What’s the Difference Between a Sushi Roll and a Hand Roll?

Sushi rolls and hand rolls are two delicious styles of sushi, but they have some key differences in their preparation, shape, serving method, and ingredients.

If you’ve found yourself wondering about the distinction between these two Japanese rice creations, you’re not alone! While they both use rice as the base, sushi rolls are rolled tightly in a mat into a cylindrical log shape, then sliced into rounds.

Hand rolls, in contrast, are cone-shaped and wrapped by hand without a mold. Rolls can be picked up with chopsticks, while hand rolls are eaten by, well, hand. The fillings also tend to differ, with rolls featuring ingredients like cucumber, avocado, and crab, while hand rolls highlight fresh fish and seafood.

While their construction varies, both provide the satisfying flavors of vinegar-seasoned rice paired with delicious fillings. If you want to learn more about mastering these two sushi styles, keep reading for a deep dive into all the mouthwatering details.

Sushi Rolls

Sushi rolls, also called makizushi, are what most people envision when they think of sushi. Here are the defining features of sushi rolls:

Cylindrical Shape

  • Rolls are rolled into a long, cylindrical log shape using a bamboo rolling mat.
  • The roll is then cut crosswise into rounds or pieces.

Diverse Fillings

  • Common fillings are cucumber, avocado, imitation crab, tempura shrimp, etc.
  • Creative rolls may have fish, veggies, fruits, cream cheese, or other fillings.

Made with Rice on the Outside

  • A thin layer of sushi rice goes on the nori seaweed first.
  • Fillings are added in the center and rolled up in the rice and nori.

Eaten with Chopsticks or Fingers

  • The sliced pieces of roll can be picked up with chopsticks.
  • Many people also use their fingers to grab rolls for dipping in soy sauce.

Restaurants Often Serve Cut Rolls

  • Pre-cut rolls allow for easy sharing and sampling.
  • Home chefs can cut their own custom rolls after rolling.

Overall, rolls are the most widely recognized sushi variety thanks to their diverse fillings and customization potential.

Hand Rolls

Hand rolls, known as temaki in Japanese, offer a fun, cone-shaped spin on sushi:

Cone/Oval Shape

  • Hand rolls are rolled into a cone by hand, no mat required.
  • The pointed end is folded closed to contain fillings.

Minimal Fillings

  • Usually contain just one or two fillings like tuna, salmon, or shrimp.
  • Emphasize fresh catch of the day fillings.

Rice on the Inside

  • Nori on the outside with sushi rice and fillings within.
  • This allows for easy handheld eating.

Eaten With Hands

  • The hand roll cone shape is designed for picking up and eating with hands.
  • No chopsticks required!

Served Whole, Not Cut

  • Each hand roll is served as one piece and eaten whole.
  • Not sliced into pieces like rolls.

Hand rolls offer a fun, hands-on sushi experience focused on fresh seafood flavors.

Similarities Between Rolls and Hand Rolls

Despite their differences, rolls and hand rolls do share some key traits:

  • The foundation of both is sushi rice seasoned with rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. This gives the rice its signature sweet-tangy flavor.
  • They both contain fresh, complementary fillings like raw fish, shrimp, avocado, cucumber, etc.
  • Nori seaweed is used on the outside to hold the rice and fillings together.
  • They are traditional types of Japanese sushi now popular worldwide.
  • Either makes a tasty light meal or appetizer and can be customized.

Making Hand Rolls vs. Rolls at Home

Both hand rolls and rolls are fun to recreate at home for a DIY sushi night. Here’s a comparison:

Hand Rolls:

  • Easy to assemble by hand, no special tools needed.
  • Great way to use up leftover sushi rice.
  • Can be made with just rice, nori, and one filling.
  • Easily customized to each person’s preferences.


  • Require a bamboo rolling mat to shape and roll up.
  • More time consuming with multiple ingredients to prepare.
  • Need to be cut after rolling for presentation.
  • Allows for creative fillings combinations in each roll.
  • Makes an impressive spread when serving guests.

Which Should You Make?

So which style should you whip up at home? Here are some factors to consider:

If you want:

  • A quick, easy sushi project – Make hand rolls
  • Impressive presentation – Make sushi rolls
  • To customize individual pieces – Make hand rolls
  • To use up leftovers – Make hand rolls
  • To highlight fresh fish – Make hand rolls
  • To get creative with fillings – Make sushi rolls
  • Portability for parties – Make hand rolls

You really can’t go wrong with either! Both hand rolls and rolls make tasty additions to any sushi meal.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which type is better/more authentic?

Hand rolls and rolls are both traditional and authentic types of Japanese sushi. Neither is necessarily better or more genuine than the other.

Which is healthier?

The nutrition of each comes down to their fillings. Hand rolls may feature more raw fish, while rolls can pack in veggies. Both can be made with healthy whole food fillings.

Are they made with different rice?

No – both are made with short or medium grain Japanese rice seasoned with rice vinegar. The preparation of the rice itself is the same.

Can you make hand rolls with a mat?

Yes, you can roll hand rolls in a makisu mat for a more uniform shape, but it’s not required. Hand pressure works fine.

Can you cut up hand rolls to serve?

It’s best to keep hand rolls whole as intended and eat them by hand. But for appetizers, you could carefully cut a hand roll into pieces.

Time to Try Sushi’s Two Stars

Hopefully this guide has clarified the distinct pleasures of sushi rolls versus hand rolls. When it comes to these sushi essentials:

Rolls reign with their diverse fillings and customizability.

Hand rolls shine through their simplicity and portability.

Whichever style you make, you’re sure to impress your taste buds. So grab some nori, rice, and fresh fish to start rolling your way to sushi success!

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Bill Kalkumnerd
Bill Kalkumnerd

I am Bill, I am the Owner of HappySpicyHour, a website devoted to spicy food lovers like me. Ramen and Som-tum (Papaya Salad) are two of my favorite spicy dishes. Spicy food is more than a passion for me - it's my life! For more information about this site Click

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