Vegan sushi has existed for as long as the humble cucumber avocado roll (since the late 1970s), but today, it’s evolved far beyond its basic beginnings. Chefs have taken culinary liberty with the concept and reproduced plant-based versions of everything from nigiri (a single ingredient served over rice) to rolls stuffed with vegan fish, tofu, and a colorful array of fresh, fried, and pickled vegetables. 

The fresh innovation in this centuries-old food has redefined what sushi can be. Fish isn’t necessary to replicate the tastes of the sea or to emulate that refreshing experience of meticulously plated nigiri. The plant-friendly restaurants and recipes below truly demonstrate that plants can do it all—even sushi. 

Ready your chopsticks and stock your fridge with pickled ginger—from vegan sushi restaurants to make-at-home recipes, you’ll be craving vegan sushi very soon. 

A brief history of sushi

The concept of sushi is a centuries-old food tradition from Southeastern Asia. To preserve raw, salted fish, individuals would store it in fermented rice—a process that would also ferment the fish over time and prevent it from going bad. In the mid-eighteenth century, rice vinegar was added to the rice, and by the 1800s, sushi evolved into what we recognize as nigiri today—a thin slice of fresh, raw fish over a small ball of compressed rice seasoned with rice vinegar. 

Vegnews.theplantlabThe Plant Lab Hollywood

While sushi gained popularity in Japan, the first sushi restaurant outside of Tokyo wasn’t founded until 1966. Established in the Little Tokyo neighborhood of Los Angeles, the restaurant, Kawafuku, became popular with businessmen, and by 1970, another sushi restaurant popped up in Hollywood, catering to celebrities and the wealthy. 

To most Americans, the notion of consuming raw fish didn’t sit well, which prompted the invention of the sushi roll (also founded in Los Angeles). The California roll truly originates from the state, along with the entire idea of the roll. 

What is vegan sushi?

During the same time, sushi chefs began incorporating avocado into their rolls. After all, avocado is a component of the classic California roll. This led to the advent of vegan-friendly sushi by way of the avocado and cucumber roll. Vegetable rolls filled with gobo (pickled burdock root) and other colorful veggies followed suit. 

The first all-vegan sushi restaurant is unknown, but by 2011, Shojin had set up shop in Little Tokyo. The all-vegan sushi menu featured complex and delicious combinations that far exceeded the basic vegetable roll. The chef not only played with vegetables, using a variety of traditional Japanese cooking techniques to transform tofu into crab meat and eggplant into eel, but implemented a wide array of eye-catching plant-based sauces, toppings, and finishing touches to further elevate his rolls. 

Today, vegan sushi exists in a plethora of forms. Some use plant-based fish made from konjac—a root vegetable from Eastern Asia—while others rely on tofu, jackfruit, mushrooms, eggplant, and even chickpeas to replicate the taste and texture sushi-lovers crave. 

“Vegan sushi isn’t an alternative—it’s the way forward.” —Chef David Lee of Planta, a pioneering plant-based restaurant group, told VegNews.

“We’re committed to introducing it to our audience without sacrificing flavor profile or texture. Smoked eggplant, dehydrated watermelon, and fresh nori or soy paper are crucial to the equation, and so is quality rice.” Lee continued.

Types of vegan sushi

Plant-based iterations of virtually every form of sushi exist these days, and the ingredients vary from restaurant to restaurant. Here are a few of the most common types of vegan sushi you’ll come across at vegan and vegan-friendly establishments. 

Nigiri

Nigiri, or what loosely translates to “hand-pressed” sushi, is the most traditional form of sushi. It’s simplistic in composition, meaning the few ingredients truly shine. Nigiri is made simply of seasoned sushi rice pressed into a small oval and topped with a very thin slice of raw fish (with the exception of egg, eel, and shrimp nigiri, which is cooked). The most common types of nigiri include salmon, albacore, and yellowtail. 

Screen Shot 2023-01-18 at 11.31.24 PMThe Plant Lab/@theveganmonsta/Instagram

Vegan nigiri features a number of inventive culinary techniques to replicate that raw fish texture and flavor profile. In 2017, a brand called Ocean Hugger Foods astonished the world by launching its ahi tuna-grade alternative—Ahimi—in select whole foods. The product was simply made with marinated, thinly sliced tomato, and it was the first breakaway innovation that paved the way for other vegan versions of raw fish. While no longer available at Whole Foods, Ocean Hugger paved the way for others. You can now find vegan sushi-grade sashimi at GTFO, an online vegan retailer. 

