Japanese seaweed: The superfood you can find everywhere

By Emi Schemmer

Since ancient times, the Japanese people have used sea plants in a variety of ways in their lives ranging from food sources, dietary supplements, plant fertilizers and medical treatments. Pastes made from seaweed were once used to heal burns, as it was believed it prevented bacterial infections and soothed the skin, a practice that in modern times is continued through the use of facemasks and seaweed-rich serums.

Seaweeds are also a staple of the Japanese diet, an essential attribute to your miso soup, onigiri, sushi, salads and nori bento — among many more. Thanks to its numerous health and beauty benefits, widespread availability and cheap cost, Japanese seaweed has become a globally recognized staple food and beauty ingredient which we can easily incorporate into our lives. But before you rush to the supermarket, read on to learn more about the different types of kaiso, their benefits and ways to use them in your daily life. Here are the key players! 

Nori (海苔)


Nori is the most familiar of all seaweed and although it looks green, it is actually a type of red algae that when dried out or roasted, takes on it almost black appearance. In its most common form (think of onigiri), nori comes as roasted sheets.

With quite the impressive nutritional profile, nori is loaded with iodine, potassium, vitamin B12, and is low in calories making it a healthy snack between meals. Iodine is a mineral that is essential for your metabolism and helps the thyroid gland to function properly. Consuming one sheet of roasted nori paper will give you about half of the daily recommended intake of iodine along with about 1.2 mg vitamin B12 – an essential vitamin that supports normal functioning of the brain, nervous system as well as helps to form red blood cells. 

Best way to eat it: Wrapped around your maki-zushi, onigiri or onigirazu, in miso soup, Gohan desu yo paste. For snacks, try Niko Niko Nori’s Coconut Nori-Sand (¥300). Simply wrap a nori sheet around your rice ball or onigiri-sandwich, or add dried nori when boiling miso soup. Gohan desu yo paste is available at any supermarkets in Japan. You can top it on your rice or even toast!

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© Savvy Tokyo

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I love the red one, funori, but it's either difficult to find and/or expensive.

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I read a report that said Korean seaweed was suppose to be the healthiest in Asia. It was superior to Japanese seaweed.

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Last month I made a large tub of wakame . Lovely with rice and salads.

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No such thing as a 'superfood', anyone qualified in dietetics will tell you. Meaningless marketing speak.

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Japanese seaweed: The superfood you can find everywhere

The fact that you can find it anywhere means it is not Japanese, right? Sea plants have been a staple food throughout Asia and coastal areas of Europe for millennia. It's about as uniquely Japanese as the TV and the automobile. They didn't invent it, just exploited someone else's idea.

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Well the same is said about fish. No such thing as "Japanese fish" so no double about Fukushima fish then? Fish is indicated by the port its landed and not the area of the ocean caught. So seaweed collected in Japan would be labelled Japanese and if exported to the UK which it is then its labelled Japanese seaweed.

We collected seaweed from my birth place and that would be labelled British seaweed. The mussels and cockles also collected from the same beach and greatly exported to Holland are in fact labelled British mussels and cockles.

Not the claimed case that the Japanese thinks everything in the ocean beings to them or you don't want to know you are eating the fish caught off the site of the nuclear disaster and that is just labelled "fish".

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On a hike in the Yosemite Sierras a few years ago a black bear stole all my food but he left me a package of seaweed and that saved me from starvation on the 20 mile hike back to my car.

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It's true that there are many countries where seaweed is eaten, but with the exception of Korea and China I would think it's pretty much a minority thing, and dependent on your proximity to the coast (as it is in Scotland or Ireland, say). In my experience it's overwhelmingly in Japan and in Japanese cuisine that you see seaweed on the menu as a matter of course.

I just regret that I spent so many years of my life NOT eating seaweed.

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An article about “superfood” that features recommended beauty products. Hmmmm.

I read it quickly and may have missed it but did the article mention there are both farmed and wild varieties available for seaweed? I like most all types, eaten in a variety of ways, with the exception of mozuku, which I just haven’t been able to develop a taste for, although I know many people who love it and eat it every day. There are many more local or seasonal varieties not mentioned in the article so those interested should check out the local markets, talk to the older folks etc to discover them.

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