Old historical document suggests in the 8th century about 30 different kinds of seaweeds were offered as tax to the local government. Nori was considered to be the most valuable of all. Commercial Nori production and farming practices came to its existence during the ‘Edo’ period. It is said the first ruler of Edo period, Ieyasu Tokugawa was so fond of nori that nori farming oomed around the Tokyo area first. Gradually Nori farming practices spread across Japan entirely. By the middle of the Edo period, nori became widely available to common people. During that same time, the street food ‘nori maki’, became a popular food.
Our nori comes from Ise, one of the premiere nori cultivating areas in Japan. Ise has a relatively short history of nori farming (beginning around the mid 19th century). Ise is a special place and is regarded as a holy site for the Japanese indigenous religion called Shinto. In addition, Ise is blessed with fertile rivers that provide beneficial nutrients for nori cultivation. There are many rivers flowing into Ise bay. Among them, the Miya river is considered to be one of the cleanest rivers in Japan.
Nori, like vegetables, has a season. Cultivating Nori involves a double-cropping system. Nori spores are raised to be filament in the ocean during the period, which lasts from spring through late summer. Seeding takes place two times per year. The first seeding is around the mid September and second seeding occurs in January. The seeding operation involves obtaining spores from the filament of a net. Then the net is suspended at the sea surface. Some of nets with nori spores will be frozen for latter use of the second seeding operation.
In setting nets, there are two ways: one is via a ‘floating’ method and the other is called a ‘supporting’ method. With a floating method, the net is set on the ocean’s surface. The merit of this method is the nets can be set anywhere. With a supporting method, the nets attached to bamboo supports in shallow water. At ebb tide, the nets are exposed to the air and get photosynthesized. Nori farmers in Ise employ both methods.
Nori plants grow rapidly, requiring about 4 weeks from "seeding" until the first harvest. Multiple harvests can be taken from a single seeding -typically at about 10 day intervals. The nori plant is very similar to a tea plant that also involves multiple harvests. Typically, the first harvests are the best. In the case of green tea, it has softer and finer quality leaves. Frozen nets with nori spores are set in the ocean well before the first seeding crop becomes scarce. Processing of raw nori is primarily accomplished by highly automated machines that duplicate traditional processing steps. Processing nori with machines vastly improves yield efficiency and consistency.
When speaking about nutrition, in Japan, we call nori “the vegetable of the sea.” This is because it is simply a nutritional warehouse. Nori contains an abundance of vitamins, minerals, fibers, iron, and calcium. Nori is also is a great source for the talked-about nutrient, omega-3 fatty acid (EPA). Omega 3 is said to lower lipid levels, reduce clotting, reduce blood pressure, and helps protect against heart disease, certain cancers, arthritis, mental illness, and other disorders. Another surprising feature of Nori is its function as a first aid medicine. Apply nori before putting a bandage on a cut or wound. The wound will heal faster!
Nori was once used only as an exotic ingredient for sushi. Nori is now finding a lot of fans all over the world. There is no Western equivalent to it. With a touch of both the sea and earth, its crispy and papery texture and flavor will surely bring you beyond the imagination that it’s another food. Discover the magic of nori by simply trying some!