The Complete Guide to the Best Vegan Sushi

Sushi is rolling with the times as more vegan options than ever before are being served around the world.

Despite being several hundred years old as a dish, sushi is still developing and diversifying. Once considered highly exotic (think Breakfast Club lunch scene) and the height of sophistication, sushi, in a variety of forms, is now available from chain restaurants, stalls, and even supermarkets in a number of countries.

Sushi — as we recognize it today — was eaten in Japan towards the end of the Edo Period (1603-1868), although its origins go way back to several centuries before. The UK got its first taste of the South East Asian delicacy in 1974 when the restaurant Ajimura opened in London.

For many, its sushi’s association with raw fish that has put them off. But with its rice base and an endless assortment of toppings, sushi is incredibly versatile and has many delicious vegan varieties. 

The Impact of Fishing

Overfishing has caused irreparable damage to the oceans

The fishing industry has caused irreparable damage to our plant’s sea-beds and marine wildlife for generations. Japan’s fishing industry is no exception.

As Japan is a collection of islands, it has understandably relied on the surrounding Pacific as a food source. The East Asian country’s highly fish-centric cuisine is demonstrated by the fact that Japan consumes 6 percent of the planet’s fish harvest.

As well as being an integral part of the national diet, fish and fishing are also ingrained in Japanese culture and folklore. There is even an ancient Shinto God of Fishing named Hoderi.

With fish being so much in demand, overfishing has long been a problem and first gained recognition at the start of the twentieth century. Overfishing in Japan has been facilitated by lax caps on fishing hauls and new technology such as spotter aircraft, which are used to locate high-density fishing areas.

Japan remains the largest consumer of Pacific bluefin tuna, and the fish is an especially common component of sushi, in pieces like toro sashimi. This has taken its toll on the tuna population. In 2017 Pew Environment Group reported that the fish was now at a 2.6 percent of its historical high.

Higher Demand for Fish

While fish has always been a popular foodstuff in coastal areas such as Scandinavia, it has become increasingly common throughout the west; its popularity is largely due to fish being lower in calories and fat than most meats.

The high content of healthy fats such as Omega 3 has also made fish a popular meal choice. The Mediterranean diet, which is high in olive oil, vegetables and fish has also been touted as healthy, boosting the sales of oily fish such as mackerel and sardines.

The growing popularity of sushi has also placed higher demands on the fishing industry, which in turn, has led to more intensive fishing.

It is estimated that 90 percent of the world’s cod, shark and swordfish populations have disappeared due to overfishing. Fishing methods such as net trawling, which involves dragging huge weighted nets across the seabed, is responsible for disrupting the ecosystem and destroying coral reefs.

Reefs are an essential part of the oceanic environment, they assist in the ocean’s carbon and nitrogen-fixing and protect coastlines from erosion. It is estimated that 20 percent of the Earth’s coral reefs have already been destroyed, with overfishing being cited as one of the main causes.

Trawling is also completely indiscriminate in what it tears from the ocean floor. For every pound of viable fish that is caught, five more pounds of other marine species (bycatch) are also caught. As these are not fit for human consumption, they are usually left to expire and then thrown dead back into the water. According to a research paper published in Science Magazine, the intense overfishing of our oceans could mean fishless seas by 2048.

Do Fish Feel Pain?

Some believe that fish do not feel pain

Common reasoning for not imposing welfare policies upon fisheries and the treatment of fish is based upon the assumption that fish do not experience pain.

As simpler organisms, with less developed nervous systems, the theory has long been that fish were simply not evolved enough to experience pain or trauma. Their brain mass is small, around one fifteenth the volume of a similarly sized bird of mammal, and it was considered a brain incapable of having the neuro-physiological capacity for a conscious awareness of pain.

It can also be hypothesised that we as humans find it more difficult to consider fish as creatures capable of pain, as they bear so little likeness to ourselves. Fins and a tail make it trickier for us to empathise.

The assumption that fish are too basic a creature to perceive being hurt is counteracted by their numerous nerve endings and nociceptors, which are close to the skin.  Studies have shown that fish release the same pain-transmitting chemicals as humans when they experience impact, and exhibit distress when in a confined environment such as a net.

