Seaweed in Japanese cuisine

Seaweed or in Japanese kaiso has been used as food for centuries. It is rich in various minerals, vitamins and proteins. It is used as ingredient in soups, salads, fried dishes, for seasoning etc. The most popular seaweeds are kombu, nori, wakame and hijiki.

Kombu seaweed
Kombu seaweed

Kombu (konbu) is the most popular edible seaweed. The species Saccharina japonica (Laminaria japonica) is usually consumed. It is good source of glutamic acid and dietary fibre. Almost all kombu seaweed is cultivated on ropes in Hokkaidō. It can be used fresh as sashimi, pickled ("su kombu") or dried ("dashi kombu"). It is one of three basic ingredients in dashi (soup stock). It is often cooked with some vegetables like beans, for example. It is believed that it eases the digestibility of certain vegetables.

Kombu is also available as powder. It is used for making Kombucha or "seaweed tea". Outside Japan the word kombucha is used for the fermented tea made from the tea culture created in symbiosis of Acetobacter (acetic acid bacteria) and one or several yeasts. This beverage has nothing to do with the above mentioned Japanese one.

Nori seaweed or laver, like it is called in English, is sold in leaves. People usually eat two varieties of Nori – Porphyra yezoensis and Porphyra tenera. The nori is mainly used as the wrapping for sushi and onigiri (omusubi). It is present in various noodles and some soups. Nori seaweed is one of ingredients in the paste called noritsukudani.

Wakame seaweed
Wakame seaweed

Wakame (Undaria pinnatifida) is the seaweed of mild taste and lovely green colour. It is bought dried. You have to soak it in water before using in preparation of certain dish. The Japanese traditionally use it in delicious miso soup and in salads. It is also eaten with tofu and cucumbers. The wakame seaweed is very good for your health. For example, it is rich in eicosapentaenoic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid.

Hijiki (hiziki) seaweed is of brown colour when found in nature. It is cooked before drying. Dry hijiki is black. It is consumed with fish and various vegetables. It is often combined with soya sauce and fish sauce. It can be used in preparation of rice for sushi.