Essential to Japanese cuisine, seaweed was burned to extract salt in ancient times; but by the eighth century, the Japanese regarded seaweed as a healthy and tasty gift from the sea. Although there are over 50 varieties used, the following are the most commonly found in a Japanese kitchen:
Konbu - used most importantly to make broth. Also used to make tsukudani, a type of seaweed paste served on rice. Rich in iodine and minerals.
Nori - usually used to wrap sushi or onigiri (rice balls). Also used as a garnish sprinkled over rice. High protein and fibre content.
Wakame - most popular type of seaweed. Used in salads, soups and simmered dishes. High in calcium and minerals.
Hijiki - dried hijiki must be softened, lightly sauteed and then simmered with other ingredients to make a traditional side dish. Highly nutritious.
Kanten - curious ingredient similar to gelatin or aspic but made from a seaweed called Tengusa. Popular as a diet food. Kanten has no aroma or flavour so can be used in savoury or sweet foods. Mitsumame is most famous: fruit salad with cubes of jelly in syrup. (Fab photo: Akira Yamada)