Nori: all about Japan’s most popular seaweed
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I’m sure you have noticed the dark green wrapper around your rice balls or sushi rolls?
That thin green sheet is called nori.
It’s edible, as it’s made from Japanese seaweed, and it offers many health benefits, such as protein and vitamins A, B, C, D, and K.
Nori even contains 10 times more calcium than milk!
But what is it really? How did the Japanese cultivate it, and how did it all come to be what it is now? What are some of the most popular dishes you can pair nori with?
Are you ready to fill your head with another piece of Japanese food knowledge today? Let’s dive right in my full guide on nori.
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In this post we'll cover:
- 1 What is Japanese nori?
- 2 What’s the origin of nori?
- 3 What’s the difference between Japanese nori and Korean nori?
- 4 Types of nori
- 5 Popular nori pairings
- 6 Nori ingredients
- 7 How to make Japanese nori
- 8 Where to eat nori?
- 9 Nori eating etiquette
- 10 Health benefits of nori
- 11 FAQs
- 12 Final takeaway
What is Japanese nori?
Nori (or 海苔 in Japanese) refers to thin sheets of dried laver seaweed that are roasted or steamed. It’s commonly used as a food wrap for sushi and onigiri (rice balls), but nori can also be found in a plethora of other dishes or simply eaten on its own as a snack.
Nori is an algae and is part of the red algae, or edible seaweed family.
There are over 6000 species of nori seaweed, 10 of which are used for the nori sheets that we eat today.
The Pyropia genus, also called purple laver, is most commonly used to make nori sheets in Japan.
Pyropia species can be found in the colder waters of the world, such as Scotland, Ireland, New Zealand, and, of course, Japan.
The nori seaweed grows best on rocky shores where there is a good amount of wave action, as this helps to keep the nori clean of sand and other debris.
Nori seaweed has been farmed in Japan for over 1000 years, and nori farming is still an important industry in Japan today.
In fact, nori is one of Japan’s top agricultural exports!
Nori farming is done in the spring when the nori spores are sown on nets that are then suspended in the water.
The nori seaweed will attach itself to the net and grow until it is ready to be harvested, around 4-6 weeks later.
Once harvested, the nori seaweed is then taken to a nori factory where it is washed and dried. The drying process can be done either in the sun or by machine.
Nori sheets are then made by pressing the dried nori seaweed into thin, flat sheets.
Nori sheets are typically dark green in color but can also be found in other colors such as red or brown. The nori sheets are then sold either as is or roasted.
After being roasted, nori sheets turn a deep green color and become more brittle.
Roasting nori sheets helps to bring out the umami flavor of the nori and also makes them easier to eat as a snack on their own.
Nori sheets are an essential ingredient in many Japanese dishes such as sushi, onigiri, and soup.
Nori sheets are also used as a decorative element on some dishes or as a wrapper for other ingredients.
Of course, if you are not a fan of seaweed, you can also make or order sushi without seaweed
What does Japanese nori taste like?
Nori sheets have a slightly sweet and salty flavor with a hint of seaweedy umami flavor. The texture of nori sheets is crispy and paper-like.
When nori sheets are roasted, the flavor becomes more intense, and the texture becomes more brittle.
Nori sheets are a versatile ingredient that can be used in many different dishes.
They can be eaten on their own as a snack, used as a food wrap, or used as a decorative element on a dish.
Nori sheets can also be chopped up and used as a topping or ingredient in other dishes.
It is, for example, one of the main ingredients of furikake seasoning.
What’s the origin of nori?
Nori farming began in the Nara period (710–794) when nori seaweed was first collected from the wild and then cultivated on small nets.
It was in the Heian period (794–1185) when nori seaweed started to be used as a wrap for sushi.
Due to increased production, there was a rising need to preserve it for a longer period of time, despite being first consumed wet in Japan.
The production of paper-thin dried sheets was the answer.
The paper-thin nori was made into sheets by shredding the seaweed, forming it into thin layers, and eventually drying it in the sun.
The nori seaweed was roasted and then pressed into thin sheets, which were then used to wrap around sushi rolls.
Also read my guide on the 21 types of sushi to know for your Japanese restaurant trip
Years later, nori seaweed began to be cultivated on a larger scale. The nori seaweed was farmed in the Seto Inland Sea and then transported to the capital, Kyoto.
The industry continued to grow in the Muromachi period (1336-1573), when nori farming began to spread to other areas of Japan, such as Shikoku and Kyushu.
