Wakame vs Kombu (Kelp): Edible Seaweed in Japan
As you may know, seaweed is an indispensable part of Japanese food culture, and especially wakame and kombu, also known as kelp, have been widely consumed in Japan since the old days.
Today, supported by the Japanese food boom, it seems these 2 varieties of edible seaweed have also gained recognition and have been gradually getting used by chefs and home cooks overseas.
Wakame vs Kombu (Kelp)
So today, from the point of view of us Japanese, let me talk about how wakame and kombu differ from each other in usage, nutrition facts, and so on.
In Japanese cuisine, wakame and kombu are most commonly used in miso soup, but they are utilized in different ways. Kombu is prepared for making soup stock or “dashi (出汁)” and is usually not eaten itself. In other words, in miso soup, kombu or kelp is used only for its umami.
In contrast, wakame can be the main ingredient of miso soup, and in fact, the one with wakame and tofu/onions is one of the most loved miso soup varieties in Japan. But unlike kombu, wakame doesn’t have plenty of umami components, so it is not suitable for making dashi and is not used for it.
Other than miso soup, wakame is widely used in Japanese cuisine, for example, in “Sunomono (酢の物: vinegared dishes)”, “Itamemono (炒め物: stir-fries)”, and “Nimono (煮物: soy sauce-flavored simmered dishes)”, and in salads with fresh vegetables.
On the other hand, kombu or kelp can be seen in some kinds of pickles or Tsukemono for its umami and is often eaten in Tsukudani form. Also, Tororo Kombu (kelp shavings) and Shio Kombu (salted kelp), processed from kombu, are foods very familiar to us Japanese.
Wakame and kombu are not only used in cooking but in Japan, they are also available in snack form. The quintessential example of snack foods made of wakame is Kuki Wakame.
Lastly, let’s check the nutrition facts. Based on the article “ワカメ” on Wikipedia Japan, raw wakame has 45 kcal per 100 grams and is a good source of dietary fibers, alginic acid, and fucoidan, from which you can expect health benefits such as the improvement of cholesterol level in the blood, and the prevention of arteriosclerosis and cardiac infarction.
On the other hand, according to the article “コンブ” on Wikipedia Japan, dried kelp (Rishiri Kombu) has 138 kcal per 100 grams. The seaweed kombu contains lots of dietary fibers, iron, calcium, and glutamic acid, known as an umami component, and is a rich source of iodine.