Find out everything you want to know about nori! This comprehensive guide will answer all your questions about those sheets of seaweed you’re seen wrapped around your sushi. Learn what kind to buy, how to use it in your kitchen, and if it's right for your diet.
I traveled to Shiogama, Miyagi, "the sushi capital of Japan" and Omori, the birthplace of nori production, to learn from the experts.
What is nori?
If you've ever eaten a sushi roll, nori is the dried seaweed that's used to wrap the vinegar-seasoned rice and raw fish or other fillings.
In addition to wrapping sushi rolls and onigiri, nori is typically added to ramen, cold soba noodles, salads, and on top of rice as furikake.
If you're a fan of senbei, you may know norimaki senbei, nori-wrapped rice crackers.
The most common form of nori (海苔) looks like sheets of dark green handmade paper. Essentially, that's exactly what it is: paper that's made from dried seaweed that you can eat.
To write nori in Japanese, two kanji are used:海 (no) = sea and 苔 (ri) = moss. On packaging, you'll often see it written in hiragana: のり.
At the supermarket or online, you’ll find many different varieties. I’ll explain the differences below.
Popularity in Japan
Norishio (seaweed-salt) is one of the most popular potato chip flavors in Japan. This gives you an idea of just how popular seaweed is in Japan food culture.
In Japan, packages of premium quality sheets of yakinori are even given as a gift.
A small packet of kizami nori even came with my lunch on the flight to Japan I was on yesterday.
What does it look like at the supermarket?
Nori is typically sold in plastic wrapped packages of 10 - 40 sheets.
The standard size for a nori sheet is 21 cm by 19 cm (about 8 inches x 7 inches).
Other smaller sizes (half, third, quarter, eighth sheets and shredded pieces) are sold as well.
Below, you can find a chart to help you choose the right size, depending on what snack or dish you're going to prepare.
One side of a sheet of nori is glossy and the other is more textured.
You’ll always find nori wrapped in plastic packages, unfortunately.
Exposure to air would make the crisp sheets absorb moisture and go limp. The packages also contain a silica packet (a desiccant) to help remove moisture.
At grocery stores in Japan, you’ll find different variations:
yakinori (焼のり) - roasted seaweed, ajitsuke nori (味付海苔) also called aji nori - flavored, lightly seasoned seaweed, kizami nori (刻み海苔) shredded seaweed, momi-nori (もみ海苔) - crumbled seaweed, and nori tsukudani (海苔佃煮) - seaweed paste.
I will go much more into detail about the different kinds of nori below.
What is the difference between nori and seaweed?
Seaweed is a very general term, just like vegetable describes plants that we can eat.
Nori is one kind of seaweed, just like spinach is one kind of vegetable.
Nori isn't different than seaweed– it is seaweed.
In Japanese, the term nori usually refers to the paper-like sheets that have been processed and dried.
Nori(海苔) is also the common name for the red algae that's used as the raw material to make the paper sheets.
Other varieties of seaweed, like kombu and wakame, are grown and processed in different ways.
I'll explain the difference between nori and other edible seaweeds below.
Is Korean gim the same as nori?
Yes... and no.
Japanese nori can also be easily confused with the Korean version of dried seaweed: gim (김).
First, note that gim is a generic term that refers to a group of edible seaweeds that are dried. In Korea, there are four types of roasted gim.
In general, gim is made with the same red algae as nori. The main difference is gim is often seasoned with sesame oil and salt.
Seasoned sheets of gim have a shiny oil coating and a specks of salt.
Compared to seasoned nori, as a general rule, the texture of gim is more uneven, with jagged sides, and translucent spaces or small holes in the surface.
Unseasoned nori, that can be used for making sushi rolls, is also produced in and exported from South Korea. You should be able to determine which product you want by the size of the package and picture of the contents.
In South Korea, gim is used to make gimbap 김밥 (also written as kimbap), Korean-style rolls similar to norimaki.
I love gimbap!
One final difference is that all the major brands of USDA certified organic nori/gim are grown in South Korea or China. I've yet come across a brand of organic nori that's from Japan.
