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A Guide to the 8 Most Common Types of Edible Japanese Seaweed

How many types of edible seaweed have you eaten, and how many can you name?

Chances are, if you’ve been to a Japanese restaurant, you’ve probably encountered nori wrapped around your sushi, wakame in your miso soup, maybe a small side dish of su-no-mono (cold dish in vinegar) with cucumbers and mozuku, and the dashi (broth) in your soup may have been taken from kombu…this is just to say, how much of an integral part of Japanese cuisine edible seaweed is.

In this article, we will explore the most common types of Japanese seaweeds and how they are commonly eaten.

The Japanese have been eating seaweed since ancient times

In Japan, a country surrounded by the sea, seaweed has been an important part of the diet since ancient times. Particularly rich in minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and iodine as well as fiber, the Japanese have been eating seaweed for a long time, and it is still a very important part of Japanese cuisine today. 

Harvesting seaweed, particularly wakame, has been part of an ancient shinto ritual that is called “Mekari Shinji” in northern Kyushu and San-in areas, and records show that it was an annual rite already back in the year 710, so we have been eating seaweed for at least 1300 years, but probably longer.

The most common types of seaweeds in Japanese cuisine

Seaweed can be categorized into green algae, brown algae and red algae. The most commonly eaten seaweeds are brown algae and includes kombu, wakame, mekabu, hijiki and mozuku. Green algae include umibudou and aonori, while red algae include nori and the colorful tosakanori, often used to add color to a seaweed salad or to sashimi.

Now let’s jump into the different types of seaweed eaten in Japanese cuisine. Below you can find the eight most common types of seaweed that are eaten in Japan.

Nori

Two large sheets of dried nori Japanese seaweed sit in a shallow bamboo basket on a white surface.
Nori is one of the most well-known Japanese seaweeds to international visitors because of its use in sushi rolls and onigiri rice balls /via Getty Images.

Type of Japanese seaweed: Nori

How it’s sold: In dry, flat sheets, either unsalted or as Ajitsuke (flavored) Nori.

How it’s prepared: Either seared to crisp it up or as is.

How it’s eaten: Wrapped around sushi, onigiri, cut thinly as garnish.

Aonori

A serving of takoyaki octopus balls with green aonori seaweed powder sprinkled on top.
Aonori is the name of the seaweed sprinkled on okonomiyaki and takoyaki (pictured) /via Getty Images.

Type of Japanese seaweed: Aonori

How it’s sold: In dry powder form.

How it’s prepared: Used straight out of the packaging.

How it’s eaten: Sprinkled onto okonomiyaki, takoyaki etc.

Kombu

Two long pieces of dark, dried kombu folded in two on a white surface.
Kombu is often sold dried and rehydrated during cooking /via Getty Images.

Type of Japanese seaweed: Kombu, mostly harvested in Hokkaido

How it’s sold: Dried, unless you are buying shio-kombu (salted kombu) which is used as a condiment and is usually sold semi-dried, or you are buying kombu no tsukudani, kombu simmered in soy sauce and mirin, usually an accompaniment for rice. Kombu tea, a savory type of tea with powdered kombu in it also exists, often containing pickled plum, but it is different from what’s called Kombucha in the West (the fermented drink).

How it’s prepared: Placed in water to hydrate, the liquid is used as kombu dashi (broth), the seaweed itself can be cooked and eaten as below.

How it’s eaten: The kombu dashi can be used in soups, the hydrated kombu can be wrapped around other foods as kombu-maki, or eaten as a tsukudani to accompany rice, or made into shio-kombu, a condiment used in cooking.

Kombu no tsukudani with some sesame seeds on rice. Pineapple rings can be seen in the other visible compartment of the tray.
Kombu no tsukudani is usually served as an accompaniment for rice /via Getty Images.

Wakame

A black bowl of miso soup sits on a natural-colored bamboo placemat with chopsticks set on the table in the top left-hand corner. The miso soup contains wakame seaweed, tofu, mushroom and spring onions, and some spring onion is also scattered on the placemat and table for photographic effect.
Wakame is commonly used in miso soup /via Getty Images.

Type of Japanese seaweed: Wakame

How it’s sold: Most often dried, but sometimes raw (Nama-wakame).

How it’s prepared: Wakame is usually sold dried, so it is soaked in water to rehydrate it.

How it’s eaten: It is a very common ingredient in miso soups, it can be eaten as part of a seaweed salad, or as a su-no-mono (dish served with vinegar), such as with cucumber and octopus slices.

Hijiki

A hijiki seaweed salad containing black hijiki, carrot, soy beans and konyaku.
This hijiki seaweed salad is a typical side dish /via Getty Images.

Type of Japanese seaweed: Hijiki

How it’s sold: Dried.

How it’s prepared: Hydrated then simmered in soy sauce, mirin and sugar with carrots, aburaage (deep fried tofu strips), soy beans, konyaku strips, lotus root etc.

How it’s eaten: Prepared as above and as a side dish.

Mozuku

A glass bowl on a white surface half-filled with mozuku Japanese seaweed in vinegar. A thin slice of lemon and some greens can also be seen in the bowl. Chopsticks hold up some of the thin, brown seaweed for the camera from the right.
Mozuku is often served in vinegar as a side dish /via Getty Images.

Type of Japanese seaweed: Mozuku

How it’s sold: Raw, in plastic cups, some are sold already in vinegar.

How it’s prepared: Placed in vinegar if not already, or placed in soups.

How it’s eaten: Mozuku is often eaten in vinegar as a side dish, but also can be part of soups.

Mekabu

A white bowl of thin, green-colored mekabu on a gray surface. Chopsticks hold up some for the camera from the right.
Similar to mozuku, mekabu is usually served raw in vinegar as a side dish /via Getty Images.

Type of Japanese seaweed: Mekabu is the soft and slimy, flowering part of wakame seaweed

How it’s sold: Raw, much like mozuku.

How it’s prepared: Placed in vinegar or ponzu as a side dish.

How it’s eaten: As a salad, sometimes with Nagaimo (Chinese yam) to enhance the slimy texture.

Umibudou

A natural wood bowl filled with green sea grapes (umibudo) on a white surface.
Umibudō literally means “sea grapes” /via Getty Images.

Type of Japanese seaweed: Umibudou (Umibudō), harvested in Okinawa

How it’s sold: It is rare to find umibudou at supermarkets unless you are in Okinawa where it is harvested. It is often served in izakaya (Japanese drinking establishments) sometimes accompanied with sashimi or in places that serve Okinawan food.

How it’s prepared: Washed and served raw.

How it’s eaten: Usually this is eaten raw to enjoy the little caviar-like bubbles.

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