raw fish." However, "sushi" refers to the rice used to make the roll.
"Sushi is about the rice," said Colson. "Rice that has been seasoned with vinegar, sugar and a little salt. That's what defines sushi."
For those who may be thinking it's OK to eat sushi incorrectly, as long as they're getting a healthy low-calorie meal, "Zen of Fish" also points out that's not always true, either.
For years, nutritionists have touted sushi's health benefits and its low calorie content, but Colson warns that rolls with an excess of mayo-based or chili-laden sauces can easily negate this dishes' health value and pack on the calories.
However, Americans' cultural ignorance is the least of the sushi industry's worries. In the past few years, sushi demand has spread so quickly that restaurants across the country are having trouble finding fresh fish to keep up with the orders.
"Sushi is spreading like wildfire throughout the Midwest," said Colson. "I talk to tuna distributors, and they said they can't get good tuna for their chefs in Manhattan because it's all going to Kansas City."
While increased demanded may be a boon to fisherman, many environmentalists worry that this rise in sushi's popularity could lead to over-fishing and the extinction of popular sushi fishes.
For now, Colson says, enjoy your sushi (correctly) while you can, and don't forget to end with "gochiso sama," or "it's been a wonderful feast."