Even though the nori that comes from Japan is not certified organic, in general the quality is very high.
Below, I'll share the brands of nori, grown in Japan and South Korea, that I trust.
What is nori called in English?
Similar to Japanese words like sushi and ninja, English speakers with some knowledge of Japanese food will refer to nori as "nori".
In a few countries, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland, nori is called laver in English. I've seen this name on packaging before.
Laver is the most common translation of nori.
Still, if you called it laver in Japan, I imagine very few people would have any idea what you’re referring to.
Generally speaking, most Westerners, will refer to nori as seaweed.
In the Western world, still the majority of people aren't familiar with the different varieties of seaweed like Japanese people are.
What is the difference between laver and seaweed?
Like I mentioned above, laver or nori is a type of seaweed. Seaweed is an umbrella term to describe plants that grow in the sea.
The English term laver is synonymous to nori, the Japanese name.
Historically laver is consumed in Britain and Ireland. It's used to make laverbread, a traditional Welsh dish.
While it's used differently in two different parts of the world, the ingredient is essentially the same: red algae.
Kombu vs. wakame vs. nori
These three varieties of edible seaweed are easily confused.
Each has its own unique taste but there's some overlap in how they are used in Japanese cuisine. Once you learn the basics, it will become very easy to tell the difference.
- Kombu (kelp) is the thicker, rubbery looking seaweed. You'll find long, solid dried strips at the supermarket which are cut into smaller pieces. The strips of kombu appear lightly dusted with white powdery salt, which naturally occurs. Kombu needs to be reconstituted with water before consumption; otherwise, it would be really tough and hard to chew.
Because I lived there, kombu always reminds me of Hokkaido. It's mostly harvested from the cold waters off the coast of Japan's most northern island.
Uses: Kombu is rich in glutamic acid, a key compound associated with the savory/umami flavor profile. It's used as a base for dashi, Japanese soup stock, making it one of the umami ingredients for making miso soup.
Kombu also makes me think of oshogatsu in Japan- it's an essential ingredient in New Year's meals.
Supermarkets and convenience stores sell sweet and sour vinegar kombu snacks that tend to be much more softened up, called sukombu (酢こんぶ). You can learn more about healthy Japanese seaweed snacks in this quick guide and my free book.
Shortcuts to remember kombu: kelp, rubbery, thick, umami, makes dashi broth for miso soup, rehydrate
2. Wakame (brown algae) is the thin, delicate seaweed. Wakame is sold dried– the pieces look all shriveled up. Because wakame is not heavily processed, it retains more of the seaweed's natural appearance. Before use, it's first soaked in water to rehydrate.
Uses: Wakame is commonly added to miso soup with tofu. It's often used as the main ingredient to make seaweed salads and sunomono, lightly pickled salads.
Shortcuts to remember wakame– thin, delicate, seaweed salad, rehydrate
3. Nori (red algae) is grown further south in Japan, not in the same cold waters as kombu. Nori is not used to make dashi broth as kombu, though nori still contains some umami flavor. It's typically sold as paper-thin sheets.
Uses: Nori is most well known as the seaweed used to make sushi rolls. It's also used as a condiment or a topping for foods like soba, ramen, and especially white rice. Nori can also be eaten by itself as a snack.
Remember: kombu is used to make the broth for miso soup while nori is sometimes added to miso soup as more of an added ingredient.
Shortcuts to remember nori– wrap sushi rolls or onigiri, comes in sheets, goes with rice, not rehydrated
What is nori made from?
Nori is made from a species of the red algae.
Yakinori, the kind of nori that's used to make sushi rolls, is plain, unflavored nori. You should see only one ingredient listed on the back of the package: dried nori (乾海苔).
If you read the nutritional labels the packages of seasoned nori, you'll find other ingredients listed including: sugar, oil, mirin, salt, and MSG.
There may be flavors added like kombu, katsuo-bushi (bonito flakes), and dried shrimp.