Today, higher-end vegan Japanese restaurants still tend to rely on the manipulation of vegetables to create their own versions of nigiri, whereas quick service and food truck operations lean more toward starch-based solutions. These, such as The Plant Lab’s salmon, look hyper-realistic and are mostly made of starches, such as konjac or other vegetable-based gelling agents. 

Rolls and hand rolls

A sushi roll traditionally consists of a filling wrapped in nori (seaweed sheet) and rice. The roll is cut into anywhere from five to eight one-bite pieces. A hand roll contains the same ingredients, but it is served in a different application. Nori is wrapped into a cone shape and filled with rice and vegetables and/or vegan fish. Typically, a hand roll is a smaller serving than a cut roll. 

The delicious creativity in vegan sushi is infinite, and we love trying new and enticing combinations, but there is a group of common rolls you’ll see across most menus. Here’s what they are, how they’re prepared, and what’s in them. 

Vegnews.shizencucumberavoShine

1 Cucumber and Avocado Roll

Little explanation is needed here, other than the fact that if you’re at a non-vegan sushi restaurant, it is virtually guaranteed that this will be on the menu. It’s a great light bite and a welcome last resort when there are no other satiating options. 

Vegnews.nowsushicalirollNow Sushi

2 California Roll

Many self-proclaimed sushi snobs may liken this roll to Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte in that it’s “basic.” While the first iteration of this roll was made with real crab meat, today, it’s made with imitation crab, mayonnaise, and cucumber, all rolled in nori and sesame-flecked rice. Note: Imitation crab still contains seafood. It’s essentially the Spam of the sea, as it’s made of an assortment of parts that come from a variety of white fish such as tilapia and cod. 

Vegan versions of the California roll are often made with seasoned tofu, jackfruit, or mashed chickpeas mixed with vegan mayo. 

Vegnews.happiestveganonearthHappiest Vegan on Earth

3 Spider Roll

Love a good crunch? Order a spider roll. Unlike the California roll, this combination of fried soft-shell crab, cucumber, avocado, and mayo originates from Japan. It gets its name from the long, fried pieces that stick out of either end, which abstractly look like a spider’s legs. You’ll often see this roll paired with eel sauce, which happens to be vegan. It’s a sweet, syrupy mix of reduced mirin, soy sauce, and sugar. 

To replicate the crunchy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside crab meat, vegan sushi chefs fry enoki or shimeji mushrooms. When done properly, the resulting texture is similar to fried soft-shell crab.

Vegnews.kenshoyolanieats@yolandi_eats_la/Instagram

4 Philadelphia Roll

True to its name, the Philly roll actually comes from Philadelphia. The combination was created by Madame Saito—a Japanese immigrant turned Philly restaurateur. As legend has it, her Jewish American customers inspired this roll. She thought of lox and bagels and incorporated the concept into a sushi roll. 

The Philadelphia roll is made of smoked salmon, cream cheese, and cucumber, surrounded by rice and nori. Vegan options simply swap in non-dairy cream cheese and a starch- or vegetable-based salmon. 

Vegnews.kenshocaterpillarKensho

5 Caterpillar Roll

Avocado-lovers, this one’s for you. The caterpillar roll gets its name from the slices of avocado that adorn the outside, making it look like a very abstract caterpillar. Often, two dots of sriracha are added to the end of one roll, giving the caterpillar “eyes.” The filling consists of unagi (eel) and cucumber, also surrounded by nori and rice. 

Due to its chewy texture when baked or fried, eggplant is most commonly substituted for unagi in vegan iterations of the caterpillar roll. 

Vegnews.kenshoshrimptemuraKensho

6 Shrimp Tempura Roll

While most traditional sushi is served raw, shrimp is the exception. Frying is a common application, which lends a delightful crunch and textural variety to this roll of battered shrimp, cucumber, and avocado. 

To create a vegan shrimp tempura roll, chefs typically use a commercially available plant-based shrimp made of konjac, then batter and fry it. 

Where can you find vegan sushi?

Truly, you can find vegan sushi in its most basic form virtually anywhere. However, we’re seeing innovation in this cuisine crop up everywhere from Honolulu to Los Angeles. Seek out any one of these spots to indulge in vegan sushi that’s way beyond basic. 

