Wakame is one of the major types of edible seaweed. This sea vegetable is widely used in Asian dishes, and is most often served in soups and salads, or as a side dish to seafood. Wild harvested in Australian waters, it is usually farmed in Japan and Korea. Most likely the wakame you'd find at the store comes from one of these two countries.
- Nutrition: good source of fatty acids, minerals
- Origin: Japan, Korea
- Uses: soups, salads, seasoning
- Preparation: use dry or rehydrated
- Buy: international aisle, Asian markets
What Is Wakame?
Wakame is a species of sea vegetable, commonly referred to as seaweed, extensively used in Japanese and other Asian cuisines, especially in soups, salads, and snacks, but also as a seasoning. Wakame is deep green in color; it is occasionally referred to as "sea mustard," likely because it resembles mustard greens when cooked, but not because of its mild flavor, which is unlike the peppery vegetable.
It's available in two forms: dried, which is most common, and salted. The salted variety is sold refrigerated in a sealed package.
Wakame vs. Nori
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, whereas nori is usually toasted before the assemblage of sushi rolls, or onigiri.
Wakame needs to be reconstituted before using it. Simply place the seaweed in a bowl and cover it with warm water for a few minutes. It might expand a bit, so you might not need to use a lot of it. Once hydrated and drained, it's added to salads and soups, or chopped, seasoned, and served as a salad. Famous miso soup is often garnished with diced tofu, minced scallions, and small pieces of green seaweed. That seaweed is wakame.
How to Cook With Wakame
After rehydrating, it's simply a matter of soaking it in iced water for 5 to 6 minutes, then draining it, and squeezing out the excess water. 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, and you'd typically do it if you were using it in a salad as opposed to a soup. Lastly, the dried strips can be ground in a spice grinder and used as a seasoning for salads, soups, fish, or tofu.
What Does It Taste Like?
Like most sea vegetables, wakame has a briny, salty, umami flavor, with a degree of sweetness as well. Because wakame does come from the sea, it will taste of the sea, or at least evoke those kinds of flavors, but without any fishiness. In terms of its texture, rehydrated wakame has a slightly rubbery, slippery texture, almost squeaky when you bite into it. Dried wakame straight from the bag, also a snack option, resembles a slightly chewy potato chip.
Although not common in Western kitchens, wakame is a very versatile ingredient. Use rehydrated wakame in salads, add it to vegetable soups, or serve it as a side dish to meats and rice dressed with sesame oil and soy sauce. Use the dry ground powder, soy sauce, spring onions, honey, and sesame seeds to marinate meats before grilling. Mix rehydrated chopped wakame into pasta salads and dress with tamari and onion salt.
Where to Buy Wakame
Most Asian markets will have wakame, but other supermarkets might have wakame in the international aisle, or in a section devoted to sushi, where the sushi rice, soy sauce, and nori are stocked. Another alternative is to find it online. Wakame is most commonly found in small bags in its dried form, but the dry salt-preserved kind will be in the refrigerated section, most likely in an Asian market rather than the common grocery store.
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 3–4 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 it's best to check the expiration or sell-by date.