Nori is a type of red algae that has been produced and consumed in Japan since the 8th century. Nowadays, nori is a big part of the agricultural industry of Japan. It is grown on nets in coastal areas and then harvested and dried in thin sheets.
There's Something About Nori
You most likely know that nori sheets are used to wrap maki sushi, but that is not the only way they're consumed. In Japan, you find them in furikake for instance (nori flakes and dried fish rice seasoning) and cut into small rectangular forms with traditional seasoning. You'll commonly find two types. One is the Korean type which is roasted with sesame oil and the other one is the Japanese type which is seasoned with mirin, soy sauce, sugar and powdered fish flavors.
Kankoku Nori (Korea Stylye Nori)
These little sheets of "nori chips" originate from Korea have been popular in Japan for a long time and they have been growing in popularity worldwide too.
They are known in Japan as "kankoku nori" or Korean nori, although they don't necessarily come from Korea. The kankoku nori sheets are roasted using sesame oil, or some other types of vegetable oil, salted and seasoned with different kinds of flavors. The fact that they are roasted with oil and that nori contain lots of this deep savory "umami" flavor makes them as addictive as chips. And that's a good thing! Because unlike chips, which quite arguably fall in the junk food category, giving you lots of calories for not much healthy nutritional intake, nori seaweeds are actually rich in vitamins and minerals!
Japan's Own "Ajitsuke Nori" Seaweed Snacks
The Japanese call their version of these small nori sheets "ajitsuke nori" which translates to seasoned nori. The difference with the Korean one is that they are not roasted in sesame oil and the seasoning contains more traditional Japanese ingredients such as soy sauce and mirin (sweet sake) and fish dashi powder for instance. Unlike the Korean sheets, the Japanese ones are not as often eaten as is.
In Japan, there are several ways of eating them. As a light meal, people sometimes make small rice balls and wrap the small ajitsuke nori sheets around. This makes essentially an "onigiri".
Perhaps the most common way of eating them is by placing them on top of a bowl of rice and wrapping bits of it with the nori by using chopsticks.
There are many types of ajitsuke nori available in Japan. The Hiroshima-style oyster and soy sauce is a quite popular type of seasoning, and the wasabi seasoning is also really liked for its sharp spicy taste that goes well with beer! If you like the Korean one, you should definitely try the Japanese ajitsuke nori as well!
Vegans Take Note!
Vegans, in particular, should be consuming nori as it is one of the only plant-based food that provides a good dose of vitamin B-12 which is an essential one for the healthy maintenance of nerve cells and the production of DNA and RNA. It also has a good amount of vitamins A and C, as well as calcium. What's more, they are very low in calories, which means you get lots of good nutrition for at a low caloric cost.
Seaweed snacks have exploded in popularity worldwide in recent years because they taste great and are actually healthy! You might be available to buy them at your local supermarket even if you don't live in Japan. Give them a try if you haven't!