Release | Ayumi Ohmiya
Hokkaido Kombu - A perfect guide about a treasure of Japan
I always admire how useful Kombu is. It turns to flavorful soup and stew with dashi, fish wrapped with Kombu and simmered until it gets soft, simple pickles made by mixing sliced vegetables and salted Kombu, etc.
About 90% of Kombu consumed in Japan are from Hokkaido. Let’s learn everything about Hokkaido’s Kombu, which we can call a treasure of Japan.
Table of Contents- Is Kombu seagrass or seaweed? How does it flourish?
- How do we harvest Kombu? How long do we need to sundry?
- Kinds of Kombu and the most suitable way to use
- Is it true that Kombu is good for the body?
Do you know about Kombu’s habitats?Kombu is a kind of “seaweed” which breed by spores under the ocean. Seagrass, on the other hand, blooms flowers undersea and breed by seeds.
There are over approx. 20,000 kinds of seaweeds but only 50 of them are edible. Kombu is one of the precious edible seaweeds.
Kombu sprouts from spores stuck on rocks and stones under 5 to 7 meters water near shores. There are male and female Kombu, and they fertilize. A fertilized egg sprouts and grows by photosynthesis.
A grew Kombu die once, and it grows again from the root in the next year. Comparing to the first year, the second year Kombu becomes thicker and more flavorful.
We usually harvest this second-year Kombu. Kombu ends its life when the second year Kombu dies.
Sundry within a day of fishingThe busiest season of Kombu harvesting is from July to September. They leave in the early morning with a small boat and harvest until the boat gets full with a long rod or special equipment with a twisted hook.
▲Kombu harvesting is done manually by manpower. One to two people ride on one boat and rake Kombu from the bottom of the sea.
Then, they carry harvested Kombu to Kanba, the drying place, where they place small stones all over the ground. They lay one by one to dry the Kombu.
They flip a few times and put them in storages in the evenings.
▲They only go to harvest Kombu on sunny days to finish drying in one day.
They carefully align dried Kombu in storage and select them under certain standards such as color, weight, size, etc.
After the selection, they align them in the form of sticks or fold them depending on each standard and wait for investigations.
After this process, investigators check the quality and put stamps to show the quality level for those Kombu passed the investigation. Finally, Kombu will be shipped to all over Japan.
Hokkaido’s Kombu always has a special place at Hokkaido exhibitions which are held everywhere in Japan.
Different kinds of Kombu and best ways to use them
Some people may visit Hokkaido exhibition to buy enough amount of Kombu for a year.
What kind of Hokkaido Kombu are there and what are the best ways to use them?
▲Rishiri Kombu: Harvested on the coast of northern Hokkaido such as Rishiri, Rebun, and Wakkanai. It gives clear and flavorful dashi. Primary use is dashi, salted Kombu, Oboro and Tororo Kombu, etc.
▲Rausu Kombu: Harvested on the coast of Rausu, the tip of Shiretoko Peninsula. The color is brownish, and the width is wider than other kinds, it’s also soft. It gives flavorful dashi soup. Primary use is dashi, Kombu pickles, etc.
▲Hidaka Kombu: Mainly harvested on the coasts of the Pacific Ocean and Hidaka. It’s easy to cook because it’s somewhat thinner and gets cooked fast. Primary use is dashi, Kombu wrapped simmered dishes, Oden, etc. It’s also called Mitsuishi Kombu.
▲Makombu: Harvested on the coasts from Matsumae-Cho, mainly Hakodate, to Muroran. It’s wide and thick and often chosen for wedding gift decorations. Primary use is dashi, salted Kombu, Oboro and Tororo Kombu, etc.
Other than that, there are “Naga Kombu,” which sometimes as long as 10 to 20 meters and “Atsuba Kombu” harvested east of Kushiro City, or “Hosome Kombu,” which is the first year Kombu harvested along the Sea of Japan and used as ingredients for Oboro Kombu or Tororo Kombu, and “Gagome Kombu” harvested in the southern Hokkaido and has sticky textures.
▲“Tororo Kombu” is made by thinly cutting the sides of layered dried Kombu pickled in sweet vinegar. “Oboro Kombu” is the one shaved the surface.
Not only for the umami flavor but it’s also good for a healthy stomach!The umami components of Kombu is Glutamic acid, which is one of the amino acids.
Glutamic acid is the same umami component as tomatoes. You can feel deliciousness without putting a lot of salt, so it’s excellent for reducing the saltiness. Also, it makes the stomach active, so we can expect some good effects to build a healthy stomach.
Also, the unique stickiness appears when you cook Kombu is “alginic acid” or “Fucoidan.”
This is a kind of soluble dietary fibers which is unique to seaweeds. It reduces the absorption of fat and carbs and slows the rise in cholesterol levels.
Especially “Fucoidan” is recently getting attention as it raises immunity of intestines.
Hokkaido’s Kombu has been a valuable merchandise product since over 1,000 years ago.
During the Edo Period, it was carried to all over Japan and to Qing dynasty by Kitamae ships. Kombu has helped different food cultures in different places and made various Kombu dishes.
For example, Osaka made Tsukudani using Makombu, people in Kyoto preferred Rishiri Kombu as it produces mild flavors, lots of people in Hokuriku Region migrated to eastern Hokkaido and developed Kombu wrapped stews and Kombu pickles using Rausu Kombu, and Okinawa developed Kombu mixed rice and stir-fried Kombu using Naga Kombu, etc.
▲People in Hokkaido often wrap herrings and salmon with Kombu and simmer them. It’s an essential menu for the new year dish.
I feel excited to learn how Hokkaido Kombu has been loved and used in different parts of Japan in a long history. The popularity of Kombu has become worldwide now.
“It’s just a Kombu, but it’s still important to many Japanese.”
Any Japanese would keep having Kombu for their whole life.
How is your relationship with Hokkaido’s Kombu?
Text/ Hokkaido Likers writer Ayumi Omiya
Photo/ Hokkaido Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations