Hijiki: It has been said that the thick, black, lustrous hair of the Japanese is partly due to their regular diet of hijiki, a brown sea algae. Indeed, this black cylindrical sea vegetable resembles hair as it grows on the ocean floor. Research has shown that minerals are important to healthy hair growth, and hijiki has an incredible 34 grams of minerals per every 100 grams.
In fact, there is more calcium in hijiki than that contained in an equal weight of cow’s milk. So, there is probably some truth to this Japanese old wive’s tale. Boshu hijiki, which is harvested along the Boshu peninsula on the east coast of Japan’s main island, is Japan’s premium hijiki. The mild climate of Boshu is ideal for this sea vegetable, which flourishes along the rocky tideline.
Once fishermen, Mitoku’s supplier, the Nishikawa family, now specializes in the gathering and preparation of Boshu whole wild hijiki according to traditional methods. This vegetable from the sea is harvested in the early spring, just as it reaches its peak of flavor. When the lowest tides expose the shallows, the hijiki is cut and brought into the Nishikawa shop. After it is washed, the entire plant is steamed for nine hours in its own juices. At this point, the plant has softened considerably, and its color has changed from light brown to black. Left overnight to cool, it is then thoroughly air-dried before being packaged.
The traditional process used by the Nishikawas differs from the methods that are typically used to prepare commercial hijiki. In the commercial process, hijiki is boiled in water for long periods, resulting in mineral loss. Furthermore, during the drying process, many of the tiny seed-like hijiki buds get detached from their stems, and collect like a harvest of black grain at the bottom of the drying tank. Whereas many producers sell these separately, the Nishikawas mix the nutritious buds back in together with the stems, believing that it is important to be able to consume the entire plant, not just one part of it. Mitoku’s Boshu hijiki is carefully selected and contains both stems and buds of the plant; because of this, it is known as whole hijiki.
It is also common for commercial hijiki harvesters to damage plants, leaving behind important structures that are high in nutrients. Mitoku’s Boshu whole wild hijiki is carefully selected and contains both stems and buds of the plant; because of this, it is known as whole hijiki.