As an island nation, Japan harvests numerous types of seaweed from all around the country, such as hijiki from the crevices of rocks by the sea, and kombu from the shallow waters off the coastline. Seaweeds—and seaweed-derived products—have been central ingredients of Japanese cuisine for thousands of years and are still widely enjoyed today. Healthy, low-calorie, and packed with fiber, minerals, and flavor, Japanese seaweeds are used in everything from preparing dashi broth, to salads, soups and wrapping sushi rolls. Here is a guide to the seaweeds that are commonplace in both Japanese restaurants and homemade Japanese meals, so that you can enjoy these delicious and nutritious alternatives to land-based green vegetables!
What is Nori?
Nori, or dried laver, is perhaps the most familiar seaweed to those outside of Japan, as it is the variety used to make sushi rolls. With a savory, salty taste, nori is almost always eaten dried, and is sold in sheets or strips for making sushi, wrapping onigiri (rice balls), and for eating plain as a snack.
Nori not only adds flavor variety to each meal, it also often serves a rather practical purpose such as keeping the rice together in sushi rolls or as a place to hold without getting your hands sticky eating onigiri (though some people prefer to use the plastic in store-bought onigiri nowadays).
Dried nori sheets are produced by pressing shredded edible red algae into thin sheets and drying it, similar to the process of papermaking. Other forms of nori include kizami nori (shredded nori), for garnishing dishes such as donburi (rice bowls), and aonori (powdered nori), used as a condiment on foods such as okonomiyaki and yakisoba. More than adding texture and flavor to the meals, it’s aesthetically pleasing as well.
Flavored nori (ajitsuke) is also available, with common flavorings including soy sauce, salt, and sesame oil. If you’re a little intimidated by the sound of the word “seaweed” as a food product, nori is the place to start as it is a taste that’s virtually loved by everyone!