Seaweed: A Common Japanese Ingredient
Before moving to Japan my thoughts on eating seaweed were “gross,” “yuck” and “why.” Being a dietitian, I actually knew the answer to “why,” but my question was more like, “Why would they put that in everything?” That was my initial perception of seaweed as a Japanese ingredient. My problem with seaweed stemmed from a dislike of the nori used in sushi. I didn’t like the consistency, and I didn’t like the taste. I wanted to like it, believe me — I just couldn’t.
Then we moved to Japan. My belief that seaweed was gross continued as we were getting settled. If I was served miso soup with seaweed, I would fish it out with my chopsticks. If I was served a seaweed salad, I would send it over to my husband.
But then something changed. I became more familiar with Japanese culture. I was more adventurous in trying Japanese foods. Before I knew it, I tried the seaweed floating in my miso soup … and I liked it! I was amazed to realize it was very different from nori. This seaweed — wakame, commonly found in seaweed salad and soup — had a different flavor and texture. Most of the time if you are served seaweed in Japan it is wakame.
The other common type is kombu, which is a thicker seaweed used to provide flavor in dashi, the common Japanese broth found in many dishes, including miso soup and tamagoyaki (Japanese omelet).
The last type of seaweed that I have come across in Japan is known as mozuku. It has sort of a slimy texture so I will admit to passing on trying it the first few times I was offered this at a market. Thankfully, a relentless older Japanese woman made me try it one day. It was a lot sweeter than I expected and definitely easier to chew and swallow. After that experience, I can honestly say I am a fan of edible seaweed. This definitely pleases me because not only am I more accepting of our host country now, but seaweed provides so many nutrients that I would hate to miss!
Udon Seaweed Soup
Recipe developed by Melinda Boyd, MPH, MHR, RD
4 cups dashi, soy or miso broth*
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
2 cups cooked udon noodles
1 ounce dried wakame (rehydrated)
- Heat dashi or other broth until boiling, reduce heat to medium and add cooked noodles. Cook for about 5 minutes. Split into 2 bowls and top with the seaweed.
- There are many variations, so consider adding mushrooms, carrots or any veggies that you like. Tofu makes a nice addition as well. You may also consider adding fresh grated ginger or additional miso paste to suit your palate.
- *There are many dashi recipes available online, or it can be purchased from an Asian market. This is a traditional broth made from kombu seaweed and dried bonito.
- Udon noodles can be found in many Asian markets and grocery stores with Asian food sections. They are sold both frozen or cooked (vacuum packed).
- The wakame comes freeze-dried. There should be directions for rehydrating on the package, but if not, soaking for 5 minutes in water is usually sufficient.
Melinda Boyd, MPH, MHR, RD, is a registered dietitian and military spouse living in Japan. She is co-author of Train Your Brain to Get Thin, and blogs at NutrFoodTrvl.blogspot.com. Follow her on Twitter.