Kombu vs Nori: Battle of the Umami Flavours

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Both Kombu and Nori are common ingredients in Japanese cooking. The delicious umami flavours might seem similar to the untrained eye, but there is a world of flavourful undertones separating the two.

Today, we wanted to take a closer look at both these ingredients, to find out more about them. What are they, where do they come from, and can one be used in place of the other? Let’s find out…

What is Kombu?

Kombu is edible seaweed kelp which comes from the genus of sea plants classed as Laminaria. These offshore delights have been eaten by people of eastern cultures since ancient times.kombu

There are many different species of Kombu sea kelp. Ones that are often eaten include:

  • Saccharina Japonica, var: Religiosa, diabolica, and ochotensis. These are stock making kombu.
  • Saccharina Angustata which is used for dashi
  • Arthrothamnus bifidus
  • Saccharina Coriacea, Saccharina Cichorioides, Saccharina Gyrata, Saccharina’s Longgissima, Longipedalis and Sculpera

And others.

The exact history and origin of Kombu use is hazy, since the Ancient Japanese recorded them as differing written Kanji, but used the same word when spoken. The name Kombu is accredited to language evolution over time. The Kanji, however, has been in use since the 3rd century.

Kombu is one of two essential ingredients in Dashi, an umami broth which also uses dried shitake mushrooms.

Kombu itself has a rubbery texture once cooked. Although occasionally used in salads, it will be added to soups and broths to boost flavour, but is often removed. However, there are ways to make  Kombu more palatable.

Kombu is grown in the sea where rocky areas are exposed at low tide. You can gather it yourself as long as you don’t take more than three leaves from each plant. Allowing your natural resources to grow back makes for sustainable farming practises.

What is Nori?

Nori, on the other hand, is an edible seaweed of notably savoury flavour. It is often used in the creation of sushi dishes, since it consists of dried sheets that can bind rice together. Nori is dated to 701, when it is first mentioned in Japanese texts.nori

Although popular as a culinary staple for hundreds of years, Nori was eaten as a paste up until the 18th century, when papermaking techniques were applied to the paste.

Nowadays, Nori is eaten with rice balls, used as a garnish, or added to dishes for extra flavour. It can be reduced with soy sauce to take it back to its paste state, but you can then drag this paste across a pan to turn it back into sheets again.

Is Kombu the same as Nori?

Kombu comes from brown algae while nori is made from red algae so no, they are not the same.

Furthermore, Nori is crisp and toasted, while kombu is rubbery or dried into strips. In terms of flavour, both are similar, but there are mild differences to those with an attuned palate.

The main noticeable difference between the two is in the texture. Nori is light, crisp, and slightly oily in texture. Kombu is rubbery unless dried, when it is cut into strips as opposed to toasted, as nori is.

Kombu vs Nori – Taste

In terms of taste and flavour, how do kombu and nori match up? It seems as though sea kelp, or kombu, is a little less salty than nori. Those cooking dashi, for example, would add salt to flavour it. Nori seems to have enough salt in its composition that it doesn’t need this flavouring.

Nori is likely to dissolve on the tongue, while kombu is typically removed from a dish for its density, so the two are at opposite ends of the spectrum with regards to texture. They do both have a taste reminiscent of all seaweeds, however. It is fresh, contains flavour depth, and goes well with seafood dishes.

Kombu vs Nori – Nutritional Value

Both ingredients are highly nutritious, containing a variety of vitamins and minerals.

The exact nutritional values vary depending on where and when seaweed was cultivated. Also, keep in mind that there are different varieties of kombu with each of them having a slightly different nutritional profile. However, in general, here is what you can expect to find in this edible seaweed:

CARBOHYDRATES

Seaweed is low in carbs with both kombu and nori providing less than 10 g of carbs per 100 g wet weight.

PROTEIN CONTENT

Protein content in seaweed varies depending on the season and species.

Nori is relatively high in protein which can be as much as 47% of the dry weight. Kombu, on the other hand, is much lower in protein and its protein content can range from 8-15% (dry weight).

FAT CONTENT

All seaweed is low in fat including nori and kombu. The fat content varies depending on the season and it’s higher in winter and lower in summer.

Both seaweeds contain essential fatty acids (omega 3 and omega 6) but nori provides considerably more of this type of fats.

FIBRE

Both nori and kombu are a good source of fibre but kombu has much more fibre (6.2 g per 100 g wet weight) than Nori (3.8 g).

