The joys of seaweed: Japan's healthy and delicious superfood

Touted as the next big superfood, seaweed can be found in all kinds of Japanese meals—from salads, through soups and sushi, all the way to ice cream.

Japanese seaweed
Photo by guccibear2005

Before I moved to Japan, I never had any idea how delicious seaweed could be. Like octopus, eels, moldy beans, sea urchin innards and salmon eggs, I just never thought to try eating it.

There are many types of edible seaweed in Japan and they’re referred to as kaiso (海藻). Seaweed is a traditional part of the Japanese diet and its cultivation goes back for centuries. Now, Japan’s delicious seaweeds are quickly spreading around the world as folks everywhere realize that Japanese food is awesome.

Nori (海苔)

Nori seaweed
Photo by FotoosVanRobin

The above-mentioned nori is Japan’s most produced marine product. It’s an edible version of the algae Porphyra that’s also known as ‘purple laver’ in Ireland. Nori comes in blackish-purple sheets and is used as wrapping paper for sushi (寿司) and onigiri (おにぎり) rice balls. It’s also used as a garnish for the rāmen (ラーメン) soup. This crispy algae is exceptionally high in protein and also an excellent source of vitamins A and C, iron, calcium, sodium, zinc, iodine and iron. You can chomp sheets of it like crisps and get all of those vitamins and nutrients. There is also Korean nori and Chinese nori, which are both a little tangier and spicier.

Konbu (昆布)

Konbu seaweed
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Konbu is greenish-black and is tougher with a slightly sweet taste. It’s used as soup stock and as a filling for onigiri. I have to say that konbu onigiri rocks my world on a regular basis. Among its health benefits, it has penty of vitamin C and eating konbu helps you is said to keep you from losing your hair.

Hijiki (ひじき)

Hijiki seaweed

Hijiki is my personal favourite. It comes in black strands that are slightly crispy or chewy and it is often used in salads. There’s actually a hijiki salad that has this seaweed mixed with peanuts, sliced carrots and sliced gobo (牛蒡, great burdock). Hijiki is a little bit dry and bitter. It packs all the same vitamins and nutrients as konbu, but has very high amounts of fiber and calcium as well. It’s a staple of Japanese home cooking.

Wakame (わかめ)

Wakame seaweed
Photo by FotoosVanRobin

Wakame is used a lot in the miso soup (味噌汁) and also as a garnish for sushi. It’s green, chewy and a little bit slimy. I’m not a huge fan of wakame salad, but it works great for me in miso soup. Wakame is actually a type of kelp. It has all the vitamins and nutrients you expect from a seaweed variety, and there’s some scientific evidence that it can help you burn fat and lower blood pressure. It’s also used in Chinese medicine for a number of different treatments.

Other types of seaweed include mozuku (水雲), aonori (青海苔), and umibudo (海葡萄, literally ‘sea grapes’). All kaiso is low in fat and calories and high in nutrients and vitamins, especially vitamin B12. It’s one of the only non-animal sources of B12. But forget about all of that—it’s tasty. What would your onigiri be without its crispy nori wrapping?

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