Seaweed, a prehistoric staple in Asian cuisine (Japan, China, Korea), is quickly gaining popularity in other parts of the world. It’s a suitable food even for kings, as Chinese Sze Teu wrote in 600 BC. Seaweed is considered to provide long life. Applications are countless: from soup, to sushi, to sweets. It is an essential ingredient in ‘Molecular Gastronomy’ to achieve complex textures in dishes. It couldn’t exist without algae, as they are the only source for the extraction of phytochemicals like alginates, agar, carrageenan, as mannitol. Seaweed has unique thickening, stabilising, gelling, and clarifying properties.
There are 21 species commonly used in Japan, with the average Japanese citizen eating about 5 g of algae every day. The most important are Nori, Kombu and Wakame. Several other varieties, such as Codium, Osmundea pinnatifida, Gracilaria carnosa, have been analysed by Foodpairing® in cooperation with Porto Munios from Spain.
In the kitchen
After harvesting, the freshly brown-colored wakame is briefly immersed in boiling water, turning it into the bright green color as we know it. Freshly blanched, you can eat it as it is. Part of the harvested seaweed is rubbed with salt to make “salt cured wakame”. By curing it, wakame can be saved for a long time. However, most of the wakame is hung to dry in the sun. Once dry, it shriveles until it is almost black.
Afterwards the dried algae can be pulverized into powder. Wakame powder is rich in umami and sodium. It can be used as a worthy replacement for salt. When re-soaked for 5 to 8 minutes, dried algae can be added to soups (as miso) or served with boiled rice. It is a common ingredient in sushi and salads, especially with cucumber or tofu. Even ‘pure’ wakame versions with soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame, and chilli can be made. To obtain ‘Yaki-wakame’, the algae is toasted. Another application is ‘Ito-wakame’: coated in sugar and thinned.
Aroma profile of wakame
Algaes tend to be characterized by green / fatty aromas with a hue of geranium (which is also typical for fish and shellfish, hence the popular combination of algae with fish). The green aromas are derived from aldehydes and epoxides, which offer a characteristic metallic marine smell.
Make a Japanese twist by adding some salty green seaweeds to a fruit salad with apricots, pomerac, raspberries, and peaches. Some molecules have a distinctive citrusy smell. Therefore they go also well with Buddha’s hand, bamboo shoot, endive and tomatillo. Season them with sage, thyme, spearmint oil, or bitter orange peel.
Surprisingly some oat flakes nuance, associated with (E,E,Z)-2,4,6-nonatrienal, has also been found in wakame. They are also present in cooked fonio, freekeh, oat, flax, and amaranth seed.
Try our previous delicious recipes for ‘Savory Anchovy Broth-infused bundt cake’, ‘Crab canapés with chili mango chutney and wakame’ or ‘Salmon and Guava reduction with Fennel and Fava Beans’.