Japanese nori is a sea vegetable that has been dried and pressed into thin sheets. Versatile and easy to prepare, nori is rich in protein and in vitamins A, B, and C; it is also abundant in a wide range of nutrients, most notably calcium and iron. Presently, the Japanese consume almost 9 billion sheets of nori per year. Nori is also quickly gaining worldwide popularity, due partly to the proliferation of successful sushi bars that offer various combinations of rice and vegetables or fish wrapped in nori.
Along the northeast coast of Japan, in the Sendai region, are the pine-covered islands of scenic Matsushima. This pure, cold-water coastline is a seemingly endless series of quiet coves and sheltered shallows – the perfect place to grow nori seaweed.
Although originally gathered wild, nori has been cultivated by the Japanese for over 300 years. Nets made of woven rope are suspended between long bamboo poles that are set deep into the gentle bays. During the cold months of winter, the nori slowly grows until it covers the entire net. The nets are positioned so they remain above the water level during low tide in order for the growing nori to get maximum sunlight, yet receive a regular washing below the water level during high tide. In January and February, this fragile, green seaweed is gathered from the water by hand and brought ashore. There the nori is washed, first in sea water, then in fresh water; it is finally placed in bamboo frames to dry slowly and carefully, a process much like the making of fine paper.
Like many foods in Japan, nori is available in numerous grades. Mitoku’s Sendai Select has been chosen from the top 1 percent of all Japanese nori. Its fine, even texture and translucent, deep-green color are indications of its high quality. Lesser grades of nori are a dull, purplish-black and lack Sendai nori’s vibrant luster. When nori quality is important, such as when making fine sushi, Sendai nori is often the choice.