The nori seaweed was also exported to China and other countries.
In the Edo period (1603-1868), nori seaweed became an important food for the common people as it was cheap and easy to store.
Nori seaweed was also used as a currency during this time. The nori seaweed industry continued to grow, and nori seaweed became an important export.
After World War II, the production of Japanese nori declined.
The decline was brought on by a lack of knowledge of the nori plant’s three-stage life cycle, which made it difficult for locals to comprehend why conventional farming techniques were ineffective.
However, a British psychologist named Kathleen Baker saved the industry with her knowledge from her work of researching the seaweed which the Japanese used to bring back nori production.
In Japan, Kathleen Baker was lauded as the “Mother of the Sea,” and a statue was built in her honor.
To this day, she is regarded as the person who saved the Japanese nori industry.
What’s the difference between Japanese nori and Korean nori?
The main difference between Japanese nori and Korean nori is the way it is prepared.
Japanese nori is made by pressing dried seaweed into thin, flat sheets, while Korean nori is made by shredding dried seaweed into thin strips.
Japanese nori has a slightly sweeter and saltier flavor, while Korean nori has a more intense seaweed flavor.
Japanese nori is also crispier and more brittle than Korean nori.
Japanese nori sheets are an essential ingredient in many Japanese dishes such as sushi, onigiri, and soup.
Japanese nori is typically dark green in color, while Korean nori can range from dark green to brown.
In terms of thickness, Japanese nori is found to be thinner than Koreans.
When it comes to nutrition, both Japanese nori and Korean nori are good sources of vitamins and minerals.
However, Korean nori contains more vitamin C than Japanese nori. Korean nori is also a good source of iron, while Japanese nori is a good source of iodine.
When choosing nori, it is important to consider what dish you will be using it for. If you want a sweeter and saltier flavor, then Japanese nori is a good choice.
If you want a more intense seaweed flavor, then Korean nori is a better option. If you need nori for a dish that requires it to be crispier, then Japanese nori is the better choice.
Types of nori
This type of nori is made from dried seaweed that has been shredded into thin strips. It is typically used as a topping for soup or rice.
Oshi nori is made from dried seaweed that has been pressed into thin, flat sheets and then cut into small squares. It is typically used as a topping for soup or rice.
Dekai nori is made from dried seaweed that has been shredded into thin strips and then deep-fried. It is typically used as a topping for soup or rice.
Nori flakes are made from dried seaweed that has been pulverized into small pieces. They are often used as a topping for rice or noodles.
Nori powder is made from dried seaweed that has been pulverized into a fine powder. It is often used as a seasoning for soups or rice.
By the way: don’t confuse nori with aonori powder or flakes!
Nori paste is made from nori seaweed that has been shredded or pulverized into a thick paste. It is often used as a spread for sushi or onigiri.
It’s a type of nori that has been pre-seasoned and which translates to “seasoned nori.”
This kind is created by brushing Yaki Nori with a tare sauce comprised of soy sauce and sugar, drying it, and then cutting it into small sheets.
As “Nama (生)” in its name means “raw” in Japanese, Nama Nori is raw, undisturbed, wet nori.
Red algae, such as Susabi Nori, is used to make Nama Nori, an ingredient in Kansou Nori or Ita Nori.
A thin, rectangular sheet of nori called Kansou Nori, which is roughly translated as “dried nori,” is manufactured by drying Nama Nori.
Yaki nori, often known as “roasted nori,” is pre-roasted Ita Nori that is ready to use. This is the common nori that retailers in Japan carry due to its convenience.
Popular nori pairings
Besides the usual sushi and onigiri that come well with nori, here are some other delectable pairings that you may not have thought possible.
Sushi rolls are a Japanese dish that consists of vinegared rice, seafood, and vegetables. Nori is typically used as a wrap for sushi and eaten.
Onigiri is a Japanese dish that consists of rice balls that are typically filled with meat or vegetables (learn how to make onigiri here). Just like sushi, nori is also used as a wrap for onigiri.
Nori is often used as a topping for soups.
Ramen is a Japanese dish that consists of noodles in a broth where nori is often used as a topping for ramen.
Tempura is a Japanese dish that consists of battered and fried seafood or vegetables. Nori is often used as a topping for tempura.
Miso soup is a Japanese soup that consists of miso paste, seaweed, tofu, and vegetables in which nori is often used as a topping or wrap for miso soup.
