Seaweed is not often served at the dinner table in America, but it has long been a nourishing, healthy staple of Japanese cuisine. Its numerous healthy and nutritious aspects cannot be denied, and it is quickly gaining popularity and rising in sales as a health-conscious America eagerly seeks new culinary options to get the nutrients they need and crave alongside new flavors. There are several varieties of seaweed to choose from, but there are three that play significant roles in much of Japanese culture and cookery.
The most commonly seen seaweed in Japanese cuisine is Nori. Nori is made from an edible species of seaweed known as Porphyra. The process of preparing Nori for consumption involves techniques similar to paper-making. The finished product appears as black, dried sheets of paper. Used primarily for wrapping maki sushi and sushi rolls, it is also used extensively as a garnish in rice and noodle dishes and various soups. It has also long been popular with the Irish and Welsh, who refer to it as laver.
Becoming quite popular are flavored varieties of nori, typically various spices or a sesame-soy mix, applied to the nori as it is toasted. Snacks and other foods are sometimes created utilizing nori, and are thusly named after the seaweed, such as Nori Hineri, a sort of honey flavored wheat cracker.
Good quality nori contains an abundance of vitamins and minerals, including Vitamin A & C, and calcium, zinc, iodine and iron. Nori also contains a moderate amount of sodium, so anyone trying to restrict their intake of sodium should take heed and make sure to examine the exact amount of sodium, which can vary depending on brands.
Another commonly used seaweed is Wakame, found most often in miso soup and salads. Normally purchased in a dried form, this edible kelp is soaked in water before usage. Cultivated in the Pacific, there are literally dozens of brands of soup mixes using wakame as the main ingredient.
Deeply nourishing, the various nutrients in wakame help to lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol intake. Wakame also contains alginic acid and fukodein, tough fighters against viruses causing stomach ulcers and cancer. Rich with quality protein, unsaturated fatty acid and several essential vitamins, wakame would make a suitable addition to many meals for health-conscious individuals and cooks. It was also recently tested and proven that the combination of wakame and miso soup if effective against nicotine-related disorders.
Mild in flavor, the dried form appears almost black, but it turns a healthy dark green when soaked. Browner varieties will possess a stronger flavor.
Kombu is a dried seaweed sold in strips, used also in soups and various hot pot dishes. Also extremely potent in fighting cancer cells, it should be noted that the city of Okinawa, Japan, consumes the largest amount of Kombu, per resident, per day, and has the lowest rate of deaths related to cancer in all of Japan.
Kombu is another variety of edible kelp, and is commonly utilized to make a delicious broth, often referred to as dashi. Similar in appearance to wakame, it is also used to make a large variety of condiments and teas.
An excellent source of calcium, magnesium, folate, and containing protein and dietary fiber, it is a welcome addition to any healthy meal. Its strong flavor is tandem with its powerful health benefits, and can often be found in health food stores as well as Asian groceries. However, Kombu also contains a significant amount of MSG, but Kombu is also used in moderation thanks to its strong flavor, so the dangers of large amounts of MSG are not as severe.
You can easily find the above three seaweeds in many forms at Asian groceries, and often in the ethnic aisle of your supermarket.