Vegnews.taneTane

1 Tane

When on Oahu, a visit to Tane is a must. A few miles outside of the bustle of Waikiki, Tane is a chic all-vegan sushi and ramen restaurant that never fails to wow with its innovative and addictive line of vegan sushi. The extensive menu is paralyzing to the effect that you’ll want to order it all. Though it’s difficult to be disappointed here, we recommend starting with the beet salad and splitting at least four rolls among two people. Prepare to leave a bit too full yet satisfied. 
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Vegnews.shizenShizen

2 Shizen

Sister restaurant to Tane in Honolulu, this San Francisco outpost has been impressing city-dwellers and tourists alike with its elevated and posh Japanese cuisine. The intricate specialty rolls are something to savor, but the small plates and delicate nigiri shouldn’t be passed over. Reservations are highly recommended. 
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Vegnews.kenshoKensho

3 Kensho

Kensho’s two locations in Yorba Linda and Westminster, CA has all the rolls you could dream of. Heat-seekers will especially delight at the many spicy options, from the basic yet well-executed spicy tuna roll to the I Lava You—a baked California roll topped with oyster mushrooms and torched to charred perfection. The kitchen also offers expertly executed renditions of the standard rolls including the Caterpillar and Spider. 
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Vegnews.nowsushiNow Sushi

4 Now Sushi

“The entire menu can be made vegan upon request.” That’s what we love to see if we find ourselves at a non-vegan restaurant. Steps from the beach in San Diego, the Now kitchen offers a plethora of classic and complex rolls, none of which lose their appeal with a vegan modification. The house rolls are by far the most memorable, both in name and flavor. Order a few for yourself then head toward the water to walk for miles along the sandy pedestrian path. 
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Vegnews.theyasaiThe Yasai

5 The Yasai

Boasting two locations in San Diego, this intimate plant-based sushi concept relies exclusively on tofu and vegetables to craft its dizzying array of inventive specialty rolls and incredible nigiri. For lunch, stick to an appetizer like the gyoza and a classic roll or two. When dining in for dinner, splitting a few small plates and specialty rolls is the best way to taste the talent of The Yasai’s creative chefs. 
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Vegnews.naughtypandaNaughty Panda

6 Naughty Panda

Originally founded in Orange County, CA, this themed vegan sushi spot packed up its adorable mascot and made its home in Pasadena, CA. The tiny joint is cramped and best suited for takeout, but despite the small storefront, the rolls bring big flavor. Popular options include the crispy fried onion-topped Super Saiyan Crunch Roll and the unique orange slice-adored Charmander roll. 
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Vegnews.chefkennysdimsumChef Kenny’s Vegan Dim Sum

7 Chef Kenny’s Vegan Dim Sum

Chef Kenny’s menu is just shy of Cheesecake Factory-size. The sushi is somewhat eclipsed by the dim sum, specialty dishes, soup, noodles, and more, but it’s definitely worth the long scroll down (or flip of the page, if dining in). We enjoy pairing the nigiri and hand rolls with other heartier options on the menu for a smorgasbord of pan-Asian dishes. Local tip: the egg tarts are must for anyone with a sweet tooth—they’re truly divine. 
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Vegnews.beyondsushiBeyond Sushi

8 Beyond Sushi

There’s more than one vegan sushi joint in New York City, but this micro-chain has been dazzling Manhattanites and tourists alike with its inventive fish-free sushi since 2012. The menu literally goes beyond sushi—an order of Smoked Mushroom Bao or Peanut Noodle Salad always accompanies our roll order. Another reason to love this place: the rolls are reasonably priced—most are under $10—which makes trying them all slightly more accessible. 
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Vegnews.tamasushiTama Sushi

9 Tama Sushi

Tucked into a strip mall in Huntington Beach, CA, this small, vegan-friendly sushi joint is crafting plant-based rolls even omnivores go for. Local favorites include the LB Vegan—a torched roll topped with mayo-drizzled meaty mushrooms and water chestnuts—and the Red Dragon Roll, a roll that shows off the kitchen’s tomato-based sashimi tuna.
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Vegnews.daikonDaikon

10 Daikon

Las Vegas is home to a handful of vegan sushi restaurants, and Daikon proves to be a solid choice. The fish here is made from a wide assortment of natural plant-based sources such as tofu and jackfruit or thinly sliced and seasoned vegetables like eggplant, tomato, and bell pepper. The result is surprisingly slimy … in that good, raw-fish way. Opt for wholesome and fresh with the vegetable-forward Black Garlic roll or utterly indulgent with the fried Golden State Roll—a tempura California roll drizzled with sweet soy sauce and spicy mayo. 
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Vegnews.tomosushiTomo Sushi