An article published in Hakai Magazine categorically stated that fish do feel pain. This was the outcome of multiple research projects over 15 years into this matter.

One of the contributors to the study, Penn State University biologist Victoria Braithwaite, commented,“more and more people are willing to accept the facts,” Braithwaite says. “Fish do feel pain. It’s likely different from what humans feel, but it is still a kind of pain.”

The Rise of Vegan Fish 

Ima makes vegan sushi with carrots | image/Ima

For those who enjoy the taste of fish, new innovations in food technology mean fishy sushi can now be made without any sea creatures. Vegan seafood company Sophie’s Kitchen has created vegan shrimp and scallops from pea starch, while UK company Ima has perfected its recipe for vegan salmon using marinated carrots.

Father and Daughter company Ima (the Japanese word for “now”) founded the company to combat overfishing and Ima’s vegan salmon roll was recently added to the fridge section of Planet Organic.

Speaking about its mission to fight plastic pollution by using fully biodegradable trays, Ima said, “we’re friends of the ocean. It makes sense for us at Ima, because sushi comes from the ocean but plastic sushi containers and soy sauce tubs are polluting the ocean. We want to change this.”

Vegan sushi has also made quite a splash in New York, where vegan restaurant Beyond Sushi serves up ingenious morsels such as the Sunny Side Roll. This eye-catching dish is made of black rice, fennel, avocado and butternut squash topped with almond pesto. The plant-based chain is so in tune with the market demand for plant-based food, it recently secured a $1.5 million dollar investment from the aptly named investment series, Shark Tank.

One way that vegan sushi is being used to suit the demands and pace of modern society is that it is now being delivered straight to people’s doors by the vegan food company, Veestro Foods. The US company has partnered with Ocean Hugger Foods to bring vegan “Ahimi” sushi bowls directly to your home, office or park bench if you’re so inclined.

Ocean Hugger Foods is famous for creating plant-based “Ahimi” (the company’s bespoke word for its fishless sashimi) raw tuna from tomatoes. The ingenious recipe was created by Ocean Hugger Food’s Master-chef James Corwell.

On its website, Ocean Hugger Foods cites “limiting or even stopping overfishing and therefore the destruction of our oceans” as one of its motivations for creating vegan fish. 

Where to Get Vegan Sushi?

YO! Sushi has a large vegan menu | image/YO! Sushi

If you’re in the market for vegan sushi but aren’t sure what some of the items are, below is our quick list of sushi slang.

Yasai is the Japanese word for “vegetables” or “vegetable-based”

Maki is the Japanese word for “roll”

Nori is sheets of seaweed and happens to be particularly rich in iodine

A Hosomaki is a small roll with one filling, usually wrapped in nori

A Futomaki is a large roll with two or more fillings

A Nigri is an oblong of rice with the selected filling on top, often secured with a strip of seaweed

A Gukan is where the sushi filling is chopped, piled on top of the rice and then wrapped in nori

Inari are parcels of rice and sometimes other fillings, stuffed into a fried tofu skin

Onigiri are triangles of rice and filling, sometimes wrapped in nori like a salty samosa

While many people enjoy catching up over a platter in a sushi restaurant, the dish is most commonly eaten at lunchtime as a light bite. Below is a rundown of the best places in the UK to get your sushi fix.


  • Seaweed Gunkan, seaweed salad wrapped in nori
  • Avocado Hosomaki, two per packet
  • Cucumber Hosomaki, seasoned with sesame seeds
  • Tofu Roll, filled with textured tofu and peppers
  • Tofu Nigiri, with deep fried tofu on the top
  • Seaweed Onigiri, filled with seaweed salad
  • Mini Veg Set, 10 pieces of vegan sushi including a seaweed gunkan
  • Yasai Roll Set, with avocado maki, tofu pocket,and edamame bean salad. Also comes in a brown rice version


