Health Benefits of Masago

Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on September 19, 2023
6 min read

Masago is the edible eggs, or roe, of the capelin fish. Also known as capelin roe or smelt roe, it's a popular ingredient in some Asian dishes, most notably sushi. 

Capelin is a small foraging fish, about the size of a sardine, that frequents cold-water regions, namely the Arctic, North Pacific, and North Atlantic. They're an important source of food for whales, puffins, Atlantic cod, and other ocean predators. They eat mostly plankton, but will eat bigger crustaceans when they can find them. People also eat capelin for food. But they're used mostly to make fish meal, an ingredient in animal feed and fertilizer. 

Egg-bearing female capelins are harvested and exported to Asia, where their eggs are extracted and processed to make masago. The eggs are often dyed bright orange, and sometimes red or green. Masago is probably best known as a colorful garnish for sushi rolls, including California rolls. 

What does masago taste like?

It has a briny, slightly fishy flavor and slightly crunchy texture. Because masago eggs are so small, they don't "pop" in your mouth like caviar

Masago vs. tobiko

Masago is sometimes used as a less expensive substitute for tobiko, the roe of the flying fish. While the flavor is similar, tobiko are larger, crunchier, and look more transparent.


Along with adding a pop of color and a salty flavor to foods, masago is thought to add nutritional benefits as well. The possible benefits include:

‌Heart health. Omega-3 fatty acids like those found in masago help your body make hormones it needs to control blood clotting and prevent inflammation of the heart’s artery walls. Researchers have found that people who eat more omega-3 fats are less likely to have heart disease than people who don’t.

‌Eye health. Omega-3 fatty acids are an important part of the structure of the retina, the layer of cells at the back of your eye that helps you see. While the exact role they play in eye health is not fully understood, several studies have found that omega-3s help the eyes of babies and young children develop.

‌Bone health. Masago contains vitamin D, which can help prevent bone loss and fractures over the long term. Doctors sometimes recommend using vitamin D supplements to reduce your risk for osteoporosis.

Reduce arthritis symptoms. The omega-3 fatty acids in foods like masago are thought to reduce symptoms of inflammation throughout the body, which may have important benefits for people living with rheumatoid arthritis.

Like many other types of fish protein, masago is low in fat and contains healthy omega-3 fatty acids.‌ At the same time, it's a rich source of protein. Just 2 tablespoons has 6 grams of protein, as much as a medium-size chicken egg. Protein offers several potential health benefits:

‌Weight loss. Studies show that eating foods high in protein can reduce cravings for unhealthy foods. One study found that people who got 25% of their calories from protein were able to cut their cravings, especially at night, by half.

Muscle strength. You need protein-rich foods like masago to build new muscles and to maintain the ones you have. If you're starting a strength training program, adding protein to your diet can help you get results.

Bone health. Not only does protein help children and young adults build healthy bones, it helps keep bones stronger as you age – especially if you have osteoporosis. 



Fish eggs like masago are rich in vitamin B12, a nutrient your body’s cells need for metabolism. A lack of vitamin B12 can hurt your body’s ability to absorb nutrients, make new blood cells, and can even lead to anemia.

‌Fish roe is also a high-quality source of:

‌Nutrients per serving:

A 14-gram serving of fish roe, about 1 tablespoon, contains:

  • 20 calories
  • 3 grams of protein
  • 1 gram of fat
  • 0 grams of carbohydrates
  • 0 grams of fiber
  • 0 grams of sugar

Fish roes like masago are rich in several amino acids, which are in protein. They include :

  • Glutamine, which helps keep your immune system, brain, and digestion working as they should
  • Leucine, which your muscles use for energy
  • Lysine, which helps your body absorb calcium

Some of the possible health drawbacks of masago include:

‌Masago has a high sodium content

Just 1 tablespoon of masago contains about 240 milligrams of sodium, or 10% of the recommended daily amount. For this reason, it's best eaten in moderation.

Masago is often processed with additives

In addition to food dye, monosodium glutamate (MSG) and sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup may be added to this type of roe during processing. Some people have reactions to MSG, though these reactions tend to be mild and temporary. Too much high-fructose corn syrup has been linked to insulin resistance and a higher risk for obesity

Masago can cause an allergic reaction

If you have a seafood allergy, it's smart to stay away from fish roe as well as other types of fish products. Even some people without seafood allergies may be allergic to roe. The yolks of fish roe contain a substance called vitellogenin, which could cause allergic reactions like a stomachache, a rash, vomiting, or diarrhea. 

Some potential health issues that aren't a big concern include: 

Masago is low in mercury

Exposure to high levels of mercury can cause numbness, muscle weakness, trouble speaking, and other unpleasant effects, While many fish products are high in mercury, the eggs of the capelin fish aren't among them. That's largely because the capelin has a foraging diet. Also, roe contains less mercury than other parts of the fish. 

Masago is safe during pregnancy

Because of its low mercury levels, it's thought to be safe to eat two to three servings of masago per week when you're pregnant or breastfeeding. While raw fish isn't a good choice during pregnancy, most masago you can buy has been pasteurized. Keep in mind, though, that it's high in sodium. 



Masago harvested in Iceland is considered sustainable, due to that country's fishing methods. The type from Canada is also thought to be somewhat sustainable. But some organizations consider masago from Russia and Norway unsustainable. It can be hard to tell where the product comes from. But if you eat it at a restaurant, your sushi chef may know. 

Still, there are concerns about the long-term future of the capelin. Because masago is harvested as mature eggs, fewer of the fish are born. This could lead to population decline in the long run. Capelin is an important prey for other fish, so overharvesting could have a ripple effect on other species. 

Masago can be used inside sushi rolls as well as on the outside as a garnish. You might sprinkle it on top of a poke bowl. It also adds color and saltiness to salads, rice, and pasta. Some people use it to decorate raw oysters.

Masago sauce

Masago sauce is a creamy, spicy topping for grilled salmon, baked mussels, and other seafood dishes. It's also good as a dip for sushi or as a topping for Japanese-style spaghetti. To make it, simply mix lime juice, powdered garlic, and masago eggs into prepared mayonnaise to taste. 



Masago is a type of fish egg, or roe, often used in sushi. It has several beneficial nutrients, including protein and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. But it also tends to be high in sodium, so it's best to eat it in moderation.