by Genevieve Mollitor
Ever wonder what the difference between konbu, wakame, and nori is? That and all the other sea-grasses in-between? Today I’d like to introduce you to the top most common uses of sea-grasses I’ve noticed in Japan…
1.昆布 Konbu – a broad term for a wide variety of edible sea kelp.
You can find konbu in many forms in Japan. Many Japanese think eating konbu is great for your hair, it also contains a decent amount of dietary fiber and enzymes that are good for gut health. Just be careful not to eat bucket loads because it’s high in iodine.
My personal favorite, soy konbu 昆布の佃煮, is a popular condiment used as the filling in konbu-onigiri. You can buy a pack of it at the supermarket and use it as a topping on rice, or make your own onigiri at home.
Snack konbu is also a popular treat. There are many different flavors of dried konbu in small strips ranging from sour to salty to sweet. I highly dislike these kinds of snack, but they’re a favorite of many a dear friend and I recommend giving them a try.
Dried konbu, often found in packs of large strips at the supermarket, is also great. It’s usually used as a flavoring for soup stock, and is a key ingredient for all umami lovers out there. You can also get powdered konbu dashi if you don’t feel like waiting for the dried strips to seep its flavor into the water.
Konbu-cha, no it’s not kombucha. It’s in fact a salty powder made from konbu that people drink as a tea. To be quite honest, it tastes more like a soup, but it’s delicious nonetheless. Why not give it a try?
2. わかめ Wakame – a type of edible seaweed or algae.
Also considered extremely healthy, wakame is a great source of omega-3 fatty acid and various vitamins such as calcium and iodine, has been studied for it’s fat burning properties, and has long been considered the food to eat for general body and female health in East Asian medicine.
Dried wakame can be found almost anywhere, the konbini, supermarket, etc. This is the stuff you want to put in your miso soup to have the tasty green floaty things. You can also rehydrate it and use it in salad, yum!
Kukiwakame 茎わかめ is the stem of the wakame plant. It’s very good shredded in salads. You can get some fresh stems, cut them up into smaller strips, and season with a bit of soy sauce and sesame seeds.
3. のり Nori – an edible seaweed made from red algae.
Nori actually isn’t as healthy as the previous two sea-grasses. It’s not safe to eat in large amounts because of high metal content, and is not safe for people with shellfish allergies.
Wrap nori are the large sheets you’ll find at the supermarket that are commonly used to make maki. This is what you buy if you want to make sushi at home.
Nori snack packs, which you may sometimes find in Korean, are those popular packs of about 10 small sheets of flavored seaweed. They’re usually quite oily with varying levels of salt.
Shredded nori as it sounds is shredded seaweed. These are the shreds you often find on okonomiyaki, takoyaki, ramen etc. They’re a nice topping for a variety of Japanese dishes.