Los Angeles is, in all likelihood, the original home of sushi in the United States. The first mention of the raw fish dish in America dates back to 1904 in the Los Angeles Herald. And you might think that with over a century of tradition and history on its side LA wouldn't be screwing up its sushi. You’d be wrong, at least according to four years of research from UCLA and Loyola Marymount University. A study published yesterday in the journal Conservation Biology found that almost half of the fish from more than two dozen different sushi restaurants was mislabeled.
Paul Barber, a UCLA professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, and his team went to 26 restaurants with high customer ratings on Yelp. In an email Barber told me they hit a broad cross section of LA restaurants that “ran the gamut from some very high end establishments (both large and small) as well as low and middle of the road places.” Researchers ordered nine different types of fish and tested the DNA from each of them. The findings are, at best, disappointing for those of us who don’t just order California and spicy tuna rolls.
47 percent of the sushi turned out not be what the restaurant claimed. Some species, though, fared much worse than others. Exactly zero samples of halibut and red snapper ended up being halibut or red snapper. In the case of halibut, the actual fish was found to be flounder and in the case of snapper the sushi was usually made from red seabream or tilapia. The halibut swap is particularly problematic because some of the fish served was, in reality, raw olive flounder, a species that caused an outbreak of gastroenteritis several years ago.