Written by Teni Wada (@wadateni)
Japan is an island nation, so it should come as no surprise that a large portion of Japanese cuisine draws upon the resources of the Pacific Ocean and other bodies of water. Seaweed, in particular, features heavily in soups, side dishes, and garnishes as it is an abundant and extremely versatile ingredient rich in vitamins and nutrients. Let’s take a look at 7 types of Japanese seaweed you should know.
Green laver is a garnish commonly seen to accent savory dishes such as yakisoba and yakiudon (fried noodles), takoyaki (octopus balls) and okonomiyaki (pancakes packed with a variety of fillings). Not to be overlooked is aonori and salt (norishio), an extremely popular potato chip flavor sold in Japan.
Packed with iron, dietary fiber, and other nutrients, hijiki is a staple in lunch boxes and dinner tables across Japan, where it is simmered along with sliced carrots and aburaage (deep fried tofu) in a dish called hijiki no niimono.
Edible kelp is a key ingredient in making dashi, a broth that forms the backbone of many of Japan's signature dishes like ramen. Dried bonito flakes, or katsuobushi, can be added to kombu to create a stock rich in umami, one of the 5 tastes, that adds a biscuit savory aroma and quality to a dish. Kombu is also used to make shio kombu, tiny slices of kombu simmered in soy sauce, sugar, and mirin.
Naturally found in the southern, sunny islands of Okinawa Prefecture, mozuku is similar in appearance to glass noodles, though it is brown-green in color and has a rather “slimy” texture. Because Okinawan people have some of the highest life expectancy rates in the world, perhaps the key to longevity can be found in this dish!
Slightly translucent dried and pressed seaweed sheets, nori is used to wrap sushi rolls and onigiri rice balls. It’s not uncommon to have a few slices of nori as a ramen topping or as a companion to a bowl of white rice for breakfast.
Another type of seaweed harvested in the waters of Okinawa Prefecture, umi budou literally means “sea grapes,” as its tiny spheres resemble grapes. Umi budou may alternatively be referred to as green caviar. Often found as a side dish in izakaya, Japanese drinking pubs, umi budou has a salty quality and goes well with ponzu sauce.
Loaded with folic acid and iron, Wakame makes frequent appearances in Japanese soups and salads, especially in miso soup. The Sanriku coast of Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures in the Tohoku region is known throughout Japan for its firm and aromatic wakame, and produces nearly 70% of all of Japan’s wakame.
Have you tried any of the above types seaweed? How do you prefer your seaweed?
About the author: Teni Wada appreciates the simplicity and versatility of Japanese cooking ingredients and enjoys recreating her mother-in-law's dishes. A foodie at heart, she is always on the lookout for seasonal snacks and drinks to share on Twitter (@wadateni). You can also find Teni Wada on Instagram (@wadateni) and her lifestyle blog, babykaiju.com where she documents motherhood in Japan.