You may define nori as the dark/black wrapper around the maki sushi roll when asked, but that is just one of the many applications of nori tbh. Nori originally is the Japanese term for edible seaweed, but now known to the whole world as the dried 7″ x 8″ sheet of processed edible red algae – a marine plant that grows on the rock in the shallow cold-water sea.
Nori has been a common food in Japan since ancient, back to when it was in paste form. This paste, often very salty is used to be topping over rice or as a medicinal bandage. Around the 18th century and up until now, sheet Nori making is invented and taking over to become the roasted dark crisp thin layer we know today.
The sheet nori making method was similar to that of papermaking. That is, red algae are shredded to a paste-like texture and mix with water. This pulp is then being spread evenly over a rectangular bamboo rack bounded by a 4-sides wooden frame. After drying and sometimes toasted, they are packaging to ship all over the world in a dark green to jet black shade.
How to eat and serve nori?
There are several ways to eat or serve nori. The most popular is to use nori sheet as a wrapper around a rice ball (onigiri), sushi rice roll (makizushi), hand cone roll (temaki). Though, nori will absorb the moisture from rice and might become soggy, thus either roll as you eat or serve immediately to preserve all the freshness.
Another use of nori you have often seen is rice seasoning, topping, or garnishing. Nori sheet, after roasted, is cut/shred into small pieces and mix with sesame, salt, and other dried vegetable/fish flakes. This kind of topping (furikake) is often sold in a zipped pouch or sprinkle bottle to make and serve quick/to-go meals with extra flavor.
Nori can also be cut into bite-size rectangle and season with olive oil or other ingredients to become snacks. These snacks can be found at most grocery stores with international aisles. However do watch out for the additive ingredients, cause lots of them are either too salty (with “extra” salt) or oily with the “long” greasy smell. Look for those original, organic, and from a good source with the least additive to boost yourself with some good snacks.
In some restaurants, chefs pulverize nori into small pieces and turn them into a sauce with their secret recipe. Since nori is a natural umami ingredient, it can go basically anywhere that would call for dashi/umami flavoring.
Nori grade – Is all nori taste the same?
Wonder why the temaki or sushi you had at a luxury restaurant always tastes better than the chewy one at home? The different taste & quality of sushi comes from its ingredients: rice, topping, and of course its wrapper, the nori.
Like the rest of the world, not all nori are equal. The cheapest (and most common) nori on the market costs at a tiny 6 cents per sheet manufactured from China versus the premium first harvest from Ariake, Japan that cost about $3-$4/sheet, 50 times the former and more than the whole simple roll from the typical restaurant.
Nori is grade based on its color, sheen or shininess, weight, consistent thickness, number of holes or weak spots, and also the degree of contamination or mixing of other seaweeds. Nori taste and quality differ depend greatly on the location of harvesting, water temperature, time of harvest, current and mineral content then mixing concentration, handling techniques, …
Good vs Bad nori: How to choose the best or good nori for sushi?
The best nori sheet would be jet black with a shiny sheen, uniform thickness across the surface, and virtually no hole.
Good quality nori when tasted will have umami flavor – the natural sweetness that we love in a subtle manner with no strange or fishy smell. It should not contain any off-flavors or weirdness that mixes from other kinds of seaweed. Good nori should be crisp at first hint then follow with softness and sweet that melt in your mouth.
Low-quality nori, on the other hand, is tasteless or sometimes has that mix of flavors, often due to mixing with other seaweed. The quality is questionable because it is often dry, easy to break when rolling, and kinda chewy /hard to bite. This low-grade nori is often can be detected by its color, being brown or lighter green. When raising it over the light direction, if it has lots of uneven thickness, needle holes, etc… that surely a poorer one.
So when shopping for nori, if you simply just want sushi at a budget price, you can pick any nori that from a good source i.e safe to eat. Otherwise, besides looking at the label(grade, price, brand, and stuff), take a closer look at the color, spot holes, surface cover…
And remember, though nori shelf life is pretty long, the fresher it is the better the taste. Even the best nori will be degrading through time if left out too long or absorbing moisture. Re-roasting is a way to make these nori sheets crisp again. Still, seal leftover/unused sheets in tight zip-lock or airtight container with a desiccant bag for preservation.
Nori Nutrition & Health benefits
There was a reformed verse going around in Japanese for Nori “いちにち にまい 医者 いらず – two sheets a day to keep the doctor away“, sound familiar to the apple, right?! To further understand the health benefit of nori, let’s take a closer look at the nutrition information of red algae, the main ingredient of any nori paper.
First and foremost, Nori is considered a vegetable, that is, it is full of antioxidants, vitamins, and even more than that. There are like over 40 different vitamins and minerals found in nori: phosphorus, calcium, iron, niacin, folic acid, colabamin (B12)… There are numerous researches conducted over nori and recommend Nori’s usefulness in helping controlled heart issues, cholesterol levels, stress, etc.
It is the superfood for skin: 1 sheet of nori contains that equal amount of omega-3s as 2 whole avocados. As such, the amount of DHA and EPA within nori can be extremely helpful especially for vegetarians who can’t take fish oil. In terms of percent equivalent, nori contains even more protein than an egg and 10 times calcium than milk.
Nori is the better snack for many diets being fat-free and low in carbs. Every sheet of nori would give you 1gram of fiber, 1 gram of protein while being absolutely 0 fat, 0 carbs, and less than 1 calorie. So a whole pack to doze off during break would not be an issue if you’re weight watching.
Nori is a good source of iodine, which can be replaced by your need instead of sodium. If you don’t know, iodine is helped with metabolism, which turns your food into energy and protects against radioactivity.
Like many veggies, nori contains a generous amount of vitamin C, carotenoids flavonoids, and other phytonutrients with antioxidant properties to help prevent aging and protect against free radical.
Along with fiber, Nori also has chlorophyll – the green pigment within plants which is an extremely powerful & natural detoxifier to help eliminate waste products from our body. Vitamin A within nori can also help with your eyes’ health, while its magnesium content help maintaining blood sugar.
So what is the down side of nori & how to encounter?
Too much iodine can cause thyroid problems
Due to the high concentration of iodine, people who have thyroid diseases or prone to those should take caution when consuming Nori. The threshold as recommended for consuming iodine should not exceed 3mg per day according to research on iodine consumption in Japan.
Typically, nori’s iodine content would not be high enough to cause any concern or issue. However, many Asian cuisines, including Japanese are serving sides with goitrogen- anti-thyroid properties that inhibit the absorption of iodine. Those foods include tofu, broccoli, bok choy, soy milk & soy products…
Nori vs. Radiation
Then there is a concern about the level of radiation since the meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear plant in 2011. Many would fear of the high level of radiation since the incident & give up completely on sushi or seaweed products.
Truth is, you don’t have to. Nowadays there are other countries cultivating seaweed to make nori like Korea and China, along with safe water areas in Japan too. Many nori producers companies have stamps and measuring data to prove the contamination is under safety level. Recent shipments of laver (a similar type of seaweed) harvested from Fukushima are resuming this year after passing radiation safety tests.
Actually, eating a small amount of “safe” seaweed or nori on a daily basis is a great way to avoid and cleanse your body of radiation. That is due to the high concentration of chlorophyll and iodine within. So, treat it as a super food and be cautious about its source to make sure it is safe for your body.