Aonori is a variety of aromatic seaweed used as a garnish or for seasoning in many Japanese dishes, usually sprinkled in dried flake form over hot food such as yakisoba (fried noodles), o-konomiyaki (savoury pancake), or added to tempura batter. Protein rich, it also contains beneficial minerals such as calcium, magnesium and amino acids. Aonori occurs naturally in the calm, warm water of the bays of the south of Japan, where its cultivation is a major industry.
Hijiki is a porous, black seaweed with a surface that is less viscous but has more texture than other seaweeds. It is normally sold dried and should be reconstituted with water before use. Hijiki contains a lot of calcium and fibre. It also contains a high level of iron. Hijiki is normally simmered with chopped vegetables such as carrots, fried tofu and beans, and seasoned with soy sauce and mirin, and served as a tasty side dish.
A wide variety of seaweed products is eaten in Japan. Some of the most commonly used include mozuku, a dark brown, viscous seaweed which is often eaten with rice vinegar as a starter or palate-refresher between courses. Mekabu, the flowering sprout of wakame seaweed, has a strong, salty flavour and contains many minerals beneficial to the health. Arame kelp has a delicate, sweet flavour, thick serrated leaves and it is also harvested as a source of alginate and iodine.
Kanten is a flavourless dried seaweed available in blocks, strands or powdered form, which acts as a gelling agent. It is an ideal gelatin substitute for vegetarians. Delicious jellies can be made using fruit juice or milk and are popular in Japan as a healthy treat. High in fibre, kanten is good for treating constipation and reducing cholesterol levels. Tokoroten, the natural gel form of kanten, is usually cut into thin strips and eaten cold with sweet or savoury dressings such as soy sauce and rice vinegar.
Konbu is one of the main basic dashi ingredients. To make good stock, simply soak konbu in water, or heat gently in water and remove just before boiling. To make dashi konbu, kelp is washed with seawater and dried in the sun for one to two days. Konbu is rich in vitamins and minerals such as iodine. Konbu is also used in a variety of dishes such as nabe (hotpot), kobumaki (rolled konbu) and tsukudani (salted and sweetened preserved foods).
Nori, a dried seaweed resembling sheets of black paper, is a very popular ingredient in Japan, particularly for the wrapping of steamed rice to make makizushi (rolled sushi) and o-nigiri (rice balls). Nori is also a very important traditional breakfast food, eaten with rice. Seasoned nori is also popular, and nori and seasoned nori are available in individually wrapped, bite-sized sheets and served at breakfast in the home or at traditional Japanese inns and hotels. It is rich in vitamin B1, which helps combat mental fatigue, and calcium.
Tororo konbu is kelp that has been soaked in vinegar for a day before being shaved into fine flakes and dried. Adding soy sauce and boiling water to the flakes produces a tasty soup. It is commonly added to vinegared salads, known as sunomono, put in clear soup and is a popular flavouring in o-nigiri rice balls. With zero calories, it is an ideal seasoning for those trying to eat healthily. Tororo konbu can be stored for a long period of time without spoiling.
This dark green seaweed, with its mild ocean flavour, is one of the most popular seaweeds in Japan. Available in both dry and fresh forms, it is most commonly used in soups and salads. The dried product greatly expands when it's reconstituted either by soaking in water for a few minutes or adding directly to a soup. Since wakame has no calories, it is ideal for those who are watching their weight and is believed to help prevent hair loss.