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All You Need to Know About Nori Seaweed

Nori seaweed on chopstick
Nori Seaweed, slightly hydrated has a cellophane like texture and a purply, brown hue.

Learn all you need to know about Nori seaweed in this article which shares our perspectives and learnings so far about this incredible sea vegetable.  For many of us, sushi is our first introduction to the wild and wonderful world of edible seaweeds, or sea vegetables, as they are better termed. Well Nori is the key seaweed in sushi, which is how the world has recently become reacquainted with seaweeds, an ancient food source, but one which is only recently being rediscovered in the western world.  Let’s dive into the depths here to learn all about Nori (a.k.a Karengo).

Nori hydrated and dry
When dry Nori will feel slightly crunchy and brittle but once hydrated it expands and has a delicate cellophane like texture.

What is Nori? The Many Names it Goes By!

Nori is actually the Japanese word for a versatile genus of red seaweeds which are scientifically classified as Porphyra. Nori is a delicious, edible and widespread sea vegetable, with a number of different species (over 100), similar in taste, structure and nutritional offerings. While nori is the most popular and universally used name for this type of seaweed, it is also known as karengo by Maori in New Zealand, laver by the Welch, Kim by Korean and zicai by Chinese!

The Different Species of Nori

In New Zealand, the collective name for the various species of porphyra is ‘karengo’ or ‘parengo’. It grows abundantly along our coastlines – to date, NIWA scientists have identified about 35 porphyra seaweed species growing in New Zealand waters. The colour, texture, shape and flavour varies according to the species, for instance karengo’s blades (the equivalent of leaves on land plants) can be pink, purple, gold or green, ranging from huge sheets with the texture of cellophane to long, irregular ribbons. Some forms of karengo are tougher while others are more tender and delicate. What they all have in common is that are just one cell thick, making them unique among other kinds of seaweeds or sea vegetables.

Dried wild karengo has a brownish-purple colour, its texture is soft to the touch and it offers a variety of flavours depending on moisture levels.

Where Does Karengo Grow in New Zealand?

Karengo grows in the intertidal area of the New Zealand seashore, typically anchored to rocks. At low tide, the sea vegetable is exposed to the elements for hours every day, then submerged at high tide. For much of the year, karengo cannot be spotted easily, as it can just look like a speck on the rocks, whereas at maturity and from a distance, it can resemble a torn black plastic bag melted onto the rock. Like land vegetable, the main growing season for the karengo sea vegetable is spring.

Can I Buy New Zealand Karengo?

Karengo is considered taonga (a gift) by Māori. While it can be gathered from the wild for personal use, only one licence has been granted for commercial harvesting, by hand of a fixed amount, of this precious sea vegetable. This occurs between July and September along a defined stretch of coast in the South Island.

However, due to the Kaikoura earthquake in 2016, harvesting has been paused to give the seabed time to recover. While we are not able to offer a commercially harvested local karengo, we have searched high and low for two similar alternative options, most closely matched to our local karengo.  We offer a sustainably farmed nori from Korea or an ethically harvested wild nori from South America (the same species that grows locally here in New Zealand). Both are tested for contaminates according to strict New Zealand food industry standards.  

Pacific Harvest offers only the raw dried fronds – 100% seaweed with no processing, processing which can compromise nutritional quality.

How is Nori Farmed and Harvested?

Throughout Asia, virtually all nori commercially farmed in large scale seaweed farms, then processed into sheets or wraps. This industry is long-established thriving. The dedicated growth and farming process involves spores being bred and multiplied in laboratory pools where temperature and light are optimised to provide the right growing conditions. Nets are then seeded with the spores and suspended in clean ocean water. As the spores are nourished by nutrients in the water along with sunlight, they grow into increasingly large strands of seaweed. In this ‘pole system’, nori nets are hung between poles. At low tides, the nets are exposed to air and become dry, so floating net techniques are implemented to enable nori to be cultivated in deeper areas of the sea.

Nori farm in asia
An example of a Nori Farm in Asia

After rearing in the open sea for 40 or 50 days, depending on the species, the first harvesting phase begins. Harvesting can last up to 5 months with harvesting intervals every 10-15 days and 10-12 harvests annually. Nori strands are cut from the net and then washed and ground into a slurry which is fed through a machine that flattens and dries the seaweed into uniform sheets, much like the process of making paper, before the sheets are roasted and graded for quality.

Processed sushi sheet
Processed seaweed sheet – more fat than seaweed in some cases!

Most nori snacks are made through this process, and are also glazed, giving them their shiny surface and salty taste (if you look closely in some of these popular seaweed snacks which have been highly processed, there is actually very little seaweed and quite a lot of fat (we have seen up to 52%)!  Read on to learn about the ways you can add nori to your life without the need for processed seaweeds which are, in some cases, more fat than actual seaweed!

The Amazing Nutritional Benefits of Nori

The nutritional profile nori, karengo and other red seaweeds includes relatively high concentrations of protein (nearly 30% protein), calcium, iron, fibre, potassium, magnesium, phosphorous, iodine and vitamins A, B1, B2, C, D and E, as well as taurine (which helps to lower blood cholesterol)*. This sea vegetable has no fat and is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, plus it offers natural anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, antifungal, antiviral & antiparasitic effects. Read more about the amazing health benefits of nori here.

How to use Nori In Cooking

Pacific Harvest offers Nori Flakes and fronds for convenience.  Select whether you prefer wild harvested (tend to have a slightly stronger flavour but less consistency) or farmed (more consistent with a milder flavour) fronds.

Simply sprinkle the flakes into what you are eating as a garnish or seasoning or chop the fronds to desired size. Nori fronds make a delicious, raw snack, but it is arguably the most versatile seaweed as it’s flavour and texture can evolve depending on how you choose to prepare it. When eaten dry, nori can taste similar to mushrooms. When moist or wet, the flavour evolves to being more akin to mil anchovy, and when baked, it can assume a nutty flavour. Given nori’s cellophane-thin composition, it doesn’t need to be rehydrated as it easily soaks up any liquid from its surrounding ingredients when used in cooking.

  • Chop fronds into a Mediterranean inspired sauce as a wholesome vegetarian alternative to anchovies
  • Sprinkle flakes as a delicate vegetarian garnish on egg dishes, seafood, rice, vegetables
  • Eat it raw as a moreish healthy snack or roast gently with nuts and seeds as a healthy savoury snack
  • Add as a colourful herb or seasoning into vegetable bakes, salads, pestos, meat, sauces, smoothies and dressings.

Get started today with this incredible seaweed!

*Note: the nutritional composition of seaweeds can vary depending on a number of factors including species, seasonality, harvesting and processing processes.

Disclaimer: This material is provided for educational purposes only and IS NOT intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This information is generic and should be verified by a qualified health practitioner for specific & individual needs & requirements.

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