A Guide to Japanese Seaweed
Japan is an island nation, so it comes as no surprise that many ingredients used in traditional Japanese dishes come from the sea. With seaweed located all around the coastline, in both shallow waters and on rocks in the sea, this natural product has become a common ingredient in many different dishes in Japan. Seaweed has been used in food in Japan for thousands of years, and it acts as a healthy addition to many meals. Not only is it low in calories, but seaweed is also full of fibre and minerals.
Seaweed also has a distinctive flavour, and so is also used to add extra layers of complexity to a dish. Many people will be familiar with the use of seaweed in sushi, as sheets of it are used to wrap sushi rolls or affix toppings to nigiri. In addition to this, seaweed is used in soups, salads and as a topping on rice or noodle dishes. Here are some of the most popular types of seaweed available in Japan.
Nori is by far the most popular and well-known of the edible seaweed types in the world. Nori is perhaps best known for being the kind of seaweed used to make sushi rolls. Typically, this type of seaweed is sold dried and in sheets or strips, making wrapping sushi or rice balls particularly easy. However, other forms of nori exist, such as shredded nori, which is used as a garnish to top rice dishes. Likewise, powdered nori is used as a condiment for noodles and other dishes. Nori is also available in flavoured forms, with the tastes of sesame oil, salt or soy sauce added, for example.
One of the most commonly enjoyed types of seaweed in Japan, Wakame is eaten fresh during the spring months, when it is available, and dried during the rest of the year. Often added to salads and miso soups, this seaweed has a particularly mild, yet sweet flavour that tends to work well when partnered with pickled vegetables.
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Gathered from the coast of Hokkaido, Kombu is a type of bull kelp that acts as one of the main ingredients in dashi broth, a type of stock which is used in many dishes in Japan. Kombu needs to be rehydrated before it is used in food dishes, as it presents quite a tough texture. Alternatively, some make kombu seaweed softer and chewier by caramelising it in sugar and soy sauce. Often, this caramelised kombu will be used to top rice or as a filling in onigiri. Like most seaweed, kombu also provides many nutrients, such as iron and calcium.
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Commonly used in soups, stews and salads, hijiki is a thin, twig-like type of seaweed that can be found on rocky areas of the Japanese coast. It has an intriguing taste, with hints of both nuttiness and fish, making it a great flavourful addition to many dishes. Hijiki is typically found dried and is rehydrated when ready to be used.
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Otherwise known as agar-agar, kanten is a gelifying agent that can be extracted from seaweed. When consumed in Japanese cuisine, it is often utilised as a vegan and vegetarian alternative to gelatine, as it can add a jelly-like consistency to dishes such as custard, pudding and sweets. Typically, it will be purchased as a powder or as flakes, which are dissolved and boiled in water to form a gel.
If you are interested in trying out Japanese foods or want to incorporate some healthier ingredients into your diet, then why not add some seaweed to your dishes?! You can find a wide range of dried oriental seaweed online and in store at Oriental Mart!