FIBRE
(per 100g wet weight)
NORI
(Porphyra umbilicalis) 
KOMBU
(Laminaria digitata)
TOTAL FIBRE 3.8 g 6.2 g
Soluble Fibre 3.0 g 5.4 g
Insoluble Fibre 1.0 g 0.8 g

MINERAL COMPOSITION

MINERALS
(per 100g wet weight)
NORI
(Porphyra umbilicalis
KOMBU
(Laminaria digitata)
Calcium 34.2 mg 364.7 mg
Potassium 302.2 mg 2013.2 mg
Magnesium 108.3 mg 403.5 mg
Sodium 119.7 mg 624.6 mg
Copper 0.1 mg 0.3  mg
Iron 5.2 mg 45.6 mg
Iodine 1.3 mg 70.0 mg
Zinc 0.7 mg 1.6 mg

Both types of seaweed are high in minerals such as calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron and iodine. However, per 100 g wet weight, kombu is more mineral-rich than nori. It’s especially high in iodine, iron, calcium. magnesium and potassium.

One portion of kombu (8 g) contains even more iron than sirloin steak. Furthermore, a serving of kombu (8 g), as used in Asian cooking, contains 65% of the recommended daily intake for magnesium.

Kombu kelp has really high levels of iodine, containing up to 2,984 mcg per seaweed sheet (1 gram). This provides almost 2,000% of the recommended daily intake.

The iodine content in nori varies between 16–43 mcg per gram.
While iodine is essential for a healthy thyroid, you have to be careful not to consume too much as this can have a negative impact on your health.

VITAMINS

Seaweed also contains a wide range of vitamins including vitamins A, B, C, D, and E.

A portion of Nori (8 g) provides 9 mg of vitamin C (15% of the recommended daily intake) which is much higher than what a portion of kombu provides (only 1.4mg).
Nori also provides more vitamins B1, B2, B9 and B12.
Kombu, on the other hand, is richer in vitamins B3, B6 and E.

What is the difference between kombu and nori?

As well as being a little different in nutritional make-up, nori contains that little bit more calorific value.

In terms of texture, the difference lies in one being paper-thin and crispy, with the other being cut into strips or chewy.

Both nori and kombu are seaweeds but nori is made from red algae while kombu is a type of brown algae. This is a small difference but makes for a distinctive difference in texture.

Taste-wise, nori is saltier with kombu benefiting from extra seasoning. While kombu is traditionally removed from the dish, nori is swallowed. However, kombu can still be eaten when soften enough and is used in dishes such as tsukudani.

They are both seafood plants so have a similar taste, and they are both low calorie, yet are nutrient-dense foods.

Can you substitute kombu for nori?

It depends on what you are cooking. If you are making a Dashi then the answer is a certain no. If you add nori in place of the kombu it will disintegrate and won’t last through the simmering process. Likewise, you wouldn’t wrap a rice ball in kombu because it would make for a chewy texture instead of a soft bite.

Although the two come from the sea and both can accentuate a seafood dish, they are consumed in different ways. In addition, adding soy sauce and gently simmering a sheet of nori will turn it back into its paste form. This won’t happen with kombu, no matter how much simmering you do. You wouldn’t want to swallow the kombu unless it was tenderized.

Kombu or nori: Which one is healthier?

Both kombu and nori are incredibly healthy Japanese cooking ingredients. Eating either of them will greatly benefit your body. They are high in nutrients, low in fat, and don’t add much to your daily calorie allowance – fantastic for those eating to lose weight.

We suggest you combine both nori and kombu into your diet, instead of picking between the two.

References

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/iodine-rich-foods
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6551690/

Nutritional Value of Edible Seaweeds. Nutrition Reviews, Volume 65, Issue 12, December 2007, Pages 535–543. Downloaded from: https://academic.oup.com/nutritionreviews/article/65/12/535/1903132

Fleurence J. Seaweed proteins: biochemical, nutritional aspects and potential uses. Trends Food SciTechnol. 1999;10:25–38. Downloaded from: https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Seaweed-proteins%3A-biochemical%2C-nutritional-aspects-Fleurence/ac9f1eddb255c059a9ac1a8ea4168ef4cf886dd2

Martinsson, Helena, 2016. Seaweed products on the Swedish market as a source of omega-3 fatty acids. Second cycle, A2E. Uppsala: SLU, Dept. of Food Science. Downloaded from: https://stud.epsilon.slu.se/8844/

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