Allergy warning: If you have a serious allergy to shellfish or crustaceans, be aware that even non-flavored nori has a risk for cross-contamination and trace amounts of allergens.
What does nori taste like?
Yakinori (roasted)- tastes light and mild. There isn't a strong sea flavor like you might expect from seaweed. The texture is crispy or flakey. There's a satisfying crunch if you eat the sheet of nori on it's own. I would almost compare it to eating plain popcorn with just a subtle green veggie, nutty flavor. To me, nori by itself doesn't taste fishy at all. That is, unless you add some sushi!
Ajitsuke nori (seasoned)- The flavor depends what the seasoning is. The strips of aji nori that I'm snacking on right now tastes sweet with umami (savory). There's a hint of soy sauce, seafood like clams, and subtle buttery aftertaste. After sampling a few sheets, the saltiness leaves me craving something to drink or some white rice!
Note about MSG: I feel like the added seasoning, which usually includes MSG (amino-san アミノ酸), makes me tongue feel numb. This is why I prefer the yakinori, even though the ajitsuke nori is dangerously addictive! It's like the ocean's healthier version of snacking on potato chips.
Different varieties (sizes and shapes) of nori and uses
yakinori (焼のり) roasted seaweed - sold in various sizes for different uses: making sushi rolls, onigiri/musubi or wrap mochi cakes.
ajitsuke nori (味付海苔) flavored, lightly seasoned seaweed - eaten alone as a snack with a drink or paired with white rice. It's also called aji nori for short.
kizami nori (刻み海苔) thinly shredded seaweed - put on top of zaru soba, Japanese-style pasta, donburi, or as a salad topping.
momi-nori (もみ海苔) - crumbled nori - sprinkled on top of dishes as a topping or garnish, similar to kizami nori.
nori tsukudani (海苔佃煮) - nori paste, simmered with soy sauce and mirin - usually eaten with white rice.
The chart below shows the size and shape (as fractions of one sheet) of nori to use for different Japanese foods:
Is it healthy to eat nori?
Nori is the "vegetable of the sea". It's been an important source of nutrition for Japanese people for hundreds of years.
According to the co-founder of GimMe, "seaweed is actually the highest, most nutrition-dense vegetable on the planet. It's got protein, fiber, vitamin c, iron... it's very low calorie."
In Japan, nori is referred to as the "soybean of the sea" because of its high protein content.
30-50% of dried nori is protein. The protein in nori contains all of the essential amino acids.
According to Begin Japanology on NHK World, one sheet of nori weighs about 3 grams, yet it contains the same amount of protein as ⅕ an egg. Since ancient times, nori has been a valuable source of protein for the Japanese.
Nori is high in vitamin A, B1, B2, K, Folic Acid, and vitamin C (Standard tables of food composition in Japan -2015)
About ⅓ of nori is consisted of fiber.
Nori contains chlorophyll, polyphenols like flavonoids and carotenoids. It also contains several types of alkaloids, which act as antioxidants.
Two sheets of nori contain equivalent amount of calcium to 15cc milk and ½ egg.
One sheet of nori provides you with enough iron for a day.
The iodine in nori supports thyroid function.
Is it bad to eat a lot of nori?
In Japan, nori is consumed in small amounts and not every day. I love the stuff but still limit my consumption.
Overconsumption of nori may cause some problems.
These are some potential risk factors to you may want to consider:
Seaweed is rich in iodine. Our bodies need iodine but too much can be harmful.
Especially if you suffer from thyroid issues or take medication, please consult your doctor or nutritionist before adding it to your diet.
Also be aware of the sodium content. Some flavored nori contains added sodium as well.
Nori, like other species of seaweed, can also absorb toxic heavy metals like arsenic and cadmium.
3. Heavy Metals/Contamination:
According to a research review in Nutrition Reviews, heavy metal concentrations in edible seaweeds are generally below toxic levels; however bioaccumulation of arsenic is a risk.
If possible, buy organic nori. It's less likely to contain significant amounts of heavy metals.
Certified organic nori is grown in unpolluted waters that are not contaminated with harmful chemicals.
