Japanese culinary tradition has many variations of seaweed-based ingredients that people can get confused with.
Some of the most common ones are kombu, wakame, and kelp. Although they seem similar, those three are different.
- Kelp refers to a type of algae
- Kombu is dried kelp used for cooking
- And wakame is a kind of marine seaweed
Those three things are in the same category as brown algae seaweed. However, they look and taste quite different. Let’s get to know more about these seaweed delights!
Kelps are brown algae seaweeds from the shallow ocean. The word “Kelp” refers to the raw form of marine vegetables.
The shape is like a long green sheet with slimy surfaces. In Japan, Hokkaido is the town famously known for its kelp-harvesting.
Japanese people rarely use fresh kelp for cooking. Most of the time, they process it to make kombu.
Although you may occasionally find kelps as pickles, sashimi, or sushi toppings.
The seaweed salad you might have eaten is actually not kelp, it is wakame.
What are the benefits of eating kelp?
Just like any other vegetables, these sea vegetables hold a lot of nutrients that are quite good for your health.
- Kelp is full of vitamins A, B-12, B-6, and C, minerals, and enzymes and many consider it to be a superfood.
- It even has a lot of iodine according to this source at the National Institute of Health.
- Kelp is great for reducing inflammation and stress due to its antioxidants and there are even claims that it helps fight chronic diseases.
- Food Chemistry also found that kelp might help weight loss as the natural fiber alginate found in kelp could stop gut fat absorption and fucoxanthin in the seaweed might reduce blood sugar.
Kombu is kelp in a dehydrated form and almost-black color.
The surface has some white powder that looks like mold or dirt. But it is the glutamate, which contains all the nutrients and flavor.
Hence, it is better not to wash it away. To use kombu for cooking, you only need to rehydrate it by soaking it in water.
Kombu is the main ingredient to make dashi, the soup broth extensively used in Japanese cooking.
Rehydrated kombu can also be eaten as snacks or side dishes with a sprinkle of sesame seeds.
If you leave the white powder on, the health benefits of kombu dried kelp are still the same as with fresh kelp.
Wakame is another kind of brown algae. It has the shape of small shriveled leaves that will expand during cooking.
Compared to kelp or kombu, wakame has a stronger briny flavor with a subtle hint of sweetness. The texture is tender and a little crunchy.
Wakame is great for almost any kind of Japanese salad and soup. It may also go well as sprinkles on udon or ramen.
The most well-known place for its wakame-harvesting is the Nara Period.
What is Wakame used for?
Wakame is the perfect vessel for a seaweed salad because of its thin strands. It has a very deep green color and you’ll find it in a wakame salad or even in miso soup.
Health benefits of eating wakame seaweed
Just like kelp, wakame seaweed also has a lot of benefits:
- Studies show it has the same effect on fat absorption that kelp does and can help aid in weight loss
- Test subjects also saw the same decrease in their blood sugar levels
- It may help fight chronic disease including cancer
- It is a great source of iodine
- It’s very low in calories with a high nutrient count with vitamins E, C, K and A along with many minerals and enzymes
More seaweed-based ingredients
Japanese tradition has been extensively using many kinds of seaweeds in their cuisine.
Besides the three algae mentioned above, there are still a few more seaweed variations in Japanese cuisine.
Nori is a thin sheet of seaweed made of red algae. Most people know nori as the wrapper of sushi and onigiri.
But it is also commonly used for garnishing donburi (rice bowl) or soup by cutting it into small pieces.
Lately, nori is also widely available in a roasted and seasoned form to be consumed as snacks.
Hijiki is the less popular type of seaweed. It has a dark color and a small needle-like shape.
The most popular way to eat Hijiki is by sauteing into a veggie dish to eat with rice. You can also mix it with rice to make a healthier version of onigiri.
Mozuku is the type of seaweed that looks like slimy vermicelli. The color is dark brown-green.
This food is said to be one of the secrets of Okinawa, an area notable for the longevity of the citizens. Mozuku is versatile in cooking.
You can make it be crispy tempura, stir fry dish, soups, and many other more.
Marine vegetables are highly nutritious that even western health experts would recommend putting it into your diet.
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Moreover, they offer natural savory flavors that can go well in many kinds of dishes. Of all the countries around the world, it is probably Japan that relies most heavily on seaweeds.
And if you have a high interest in Japanese culinary, you might as well explore the various delicacies of seaweeds.