  • Avo Baby Rolls, 14 pieces
  • Veggie Club Rolls, with the rice outside
  • Veggie Sushi Collection, comes with veggie gyoza
  • Veggie Dragon Roll, made with avocado, green beans, and spicy sauce 

YO! Sushi

  • Avocado Nigri, creamy and salty
  • Glazed Aubergine Nigri, sweet and smoky
  • Inari Taco, a tofu rice pocket
  • Yasai Roll, filled with crisp veg
  • Avocado Maki, keeping it classic
  • Yasai Temaki, a street food seaweed wrap

Other tasty vegan YO! Sushi dishes gliding past your table include:

  • Vegetable Gyoza, filled with steamed veg
  • Tofu Katsu Curry, coated in panko breadcrumbs
  • Vegetable Yakisoba, noodles served in a tangy sauce
  • Harusame Aubergine, fried in garlic and ginger
  • Pumpkin Katsu, tender pumpkin in tonkatsu sauce
  • Vegetable Fried Rice, with edamame and carrot
  • Chocolate Pot, a dark vegan choc pot with a hint of vanilla

11 Vegan Sushi Recipes

If you’re wanting to roll with the lunches and make your own sushi, here is our list of 11 top vegan sushi recipes.

1. Vegan Sushi and Homemade Pickled Ginger by Lazy Cat Kitchen

Lazy Cat Kitchen makes delicious futomaki | image/Lazy Cat Kitchen

This step by step recipe from Lazy Cat Kitchen makes delicious futomaki filled with red cabbage, peppers, and carrot. Once you have this technique down pat, you can mix it up with whatever fillings you fancy.

Check it out here.

2. Pink Sushi from Green Evi

Use beetroot to make pink sushi| image/Green Evi

Delicious and dazzling, this recipe uses beetroot powder to create an extra eye-catching base for the various veggie fillings.

Check it out here.

3. Vegan Onigiri Six Ways from Lands and Flavors

Make onigiri with a few simple ingredients | image/Lands and Flavors 

Demonstrating how a few simple ingredients can create so many different dishes, this recipe creates six different onigiri, including carrot and mint and matcha and edamame.

Check it out here.

4. Raw Vegan Sushi from Healthier Steps

Use sunflower seeds to make raw vegan sushi | image/Healthier Steps

If you fancy a break from rice, this raw sushi recipe replaces the grain with a blended sunflower seed pate.

Check it out here.

5. Inari Rolls from Delectable Bakehouse

These inari rolls are protein-packed | image/Delectable Bakehouse 

Keeping it simple, these protein-rich inari rolls are perfect pockets of tastiness.

Check it out here.

6. Vegan Spicy Tuna Sushi from Fork and Beans

Make spicy vegan ‘tuna’ | image/Fork and Beans  

This recipe uses soaked sunflower seeds to recreate tuna and is filled with quinoa.  

Check it out here.

7.Vegan Sushi Burger from The Daily Meal

Make a sushi burger with shiitake mushrooms | image/The Daily Meal 

A little handheld parcel of joy, made with shiitake mushrooms and black sesame seeds.

Check it out here.

8. Vegan Lion King Sushi Roll from Wholly Vegan

Use firm tofu to make these vegan sushi rolls | image/Wholly Vegan

Made using firm tofu and slices of avocado, these rolls are then drizzled with a vegan, mayo-based sauce.

Check it out here.

9. Vegan Sushi Tofu Bites from Quiche a Week

These sushi bits are rice-free| image/Quiche a Week

Rice free, but still satiating, these spicy bites are topped with a punchy avocado mayonnaise.

Check it out here.

10. Vegan Sushi Stack from GGGiraffe Blogspot

These sushi stacks have layers of tofu omelet | image/GGGiraffe 

Crafted from layers of tofu omelet and sliced vegetables, this looks like a stunning sushi lasagne.

Check it out here.

11. Sweet Sushi from Zucker and Jagdwurst

Try this sweet sugary sushi| image/Zucker and Jagdwurst 

A sugary twist on traditional sushi, this recipe uses coconut milk and fresh fruit to make a fun, and flavorsome pudding.

Check it out here.