From sushi rolls to seaweed salad, seaweeds offer a healthy, delicious food source.
Today, I'm going to help you discover the most popular Japanese seaweeds which have played a major part of Japanese cuisine for centuries.
Unlike Chinese seaweeds, which are often derived from spring onions, Japanese seaweeds come exclusively from the sea, making them a key component in everything from nori for sushi rolls to wakame salads and nourishing kelp broths.
If you're curious to learn more about this nutritious superfood, make sure to read to the end!
Popular types of Japanese seaweed
There are several popular types of Japanese seaweed you can choose from:
Dried Nori is probably the single most popular type of seaweed anywhere in the world. It is evergreen in colour, super thin, and has a nice salty taste. Made by pressing dried seaweed into very thin sheets, Nori is most often used to roll sushi as well as for garnishing ramen. I also enjoy eating dried nori on its own as a snack.
There are nearly 2 dozen species of Kombu in the world, each with its unique characteristics and tastes. Often also called kelp, this seaweed variant is quite thick and is very commonly used in the making of Japanese broths and stocks including dashi.
Salty in flavour with a note of sweetness, Wakame seaweed grows in Arctic currents that are rich in minerals. It is perfect for making miso soup as well as seaweed salad which I like to eat as a snack or starter.
In contrast to the predominantly sweet or salty flavours of other seaweeds, Hijiki offers a distinctively nutty flavour with a hint of earthiness. Its appearance is very similar to dried black tea leaves, and Japanese superstition believes that eating this seaweed can promote the growth of beautiful black hair.
Arame seaweed is often described as saffron-looking when dried due to its dark purple tinge and thread-like appearance. Its mild flavour makes it one of the most versatile seaweeds you can use since it goes well with nearly any dish.
Popular brands of crispy seaweed
There are a number of popular Japanese seaweed brands on the market, including:
- Kato Sangyo
If you want to try something from outside Japan, then you can also consider the following:
- Annie Chun’s Organic Seaweed
- Tao Kae Noi
How to incorporate Japanese seaweed into your diet
Japanese seaweed is so popular not only due to its great taste and health but also because of its versatility. You can add and/or pair it with most East Asian dishes without it feeling out of place! Here are some of the ways I personally enjoy consuming Japanese seaweed:
- Eat it as a standalone snack
- Use it to roll sushi
- Make seaweed soup - perhaps alongside other ingredients such as ribs or clams
- Seaweed salad - dressed with sesame oil, sesame seeds, vinegar and salt
- Add it as a bibimbap topping
- Add it as a ramen topping
- Add it on top of a hard-boiled egg
- Fry and make crispy wonton seaweed chips
How to keep your dried seaweed tasting fresh
Some seaweed, especially fresh seaweed such as fresh wakame has a short shelf life and has to be consumed rather quickly before it goes off - typically within 2 weeks. The great thing about dried seaweed is that it has a relatively long shelf life and in theory is non-perishable if stored correctly.
To keep your dried seaweed tasting fresh, I recommend using an airtight container and store it in a cool, dark, dry environment. Dried Japanese seaweed absorbs moisture well, and will get soggy, lose its texture and clump together if not stored in a dry environment.
Long term storage
If looking to store for a lengthy period, I highly recommend you store dried seaweed in a freezer. Always use an airtight container to further reduce the amount of moisture it comes into contact with.
Before using seaweed from the freezer, check how crispy it is. If it's not crispy enough for you, you can easily fix it by warming the seaweed up gently in a frying pan. For a crispy texture on both sides remember to flip with a pair of tongs.
Be sure not to overcook your seaweed since burnt seaweed is certainly not delicious.
Health benefits of seaweed
Nutritional value of seaweed
Unlike most snacks, seaweed is a nutritional snack, packed full of macro and micro-nutrients. Eating seaweed regularly adds additional vitamins and minerals to your diet which may have health benefits, including:
- Calcium - builds and maintains strong bones
- Iron - produces haemoglobin to improve oxygen circulation in your body
- Copper - produces red blood cells and maintains a healthy immune system
- Folate - essential for the formation of red blood cells and promoting healthy cell growth
- Manganese - forms connective tissues, bones, sex hormones, etc.
- Potassium - maintains normal fluid levels in the body and helps ensure good blood pressure
- Vitamin K - promotes blood clotting
- Vitamin E - maintains healthy skin and eyes, strengthens the immune system
- Vitamin B1 - boosts energy production
- Vitamin B2 - supports the growth, development, and functioning of cells
- Vitamin A - maintains healthy eyes
- Vitamin C - forms blood vessels, cartilage, muscle and collagen in bones
Compared to other popular snacks such as crisps, ice cream, and desserts, which contain higher amounts of less healthy ingredients such as sugar and salt, Japanese seaweeds are one of the healthiest choices you can opt for.
As a healthy snack, I use seaweed regularly to help when I'm trying to lose weight or eat more healthily.
Several studies have shown that eating seaweed comes with potential health benefits.
One of the most cited health properties of eating seaweed is its ability to help with weight loss. Seaweed is low in calories and contains tons of fibre that can help slow down stomach emptying and help you feel full for longer. Research also shows that it is packed with fucoxanthin, a substance that can reduce body fat (1).
Another health benefit associated with seaweed consumption is that it may help reduce your risk of developing heart disease. Seaweed is a low calorie food and actively helps your body reduce cholesterol levels. It also contains a substance called fucan that can aid in preventing excessive blood clotting (2, 3).
A final major health benefit of seaweed consumption is for your gut health. Seaweed is full of fibres, a substance known to promote gut health. It also contains sulfated polysaccharides that can increase the growth rate of good gut bacteria, which in turn helps smooth digestion (4).
Japanese seaweed is an excellent choice whether it is a midnight snack or a topping for a dish. It is delicious, affordable, can have a long shelf life, and is full of beneficial nutrients. If you are a health-conscious individual who loves Asian snacks and prefers not to give up on eating delicious food, we highly recommend giving Japanese seaweed a try.