Nori contains amphipod allergens which can cause allergic reactions, especially in people who are severely allergic to crustaceans.
Why do Japanese eat nori?
Reason #1: Geography– Japan is an island nation. Going back thousands of years, seaweed has been part of the Japanese diet.
Reason #2: Preservation– In Japanese cuisine, you'll find that there are lot of dried foods.
Drying food was one way of preserving food back when it wasn't possible get a vegetables during the cold winter months.
Removing the moisture inhibits the growth of bacteria. Drying nori allowed it to be stored for longer periods of time. Just like dried vegetables, this was one way to get nutrition during the winter.
Reason #3: Taste– In Japan, it's common knowledge that nori goes very well with the main staple food– white rice.
Reason #4: Convenience– Sheets of nori are very convenient to use. You can easily wrap onigiri (rice balls), which makes them easy to pack to go and to eat. The paper sheets can also be rolled up and filled with rice to make sushi rolls. Moist rice easily sticks to the paper. Sheets of nori can be cut into just the right size or cut into pieces to sprinkle on top of foods for added flavor.
Reason #5: Nutrition– In East Asia, it's also common knowledge that nori is packed with nutrition.
Reason #6: Technology– Historically, the production of nori is quite recent. Nori manufacturing began about 300 years ago alongside Tokyo Bay. During the Edo period, nori was grown on bundles of bamboo. Eventually, the technology spread nationwide and improved. After World War II, the bamboo method of growing nori was replaced by nets.
What can I do with nori seaweed?
If you are a beginner at cooking with nori, the simplest dish would be eat nori with plain white rice.
A next step above that would be making sushi hand rolls (temaki zushi). To make temaki zushi, simply wrap sushi rice and your filling of choice inside sheets of nori (¼ of a full sheet). No special kitchen tools are necessary.
You also don't need any special equipment to make homemade onigiri, rice balls usually triangular in shape. At every convenience store in Japan, you'll find onigiri. With half-size sheets of nori, rice, and a filling of your choice, you can easily make your own onigiri at home.
Once you purchase a makisu (巻き簾) bamboo mat, you'll be able to make a norimaki, which is also referred to as makizushi. If you've ever eaten out at a sushi restaurant, you've probably ordered a "sushi roll" before.
Nori is also sprinkled on top of donburi, rice bowls. It goes well with chicken and pork. At home, I'll practically sprinkle it on practically any Japanese dinner as a condiment.
It's a standard to top zaru soba with sprinkles of kizami shredded nori. At ramen restaurants, nori is almost always on top or an optional add-on.
Surprising at first, kizami nori is also added on top of spaghetti. Japanese-style Italian is delicious fusion of Japanese flavors and traditional recipes for pasta. One of my favorite is mentaiko pasta made with spicy cod fish roe.
3) soups and salad
Nori is occasionally added to miso soup. This is not to be confused with wakame, which is the seaweed most often associated with being added to miso soup broth.
Nori is also a popular topping for salads, especially if you're using a Japanese-style dressing. Nori is such a good match for soy sauce, rice vinegar, or sesame-based dressings.
I recommend getting some inspiration from food blogs or Japanese cookbooks– experiment to see what you like.
Can you eat nori by itself?
Nori that's eaten plain is sometimes called oyatsu (snack) nori or otsumami (snack that goes with a drink) nori.
Ajitsuke (seasoned) nori is a good snack all by itself. Because it's a salty snack, you'll probably want something to do drink or eat it along with rice.
Kids love snacking on nori too!
At the international schools in Tokyo where I've taught, it's one of my elementary school student's favorite snacks.
During my research, in English and Japanese, the recommended amount to eat is 2 full-size sheets max per day because of the iodine content.
This article has some useful tips for parents of nori-obsessed kids!
Which nori is the best?
These are the best brands that are available in Japan. I'll list other options that are available at supermarkets overseas and online in the next section.
The first two I list have the most information in English.
According to Maruyama Nori's website, Sukiyabashi Jiro, which received 3 stars in the Michelin Guide Tokyo, as well as 10 of the 15 sushi shops that received stars as well, are using their products.
