In the cold seas off Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, a brown algae known as kombu or kelp, grows in a dense underwater forest. Swaying with the rhythm of the sea, individual fronds reach up from the ocean floor sometimes to a height of over thirty feet.
Of the many different grades of kombu gathered from Japan’s oceans, Mitoku’s kombu from Hidaka province is prized above all others. By late summer, the kombu is ready to harvest. Floating on the water in small skiffs, men and women cut the kombu free using razor-sharp knives that are attached to long bamboo poles.
As the kombu floats to the surface it is gathered with wooden rakes and placed in the boats. Once back on land, the kombu is laid out to dry slowly and naturally in the sun. The quality of Mitoku’s Hidaka kombu is evident from its broad flat blade, and its deep, even color when soaked and reconstituted.
The white minerals found on the kombu’s dried surface contain the prized natural glutamic salts that help make kombu a supreme flavoring agent. These minerals should not be washed off. Simply wipe the kombu with a damp cloth before use.