There are 7 common types of Japanese seaweed that can be enjoyed very differently. Seaweed has been used in the Japanese diet for centuries due to its health benefits and unique umami taste. People across the East Asian countries such as China and Korea have also been using edible algae in various dishes such as stews, soups, and salads.
Now, it is also made into snacks and supplements for easier consumption which allows a wider audience to enjoy.
The high nutritious value and benefits to human health have increased the popularity of Japanese seaweed worldwide. According to Allied Market Research, the global seaweed snacks market is projected to reach $2.90 billion by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 9.6% from 2021 to 2027.
The growth in the global vegan population and rising awareness regarding their health benefits among consumers has boosted the market growth.
What is seaweed?
Seaweed or sea vegetables are a form of edible algae that are a prime food source of ocean life. It grows along the rocky shoreline around the globe and ranges in colour from brown to black and green to red. Although marine algae are found across the globe, Japanese seaweed is renowned for its surprising health benefits and taste.
What are the major types of Japanese seaweed?
The varieties of seaweed are as vast as the ocean. The ocean offers biodiversity of over 10,000 species and is categorised based on cell structure, ecology, pigments, and uses. However, the most common varieties are red algae, brown algae, and green algae.
Having an indispensable role in the Japanese diet, seaweed is consumed throughout the day in different forms. From eating it fresh to adding it to natural flavouring, the edible algae are multi-faceted.
Here are the most common types of seaweeds found in the Japanese diet:
Nori is paper-thin and dark green in colour. It is the most consumed Japanese seaweed across the globe. Nori is widely used as an ingredient of sushi as well as a garnish for ramen noodles and rice bowls. This is made by drying marine algae and pressing it into a thin layer.
In addition, nori is often mixed with ingredients including sesame seeds, salt, and sugar when chopped into small pieces. This is a popular healthy Asian snack to have on the go.
Kombu is also called kelp and is a prime ingredient in Japanese soup broths. Japanese kelp is dark green and has thick leather-like texture. There are more than 20 species of this seaweed and each offers a different, unique taste and flavour. Out of these, 12 variants of natural kombu thrive on Hokkaido's coastline.
One of the highest quality kombu kelp is Ma-kombu which has thick wide leaves and a strong sweet taste. Another great tasting kelp from Hokkaido is Rishiri kombu. This Japanese ingredient enjoys fame throughout the country. It is even considered the secret ingredient for creating the best ramen in Japan.
Another Japanese seaweed is wakame which grows in mineral-rich arctic currents. It tastes a bit salty with a sweet flavour and has a unique tenderness. Wakame is ideal for miso soup, summer salads, and as a side dish. The popularity of wakame has increased over the years as it is low in calories, boost energy levels and helps in weight loss.
Hijiki grows on the rocky coastline of China, Japan, and Korea. In Japan, it is a common belief that consuming hijiki can give black, lustrous hair. This edible marine algae appears similar to dried black tea leaves.
Hijiki needs to be rehydrated before cooking with sugar, soy sauce, and several other seasonings. It is often simmered then served with fried tofu and carrots as a simple salad. Hijiki has a subtle earthy, nutty taste.
Okinawans are Japan’s largest producer of this seaweed, accounting for more than 90% of the total output of the country. Mozuku grows in shallow clean water and the harvest period is from March to May.
The edible algae is mainly farmed by hand. Similar to turmeric, tofu, and goya, Mozuku is Japan’s secret ingredient of longevity.
Another type of algae harvested in the waters of Okinawa Prefecture is umi budou. This literally translates to “sea grapes,” as its tiny spheres resemble grapes. Umi budou is considered a local delicacy in Okinawa and is occasionally referred to as green caviar.
When the tiny spheres burst, it leaves little or no shell remnants. The taste is slightly salty. Seagrapes are made into simple side dishes with ponzu sauce.
Aonori is a dried green laver that is used to garnish savoury dishes such as takoyaki (octopus balls), yakisoba (fried noodles), and okonomiyaki (savoury pancakes).
Salt and Aonori (norishio) is an extremely popular Asian snack flavour that is sold in Japan.
Health benefits of Japanese seaweed
Source of Iodine Tyrosine
Our thyroid glands excrete hormones that control growth, help in energy production, and repair damaged cells and aid in reproduction. These glands depend on iodine to produce such hormones. Edible marine algae absorb concentrated amounts of iodine from the ocean and its dietary intake offers our body enough iodine. Moreover, the algae contain amino acids, tyrosine that help the thyroid gland to function.
Vitamins and minerals
Every type of edible algae contains a unique set of nutrients. The intake of dried seaweed not only adds taste, flavour, and texture but also boosts the body’s intake of minerals. In addition, seaweeds contain small amounts of various vitamins including Vitamin A, C, E, and K. It offers zinc, calcium, folate, and magnesium as well.
Thus, if used as a seasoning twice every week, it adds more nutrients to the diet. Other edible marine algae such as chlorella and spirulina contain several essential amino acids too.
Source of antioxidants
Needless to say, antioxidants are essential for our body, especially for the health of cells. Seaweeds offer several antioxidant vitamins including A, C, and E along with flavonoids and carotenoids. These are observed to be essential to protect the body’s cells from free radical damage.
7 Common Types of Japanese Seaweed
- Kombu (Kelp)
- Umi Budou (Sea Grapes)
These edible algae are often regarded as beneficial to lose weight by delaying hunger. Moreover, studies show that they can help reduce blood cholesterol levels. Seaweed has traditionally been a prominent part of Japanese cuisine. However, it is gaining popularity across the globe because of its health benefits.
However, a high intake of seaweeds could increase iodine content in the body, causing harm to thyroid function. Thus, this ancient Japanese ingredient must be consumed in small amounts to reap its health benefits.