You can order directly from Maruyama Nori. Their main shop in located near the old Tsukiji fish market. You can also find their nori at Kinokuniya supermarket in Tokyo.
Their high quality nori is strictly selected, mainly harvested in the Ariake Sea off the coast of Kyushu. "Umenohana" is Yamamoto Noriten's highest quality yakinori. According to their website, ajitsuke nori was originally created by their company.
In Tokyo, Yamamoto Noriten products are available at high-end department stores such as Mitsukoshi Ginza and Takashimaya and high-end supermarkets such as Kinokuniya, Queen's Isetan, and Tokyu.
Yamamoto Noriten has an English website. They seem to be the most foreigner-friendly. When I visited their main shop in Nihonbashi, they even had a pamphlet in English.
Other recommended brands
These are some other famous nori brands preferred by the best sushi restaurants in Tokyo.
I often see these brands at the best supermarkets and department stores in Tokyo.
Kaneko Noriten (English webpage and online shop- Japanese only)
Where to buy nori?
Outside of Japan, you'll find nori at Japanese and Asian grocery stores (like Nijiya, Mitsuwa, and Marukai), natural food markets, and at upscale supermarkets like Whole Foods. Because of the popularity of sushi worldwide, you should be able to find nori at your local supermarket.
From what I read, in the U.S. for example, it can be hard to find nori that's on par with the quality in Japan.
Based on my own research, here are the best options that are available online.
Because I personally haven't tried all of products available outside Japan, I can't guarantee the taste and quality.
Nori sheets for sushi rolls
Yamamotoyama Ariake Premium Japanese Nori Roasted Seaweed (10 sheets)
Daechun(Choi's1) Roasted Seaweed organic, 50 sheets, harvested in South Korea (best seller on Amazon)
GimMe sushi Nori organic, 50 sheets, harvested in South Korea.
Yamamoto Noriten authentic Japanese nori seaweed sheet 10 Sheets. If you are feeling frustrated that you can't find good quality nori in your country, this might be a good choice. (expensive but excellent quality)
Nori as a topping (for soba, salads, and rice)
I didn't find a brand that I would trust the quality enough to recommend to those of you living outside of Japan.
If you want to buy nori as a topping, I suggest buying full sheets to cut into thin strips or pieces.
Nori as a snack
GimMe Roasted Nori Sheets organic, non-GMO, sustainably cultivated and harvested from South Korea; 20 packs. #1 best selling seaweed brand (This brand I've tried and can personally recommend.)
Six savory flavors: sea salt, extra virgin olive oil, teriyaki, toasted sesame, wasabi, and avocado oil & sea salt
Annie Chun's Organic Seaweed 12 packs. Note: Annie Chun is the co-owner of GimMe so I imagine this is the exact same product with different branding.
Four flavors: sea salt, sea salt & vinegar, sesame, and wasabi
SeaSnacks Organic Roasted Seaweed Grab and Go Packs (Pack of 12)
Many unique flavors: classic, chipotle, lime, onion, wasabi, BBQ, jalapeño
Why is nori expensive?
In Japan, there are different grades of quality. Nori for everyday use is relatively inexpensive.
In Shiogama, a fishing port near Sendai, I saw packages for about $2.
I would say $5 - $10 is a typical price at a regular supermarket in Tokyo.
The highest quality nori can be very expensive, even over $50 per package.
The most expensive, premium nori is about $120.
Outside of Japan, nori will be even more expensive because of the added cost of importation.
Nowadays, there are handful of growers in Canada and the U.S.
How to store nori once opened?
Keep nori in a cool, dry place.
After you've opened the package, squeeze out the air and reseal the package.
If the package isn't resealable, keep nori in an air-tight Ziplock bag.
To keep nori crisp for longer periods of time, you can put the Ziplock bag in the refrigerator or freezer.
According to Mikuniya Nori, it will last about 6 months in the fridge and about 10 months when in the freezer.
For more specific details, read more about storing nori on their website.