Here’s a guide to the popular Japanese sea vegetable nori, and a roundup of tasty recipes for using it in creative ways other than for making sushi. With a gentle sweet-salty taste that’s more subtle than other types of seaweed, it adds a great flavor dimension to soups, bowls, appetizers, traditional Asian bites, and much more.
Before nori’s popularity took off in the west, it was one of the most beloved of sea vegetable in Japan, its country of origin. It was made for hundreds of years from the red algae cultivated in that country’s bays and inlets.
In its uncultivated form, nori is closely related to the sea vegetable laver.
Nori was traditionally harvested in the colder months, sun-dried on bamboo mats, then pressed into sheets in a process not unlike paper-making.
Its unique, salty-sweet flavor seems to be one of the more appealing among sea vegetables to Western palates.
While once Nori used to come from Japan, today, its cultivation has broadened. According to this article in KQED:
“Although harvested around the globe, China is responsible for nearly 60% of the world’s seaweed production. Much of the nori that is packaged and sold in the U.S. seems to be farmed in Korea, although more locally sourced seaweeds are sold by smaller companies such as Rising Tide Sea Vegetables, which hand-harvests wild seaweeds off the Mendocino Coast.”
Typical nori in sheets
What forms does nori come in?
Nori comes in deep green sheets, wrapped in cellophane packages. It is also available in the form of pre-toasted sushi nori, and, less commonly, kizami nori, toasted and shredded for ready use as a condiment.
Now, of course, nori snacks, which come in almost one-bite sized mini-sheets, have become widely available. There are so many brands to choose from, including Annie Chun’s, Sea Tangle Snacks, and store brands like Trader Joe’s.
Nori Furikake is a seasoning combining sea salt, sugar, sesame seeds and … bonito flakes. The latter is a fish product, so vegans will want to make their own nori furikake.
Crispy nori snacks
Is nori good for you?
Of all the varieties of commercially distributed sea vegetables, it’s hard to beat nori in nutritional value. It’s rich in high-quality protein, at 35 percent, and is rich in vitamin A and K.
High in vitamin C, the B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus, nori also contains enzymes that are believed to aid digestion. It’s also a good source of DHA fatty acids.
Is nori safe to eat?
It has been noted that despite its benefits, nori should only be consumed occasionally, and in moderation. That’s because it contains toxins. Having a sheet of nori or a serving of sushi once in a while may be harmless, but here’s a case where you don’t want to overdo it.
In addition, for those who are allergic to seafood, nori may similarly cause allergic reaction due to where it’s grown. See lots more detailed info on benefits and cautions.
Once again, according to the above-referenced article from KQED:
“Fortunately, the U.S. has strict regulations in place for making sure that the seaweeds we eat don’t contain unsafe levels of toxins. Look for packages stamped with the USDA certification mark or do a little research before you buy to help ensure that your seaweed will do you more good than harm.”
Links to vegan sushi recipes
We’re not going to delve into sushi in the roundup that follows, but vegan sushi recipes are plentiful around the web. You can start here:
More sea vegetable guides on this site
Ideas for using nori
Rice balls: Aside from sushi, nori is use to wrap seasoned rice for rice balls, sometimes using umeboshi.
Wrap up tofu or cucumber: Cut sheets of toasted nori into 2-inch-wide strips with kitchen shears. Use the strips to wrap oblong pieces of tofu or cucumber (cut into pieces 1/2 inch by 1/2 inch by 2 inches). Secure with toothpicks and serve with a dipping sauce as an appetizer or as part of a meal.
As a tasty topping or garnish: Cut toasted nori into bite-sized strips and use to top warm or cold rice bowls, Asian noodle dishes, salads, and simple miso soups.
To impart a subtle seafood flavor: Use a little nori to impart a taste of the sea to make mock tuna, crab-less cakes, vegan lox, and the like.
Recipes using nori
In addition to the recipes that are on this site, thanks to the bloggers who participated in this roundup for permission to link to their nori recipes and share their photos.
Easy Miso Soup: From Happy Kitchen Rocks, this makes a perfect umami-packed savory vegan lunch. Comforting, good for you, and ready in just 15 minutes!
Ten-Minute Miso Noodle Soup: From World of Vegan, you can make your soup the main meal with this 10-minute miso noodle soup! Just add some noodles and vegetables, and of course, nori!
Vegan Clam Chowder: Wow, it’s Veggie?! This vegan clam chowder is so delicious and easy to make with just five ingredients! It is super fast and perfect for meal prep for a quick dinner when you’re in a rush. Nori adds the taste of the sea.
Main dishes & Salads
Simple Nori Rice Bowl with Tofu, Cucumber, & Avocado: Simple nori rice bowls are subtly infused with the tasty sea vegetable. Embellished with crispy tofu, cucumber, and avocado, it’s like veggie sushi deconstructed.
Vegetable Sushi Salad (aka Deconstructed Sushi Bowl: Here’s a fun and economical way to enjoy the flavors of vegetable sushi but not the mess of making it — a tasty sushi salad bowl featuring rice, avocado, carrots, nori, and ginger.
Miso Pasta: From Vegan on Board, a delicious miso pasta that’s creamy and umami-rich. Served with a simple and delicious Japanese inspired nori and sesame seasoning.
Vegan Caesar Salad (with Shaved Brussels Sprouts): From Urban Farmie, an easy vegan Caesar salad featuring toasted chickpeas, with a creamy vegan Caesar dressing that uses Nori to mimic the classic flavors of anchovies. A perfect weeknight salad!
Vegan Tuna: From Loving it Vegan, Here’s a plant-based tuna salad using chickpeas and subtly flavored with nori. It’s totally delicious and tastes remarkably close to the real thing!
Vegan Crab Cakes: From A Virtual Vegan, super tasty vegan crab cakes with great texture and a taste of the sea thanks to the addition of crumbled up nori sheets.
Best Vegan Fish Tacos: If you’re missing fish tacos, No Sweat Vegan’s blackened fish-free version won’t disappoint. The nori and lime juice give the tofu a bright seafood flavor, while the sweetness of the salsa and creaminess of the slaw round out each perfect bite.
Wraps & Bites
Raw Vegan Sushi Wraps: From Dianne’s Vegan Kitchen, a deliciously light meal for warm summer days. Made with nori seaweed sheets and loaded with veggies and an easy-to-make sunflower seed cheese, these offbeat wraps are great for lunch or dinner.
Deep-Fried Nori-Wrapped Tofu: Biting into deep-fried nori wrapped tofu will make you think you are eating a piece of fish, except these are completely vegan-friendly, from V for Veggy.
Nori Spinach Rolls: Another from V for Veggy, okay, this is kind of like sushi, but not exactly. This recipe is for delicious little treats with nori and seaweed. These are perfect for serving as an appetizer or side dish.
Easy Onigiri (Japanese Rice Balls): From Drive Me Hungry, an easy recipe for onigiri — Japanese rice balls made with white rice formed into a triangular shape and wrapped with nori. It’s a popular Japanese snack or lunch.
Snacks & Condiments
This site’s post on Gomasio and Furikake, two traditional Japanese seasonings gives instructions on how to make them easily at home. The latter is based on sea vegetable, and in this case, our top choice is nori.
Easy Nori Seaweed Popcorn: From Rachel Hartley Nutrition, this easy nori seaweed popcorn recipe is a tasty way to sneak in the health benefits of sea vegetables. Just pop popcorn in a skillet with sesame oil, then toss with sea salt, sesame seeds and toasted nori.