11 Tomo Sushi

The city of Philadelphia can excel at more than cheesesteaks, and this vegan-friendly sushi spot is proving the point. The vegan menu features appetizers, small plates, ramen, and an exhaustive menu of plant-based rolls. You’d have to be a local to try them all, but you can hit the sweet spot with a mix of complex and single-ingredient rolls. Our order for two: Umeshiso Kappa, Shiitake Mushroom, Harvest, and Vegan Green Dragon. 
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Vegnews.shojinShojin

12 Shojin

At this pioneering Los Angeles vegan restaurant, the best menu items are the ones that play with texture and layer on flavor after flavor. Anything that is torched, baked, or tempura’d is something to try, such as the popular spicy tofu-based Shojin Dynamite Roll, Kiss of the Spider Woman, and Baked Scallop Roll. At Shojin, more is more. 
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Vegnews.plantaPlanta

13 Planta

Founded in 2016, the Planta chain has cropped in a multitude of cities across the Eastern portion of the US including Bethesda, MD; Miami and Fort Lauderdale, FL; Chicago, IL; New York, NY; and Toronto, Canada with five additional locations already in the works. Each menu varies, but you can always count on exceptional dishes made from, well … plants. The sushi here is elevated without being over-the-top elaborate. The produce-based nigiri is thoughtful and composed, and the condensed section of rolls is made with just a few ingredients—ones that truly shine. You’ll walk away feeling light yet ultimately satisfied. 
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Vegnews.kusakiKusaki

14 Kusaki

Easily missed in a 7-Eleven parking lot, this newcomer omakase and sushi restaurant is hoping to make waves in Los Angeles by pairing coveted Japanese cuisine with locally sourced, plant-based ingredients. The vegan fish dishes are stunning—from the delicately plated nigiri to the sashimi, but thanks to those local ingredients, the vegetables are the real star here. Try as much as you can from the Veggie Sushi portion of the menu, supplemented with the Chard of Asparagus appetizer and the Rainbow or Philly roll (you can’t go wrong with either). This is one of those places where you order a bit of everything and return often for more. 
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Vegan sushi condiments

Purists may balk at the idea of anything more than soy sauce, pickled ginger, and wasabi, but sometimes, condiments make the roll. Below, you’ll see vegan sushi restaurants, pop-ups, and more drizzling creamy, plant-based spicy mayo and sticky-sweet unagi or eel sauce; adding texture with tempura flakes; and even going so far as to deep-fry entire rolls. Sriracha, jalapenos, lemon slices, and seaweed-based “caviar” are also popular additions to plant-based sushi. 

Condiments are a key way to create additional flavor and texture to basic rolls, particularly when made at home. The recipes below either include an irresistible condiment or could benefit from a flourish of spicy mayo or a sprinkling of crunchy panko. 

How to make vegan sushi

VegNews.PinkSushi copyHeather Bell & Jenny Engel

1 Vegan Pink Rice Sushi with Tamari Ginger Sauce

Show off your sushi-making skills on socials with this colorful roll. The pink rice is naturally colored with beets, and it surrounds a rainbow filling of red bell pepper, avocado, carrots, cucumber, and baked teriyaki tofu. 
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Vegnews.pinksushiAnya Kassof

2 Black and White Sushi Rolls

Flavor is king, but this roll is equally about aesthetics. Naturally nutty black rice surrounds hot pink pickled turnips and creamy avocado for a striking piece of sushi that’s also texturally intriguing and delicious. The best part? There’s only seven ingredients. 
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Vegnews.vegesushiRobin Robertson

3 Vegetarian Sushi

This is your standard vegetable roll, elevated with a touch of wasabi powder and accented with pickled ginger. It’s light yet satisfying, perfect for the sushi beginner.  
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Vegnews.cucumbersushiSarah Bond

4 Healthy Cucumber Sushi with Spicy Mayo

Hollowed-out cucumber slices replace nori in this light and refreshing vegan roll. The spicy mayo adds a subtle heat while baked tofu imparts a hearty umami bite. 
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Vegnews.diycalirollMichelle Hirsch

5 DIY Vegan California Roll

Made simply with avocado, baked tofu, cucumber, carrots, sushi rice, and nori, this roll is a canvas to be punched-up with flavor. Drizzle it with store-bought eel sauce or vegan spicy mayo, top it off with tempura flakes, or (for the adventurous) deep-fry the entire thing. Of course, a quick dip in tamari and a strip of pickled ginger work just as well. 
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