Learn More About Nori + 3 Unique, Non-Sushi Recipes
While you may associate nori with sushi exclusively, there are many other culinary uses (and health benefits) for this special seaweed. Nori is a broad Japanese name for an edible seaweed species of red algae from the genus Porphyra. Originally, nori was a generic term that referred to all other varieties of seaweed as well. It’s thought to have been used as a food as early as the eighth century, according to ancient writings.
Most Common Culinary Uses
The most common use of nori is as a wrap for sushi and onigiri, or rice balls. It can also be used as a garnish or as a savory flavoring in soups and noodle preparations. As of late, many are using nori to make crackers or chips, while others are beginning to experiment with using nori as an ingredient in many other recipes.
Nori is extraordinarily nutrient dense and without a lot of calories if you consume nori regularly like they do in Japan. By weight it is about one-third fiber and one-third protein. Because nori sheets are thin, a typical serving of sushi would only provide about 3 grams each of fiber and protein. Likewise for calcium, magnesium, zinc, and iron; only trace amounts would be found in a typical serving of sushi.
Where nori does stand out is with its vitamin B12 content, in addition to its high levels of the essential mineral iodine. The same typical sushi meal would provide an impressive 4.6 mcg of vitamin B12, nearly double the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) which is 2.4 mcg for everyone over the age of 14. Vitamin B12 is essential for the production of healthy red blood cells and, with folate and vitamin B6, it helps to lower levels of homocysteine, an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Equally important is B12’s role in reducing the risk for dementia and maintaining healthy cognition.
Regarding iodine, nori is a superstar. With 6,000 mcg of iodine per 100 grams, or 3.5 ounces, you can easily satisfy the RDA of 150 mcg for iodine with a night out at your favorite Japanese restaurant. In fact, you’d like exceed the RDA, getting about 450 mcg in a typical serving of sushi — but no need for concern, that amount of iodine is perfectly safe. It’s estimated that the Japanese routinely consume over 1000 mcg of iodine per day. Iodine is critical for the thyroid gland which produces hormones that regulate the body’s metabolism. Iodine is also essential for proper bone and brain development during pregnancy and infancy. Lesser appreciated, but becoming more so, is iodine’s role in reducing the risk for cardiovascular disease as well as breast and prostate cancer. The only reliable source of iodine for most is iodized table salt but because many are eliminating salt from their diet or making the switch to using sea salts, which are typically not iodized, iodine deficiencies are becoming more common. Nori is a great way to to fill the gap.
- Nori is made like paper, the finished product is made from shredding the seaweed, pressing and then drying it in sheets on racks, like papermaking.
- Nori is farmed and the farming takes place in the sea where it grows attached to nets.
- Nori grows quickly, requiring only 45 days from being planted until being harvested.
- Multiple harvests can be made from the same plant, often at 10 day intervals.
- Nori can last for a long time, over 2 years from production making it easy to have on hand and to throw into soups and stews for extra iodine
Doug Cook is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist and a Certified Diabetes Educator. He practices a holistic and integrative approach providing science-based guidance on food and diet along with nutritional supplements and natural health products where appropriate. He is regularly called upon by the media to help make sense of the latest nutrition and food issues and other hot topics making the news. He writes a popular newspaper column where he deconstructs the manufacturers’ marketing angle, nutritional and health claims of various food products. He also co-authored Nutrition for Canadians for Dummies (Wiley 2008).