From Discarded Cut to Delicacy: The Surprising History of Tuna Belly “Toro”



When you think of the most luxurious sushi toppings, chances are the smooth and flavorful “otoro” (fatty tuna belly) comes to mind. However, did you know that toro was once a discarded part of the tuna? In this article, we’ll delve into the surprising truth behind this prized sushi ingredient.

What is Toro?

Toro refers to the fatty parts of the tuna’s belly. The highly marbled “chutoro” (medium fatty tuna) and “otoro” are now widely popular as high-end sushi toppings, prized for their soft texture and rich flavor. However, the appreciation for toro is a relatively recent development.

The Era of Discarded Toro

It may be hard to believe, but until the mid-20th century, toro was often discarded in Japan. At the time, Japanese people tended to dislike fatty foods, preferring the leaner cuts of tuna. Additionally, the preservation techniques of the era made it difficult to maintain the quality of the fatty parts, making toro a rarely used cut in the growing culture of raw fish dishes like sushi and sashimi.

The Rise of Toro’s Value

Two main factors led to the end of toro being discarded and the beginning of its appreciation:

  1. Advancements in refrigeration and freezing technology made it possible to preserve the quality of the fatty toro for longer periods.
  2. Japan’s economic growth and changing food culture increased the demand for more luxurious and indulgent foods. In this context, the unique texture and rich flavor of toro, once avoided, began to be seen as a new and desirable taste.

Toro Becomes a High-End Sushi Topping

Toro’s status as a premium sushi topping was established in the 1980s and beyond. As Japanese cuisine, particularly sushi, gained worldwide popularity, toro became an iconic symbol. Its rarity, distinct texture, and deep flavor were recognized as the ultimate complements to the art of sushi, elevating it to the highest tier of toppings.

Toro’s Popularity Reflects Changes in Japanese Food Culture

The transformation of toro from a discarded cut to a prized sushi topping reflects significant changes in Japanese food culture. Shifts in Japanese taste preferences and technological advancements in food preservation and distribution dramatically altered the perceived value of toro.

Toro’s history exemplifies the depth and adaptability of Japanese food culture. It also suggests how technological progress can greatly influence culinary traditions. As new technologies continue to develop, it will be interesting to see how our eating habits and preferences evolve.


The unexpected history of toro tells a story of the richness and potential of Japanese food culture. While now beloved worldwide, understanding the story behind toro can enhance our appreciation for its flavor even further.

Toro’s journey from a discarded cut to a global delicacy is a testament to the ever-evolving nature of cuisine. As we savor each piece of otoro, we can reflect on the cultural shifts and technological advancements that have shaped the way we enjoy food today.