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What Is Kombu?

Lovers of Japanese cuisine may be familiar with kombu, or seaweed. It is a key ingredient in many Asian dishes, because seaweed farming technology has made it readily available and quite affordable.

Kombu can be made from many kinds of kelp. The Japanese have found uses for its stalks, leaves and fronds. Sometimes it is dried, producing a white powder that has a very distinct savory flavor—what some people call the “fifth taste” in Japanese dishes. In fact, dried kombu is a key ingredient in one of the most well known Japanese diet staples, miso soup. It is also added to other soup stocks, along with dried fish flakes and mushrooms.

Sometimes the kombu is pickled and turned into a salad or as a siding for a rice or vegetable dish. This is also served as an appetizer or as a snack, and is quite good with hot tea. In fact, many Asian restaurants offer kombu to customers for them to nibble on while they are waiting for their food to arrive.

It is possible to store kombu for long periods, especially if it is placed in a cool and dry location such as a pantry. Do not be alarmed if the kombu sheets develop a very fine, powdery white film. Not only is this to be expected, but it adds to the flavor.

Unlike powdered kombu, pickled kombu should be kept in the refrigerator. It has a slightly shorter shelf-life and must be eaten soon after the jar is opened.

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