Maki VS Sushi: Many Similarities And Some Differences

Maki vs sushi is an interesting comparison, especially since we’re looking at two similar or even the same dishes! 

To be clear, maki is a type of sushi. The very versatile sushi comes in various forms, of which maki is one type. One of the popular names for maki in the west is sushi roll, which is a fairly descriptive name for this dish. 

Now that we have the basics cleared, let’s take a closer look to better understand what maki is and how it relates and compares to the famous sushi.

Sushi vs Maki: Their Differences And Similarities

The Difference Between Maki And Sushi

As we know, maki, also known as sushi roll, is a type of sushi. More specifically, it is sushi rolled in a seaweed covering. The seaweed is known as nori, which is why the dish is sometimes also called norimaki.

In Japanese, the word maki literally translates to rolled sushi. As such, the English translation is the common sushi roll, which is a fairly popular food. 

So, there isn’t as much of a difference between sushi and maki. In fact, maki is a type of sushi, or more specifically, it’s sushi rolled in seaweed.

The dried seaweed makes it easy to handle and roll the maki. It also adds a nice touch of flavor, which helps with the overall taste tones of maki. 

Here are the key points to note for the differences:

  • Maki is a type of sushi.
  • Sushi can be served in several formats. Maki is served as small cylindrical pieces cut from a larger roll.
  • Maki is served in a wrapping of toasted seaweed called nori. Sushi may not necessarily contain nori.

What Is Sushi?

Many of us assume that sushi is a dish where fish or similar seafood is served alongside rice. That is not necessarily true. Sushi is a very versatile dish that works with several variations and additions. That said, the key element to the sushi is rice. Or more specifically, vinegared rice. 

Vinegar rice is simply medium-grain rice fermented with vinegar. Its presence is what separates sushi from sashimi or other similar dishes that don’t use vinegar rice.

Adding vegetables or seafood to this vinegar rice makes the dish we call sushi. If compressed vinegared rice is topped with fish or seafood, the recipe is nigiri. If the rice and the seafood or vegetables in the mix are rolled and covered in seaweed, the recipe is maki.

What Is Maki Sushi And What Is A Maki Roll?

Since maki is a type of sushi, it’s sometimes also called maki sushi or makizushi. In a way, this differentiates the type of sushi being referred to, since there are several types of sushi. A similar logic applies to maki roll. 

When served, maki is available as small cylindrical pieces cut out of a larger roll. In many places, this is also known as the sushi roll.

The Most Popular Types Of Maki

Maki has several different forms as well. However, it retains its key characteristic in all these settings – a cylindrical (ish) shape with stuffing at the center and vinegared rice around it.

The food is usually wrapped in nori, though there is at least one version that doesn’t use the seaweed.

Here are the different types of maki.


Futomaki is the most common and conventional type of maki. This usually consists of a large cylindrical roll with a diameter of 2 inches. Its filling is very versatile and can include several ingredients. Vegetarian as well as seafood options are possible for the filling.

Ehomaki is a type of futomaki that’s usually served during the spring festival Setsubun.

Interestingly, futomaki also includes famous American takes on maki or sushi. These include the Philadelphia roll and California roll.


Hosomaki is another popular, though smaller type of maki. In this case, the diameter is just about one inch. Usually, hosomaki includes just one ingredient for filling to go with the vinegared rice. 

As it turns out, some ingredients are more popular than others. Sometimes, the choice of ingredient for the filling can modify the name of the dish. For example, hosomaki with tuna filling is called tekka maki.


Rather than making a big cylinder chopped into smaller pieces, sometimes maki is served in a smaller and conical setup. This convenient-sized package can be held in the hand and conveniently enjoyed while walking. 

That’s one reason temaki is also called hand roll. The small size and conical shape make it a meal fit for one person. 


Uramaki is a twist on maki and is typically consumed outside Japan. In this case, the folding process is the opposite of the conventional maki. While the filling still holds its spot in the center, it’s immediately followed by nori (seaweed) and the rice is on the outer side, completing the dish.

The use of nori, the roasted seaweed, is optional in this case. It’s often marketed as maki for people who don’t quite enjoy the taste or texture of seaweed.


Kawarizushi or kawari sushi is a relatively new classification of maki and even sushi. It is a response to the global popularity of sushi and the variations that have come along with it. 

In simple terms, kawarizushi represents sushi where conventional ingredients in sushi get replaced with non-traditional ingredients. Popular American-style sushi like California roll and Philadelphia roll are characterized as kawarizushi.


Are Sushi Rolls Called Maki?

Sushi roll is a popular name for maki outside Japan. The word maki translates to rolled sushi rice. The rolled vinegared rice is what forms the heart of maki (or for that matter, sushi). Generally, the name for maki is makizushi

This name represents the connection between maki and sushi as well. Maki is a type of sushi. Or to be more specific, maki is rolled sushi!

Is California Roll Not Sushi?

California roll is an American twist on sushi. You could classify it as a type of maki sushi – futomaki to be precise. In some cases, California rolls can follow the lead of Uramaki and hide or remove the presence of seaweed to better suit the preferences and palate of a Western audience.

As such, the approach to California Rolls is quintessentially an American-centric take on the maki. To some purists, that is not Japanese sushi, and thus not sushi at all. 

Although such objections matter little – to most of the world, the California roll is sushi. While it isn’t exactly Japanese, it does quite follow the conventional sushi recipes. 

Besides, the American food culture has a way of permeating around the world. The American take on pizza is fairly different from the classic Italian pizza. Yet, it’s the American pizza that most of the world recognizes as “pizza”.

What Is The Philadelphia Roll?

Philadelphia roll is an American palate-centric take on the conventional Japanese maki or makizushi. It’s often classified as a futomaki, though it may sometimes also be uramaki (when it hides or removes the seaweed). 

In the changing classification style, it is sometimes called kawarizushi, which means a type of sushi with non-traditional ingredients.

And Philadelphia roll is definitely a non-traditional representation for maki. The filling here includes smoked salmon, cucumber, and cream cheese. Other possible ingredients include sesame seeds, scallions, fish, and avocado.


In this maki vs sushi comparison, we see the basics of sushi and what separates these famous recipes. Maki, also known as makizushi, is a type of sushi. Or specifically, it is a distinct serving style of sushi. Maki is a very popular and convenient recipe. 

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