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TokyoTreat Japanese Snacks BlogNorwegian Salmon in Japan: Everything You Need to Know!

Norwegian Salmon in Japan: Everything You Need to Know!

Karina IkedoKarina Ikedo
Published Time
Posted on 
January 24, 2023
A plate of grilled Norwegian salmon with lemon on the side.

Norwegian salmon is fatty, tender, and bright orange and can nearly always be found in any sushi restaurant in Japan! As a matter of fact, it’s even more popular than Japan’s native sushi!

As surprising as it may sound, in the middle of the 1980s, the Norwegians convinced the Japanese that salmon sushi would be a good idea. The rest, as they say, is culinary history. Keep reading to discover more about how Norwegian salmon changed sushi forever!

From Norwegian waters to Japanese restaurants!

Salmon is always available on the menu at any sushi restaurant worldwide. But 20 years ago, it was not the case. Although the Japanese have always consumed raw fish, it was in recent times that sushi frequently featured the famously orange salmon.

An assortment of sushi, some of which include Norwegian salmon.
Sushi is one of the most famous dishes worldwide. Image via Shutterstock

Back then, the Japanese did not think of salmon as sushi. So started an ambitious campaign in Norway created by a group of fish exporters with a big goal. The finest Atlantic salmon is now a Japanese success because of a great idea, a few crazy businesspeople, and effective marketing.

A shot of a village's skyline in Norway.
Norway is a Scandinavian country in the North Atlantic Ocean. Image via Shutterstock

It has ranked as Japan’s most famous sushi topping for many years. Norway is now the leading supplier of Atlantic salmon in the world, thanks to the high quality, intense look, and fresh flavor of Norwegian salmon.

Salmon’s rise in popularity!

Japan in the 1970s was considerably different from what it’s today. When it came to seafood, the nation was utterly self-sufficient at the time, producing enough to feed the entire population without the need for imports. The fact that the average Japanese citizen consumed 60 kilos of fish and seafood annually compared to the global average of 15 made this achievement even more remarkable.

A twilight shot of Mount Fuji during the autumn with birds on the lake shore.
Norway set its sights on Japan regarding selling its excess salmon supply. Image via Shutterstock

Chefs traditionally made sushi with tuna and sea bream because of their clean flavors and rich textures. Despite being a staple of the diet, by public opinion, salmon was an inferior fish that needed to be properly cooked and was best suited for bulking out low-cost meals.

People did not eat raw salmon in Japan until 1995. Because Pacific salmon caught by Japanese fishermen is prone to parasites, serving it raw was considered unsafe. But they loved fresh seafood and would pay a high price for a good catch.

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Norway had a salmon surplus!

Meanwhile, across the globe, Norway had a salmon surplus and a too-small market to sell it. Looking east, they set their sights on Japan, a country that loves raw fish so much it’s willing to pay five times the price for sushi grade. 

Project Japan

Sensing a business opportunity, the Norwegian government hired a man named Bjorn Eirik Olsen. From 1986 to 1991, Bjorn worked for project Japan. Norwegian-farmed Atlantic salmon was fatty and safe since the farmers protected the fish from the elements. 

A shot of Norwegian salmon farming in a fjord.
Norway’s salmon supply mainly comes from fish farming! Image via Shuttertock

Their job was to convince Japanese consumers that Atlantic salmon was safe to consume raw, but it was a challenging task. It was a matter of perception, so they had to change the whole country’s opinion.

A plate of salmon sushi rolls.
People didn’t eat salmon sushi in Japan until the mid-1990s. Image via Shutterstock

Bjorn and his team got to work; they made the first-ever salmon rolls and served them to business people in Japan. Not to our surprise, they didn’t like it for a long time. It took ten years to get the deserved breakthrough in the Japanese market.

The birth of salmon sushi!

In 1992, Bjorn got lucky. The Japanese company Neichirei, famous for selling frozen foods, accepted his offer to buy 5,000 metric tons of salmon. There was only one condition: buyers could only sell it for sushi. 

Once the industry introduced raw salmon sushi to the Japanese market, things got going. Raw salmon gained popularity among Japanese chefs with its dew, smooth texture, and tasty fat.

Salmon fillets sitting on rice.
Norwegian salmon has a very fatty taste. Image via Shutterstock

Soon enough, the Japanese people caught on and began to demand Norwegian salmon at sushi restaurants all around the country. Norwegian salmon has become popular everywhere since then, from Japanese street food to fine-dining restaurants!

Unexpectedly, salmon sushi only existed about 20 years ago despite the long history of sushi. Norway recognized a market opening for its product. It profited from it by persistently conveying a marketing message to an entire society with solid culinary traditions over a decade. Norwegian sushi salmon has since become a global phenomenon.

Did you know that it was thanks to a Norwegian fisheries minister that the Japanese developed an appetite for raw salmon? Let us know in the comments below!

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