Wondering if you can make dashi with nori instead of kombu? Here’s why better not
The ingredients of nori are quite simple.
The primary ingredient in nori is seaweed. Seaweed is a type of marine algae that grows in the ocean.
There are many different types of seaweed, but the most common type of seaweed used for nori is red algae.
Water is used to reconstitute the seaweed and make it pliable enough to be pressed into sheets.
Soy sauce is often added to nori to give it a savory flavor.
Salt is often added to nori to help preserve it and give it flavor.
Vinegar is often added to nori to give it a slightly acidic flavor.
Sugar is sometimes added to nori to give it a sweet flavor.
How to make Japanese nori
To make nori, the seaweed is first reconstituted in water and then pressed into sheets. The sheets are then dried and roasted.
Reconstitute the seaweed
Soak the seaweed in water for 10 minutes.
Press the seaweed into sheets
Place the seaweed on a nori sheet press and press down to flatten it.
Dry the sheets
Place the nori sheets on a drying rack and let them air dry for 24 hours.
Roast the sheets
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the nori sheets on a baking sheet and roast for 10 minutes. Remove it from the oven and let it cool.
Cut the sheets
Cut the nori sheets into small squares or strips.
Store the nori
Store the nori in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to 6 months.
Check out the proces of making nori inside one of the biggest nori facotries in Yamoto’s Ōmagarihama harbor in Higashimatsushima (Miyagi):
Nori can be used to make sushi, onigiri, soup, ramen, tempura, miso soup, and many other dishes.
It is a versatile ingredient that can be used in many different ways. So, get creative and experiment with nori to find new and interesting ways to enjoy it!
Where to eat nori?
Nori can be found anywhere in the sushi restaurant or at some Japanese restaurants downtown.
Specialty Asian markets that specialize in Japanese cuisine also sell flavored nori in the form of sheets or flakes.
But if you want to get creative, you can make your own sushi or other nori-based dishes at home and buy a pack of nori sheets online.
Nori eating etiquette
Nori is typically eaten with chopsticks. To eat nori, pick up a piece with your chopsticks, dip it in soy sauce, and eat it.
Beware of licking your chopsticks, as it is considered bad etiquette. This is because licking your chopsticks is considered rude in Japanese culture.
It is also considered bad etiquette to leave your chopsticks sticking out of your rice bowl as it resembles the way that chopsticks are placed in a bowl of rice when someone has died.
When eating nori, be sure to mind your manners and follow these simple etiquette rules!
Also, learn how to say thank you for the food in Japanese
Health benefits of nori
Nori is a healthy food that is a rich source of nutrients and low in calories. It is a good source of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Nori is also a good source of iodine, which is an essential nutrient for the thyroid gland.
Iodine is necessary for the production of thyroid hormones, which are important for regulating metabolism.
Nori is also a good source of antioxidants and many more beneficial vitamins for the body.
Is nori the same as seaweed?
Nori is an edible, dried preparation of red algae of the genus Pyropia, also called laver in English. So it is a type of seaweed, but not the only type.
Is nori edible?
Nori is an edible seaweed that is commonly used in Japanese and Korean cuisine. It can be eaten raw, dried, cooked, or roasted, and it is an essential ingredient in many types of sushi.
Is nori Korean or Japanese?
Korean nori resembles Japanese nori seaweed but is salted and seasoned with sesame oil.
Also distinctive is their appearance. Korean nori has holes, making it easy to tell the difference from Japanese nori by simply looking at it.
Japanese nori is uniform in thickness and lacks any holes.
What is the English name for nori?
Nori is the Japanese name for edible seaweed species of the red algae genus Pyropia, which includes P. yezoensis and P. tenera.
In the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada you sometimes see it referred to as “laver” or “purple laver”. In New Zealand, it is called “karengo”, in Korea “kim”, and in China “zicai”.
However, due to the popularity of sushi in most countries, most people refer to the product as “nori”, just like the Japanese do.
Nori is a versatile seaweed ingredient that is commonly used in Japanese and Korean cuisine. You will see it on the ingredient list of sushi, furikake, and onigiri.
Nori is rich in nutrients and low in calories, and some consider it a superfood. Every reason to give it a try next time you are cooking Japanese!
Did you know that seaweed flakes are a very popular topping for delicious takoyaki balls?
Check out our new cookbook
Bitemybun's family recipes with complete meal planner and recipe guide.
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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.