Seaweed is an ingredient that many westerners are typically less familiar with, both in terms of eating as well as cooking it. Wakame, one of the major types of edible seaweed, is no exception. Let's take a look at what wakame is and how it's used.
What is Wakame?
Wakame is a species of sea vegetable, commonly referred to as seaweed, that is used extensively in Japanese and other Asian cuisines, especially in soups, salads, as a snack and as a seasoning. It's occasionally referred to as "sea mustard," most likely because it resembles mustard greens, not because it has a spicy flavor.
Wakame is deep green in color and with a distinctive, salty, sweet, umami flavor. It's available in two forms, dried, which is most common, and salted. The salted variety is sold in a sealed package and kept refrigerated.
Wakame is different from nori, which is the type of dried seaweed used in making sushi. Nori comes in flat, dried sheets, whereas dried wakame usually comes in the form of strips that are somewhat shriveled up, a little bit like raisins from the sea. Dried wakame needs to be soaked before using it.
How to Use Wakame
Like the nori used to make sushi, most westerners are also likely to encounter wakame at their local sushi or Japanese restaurant. If you've ever ordered a bowl of miso soup, it's often garnished with diced tofu, minced scallions and small pieces of green seaweed. That seaweed is wakame.
Since wakame is most commonly sold in dried strips, the first step in using it is to rehydrate it. One reason for this is that it's much easier to cut it after it's been rehydrated, as the dried stuff will be hard and brittle.
Rehydrating is simply a matter of soaking it in cold water for 5 to 6 minutes, then draining it and squeezing out the excess water. Then goa ahead and cut the wakame into smaller pieces for use in your recipe. (Most likely the recipe you're using will indicate exactly how this is to be done.)
Another technique is to blanch the wakame, which involves briefly immersing the dried wakame in boiling water, then draining it and rinsing it with cold water before squeezing it dry. Blanching brings out the bright green color of the wakame. You'd typically blanch it if you were using it in a salad as opposed to a soup, but again, follow your recipe.
Another way to use wakame is to grind the dried strips in a spice grinder and then use the resulting powder as a seasoning.
What Does It Taste Like?
Like most sea vegetables, wakame has a briny, salty, umami flavor, and wakame brings a degree of sweetness as well. If you're thinking that it might have a fishy flavor, it doesn't. But it does come from the sea, and so it will taste of the sea, or at least evoke those kinds of associations. So in the sense that both seaweed and seafood come from the same place, there is a similarity. But wakame does not specifically taste like fish.
In terms of its texture, wakame has a slightly rubbery, slippery texture which is almost squeaky when you bite into it. Note that this refers to wakame in its rehydrated state. If you were to eat the dried wakame straight from the bag (and some people absolutely do this), its texture would resemble a slightly chewy potato chip—closer to potato chip than, say, jerky.
Where to Buy Wakame
You can buy wakame at any decent-sized Asian market, and sometimes in the Asian food aisle of regular supermarkets. You can also find it online. It most commonly comes in small bags in its dried form, but if you want to dry the salt-preserved kind, try the Asian market—it'll be in the refrigerated section.
Dried wakame can be kept sealed in the bag it came in, in a cool, dry, dark place, for up to a year. Once you've rehydrated it, it should be kept refrigerated, where it will last for 3 to 4 days. You can also store rehydrated wakame in the freezer, where it will keep for a year.
Salted (refrigerated) wakame should be kept in the fridge, where it will stay fresh for several weeks (but check the instructions on the package to be sure).