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Characteristics of Different Kombu Seaweed and Its History

Species of Kombu and their Harvest Area

Kombu can be found in Japan, Russia, China, Tasmanian Islands, Australia, South Africa, the Scandinavian Peninsula, and Canada.

Most of Japan's kombu is harvested in Hokkaido, accounting for around 90% of all production. The sea ice that drifts over to Hokkaido from Siberia is rich in minerals and provides an environment that produces delicious kombu. The equipment in Japan used to sun dried kombu seaweed is sanitary, and the kombu is well-managed, thus making Japanese kombu especially popular around the world.


The most popular, high quality kombu kelp. Possessing thick, wide leaves, this kombu kelp is most highly rated. It has a refined sweetness, and produces clear broth. 
[ Shape ]
The leaves of ma-kombu are a light brown, 3-26ft long and 5-12in wide-wider than other kombu kelp. The lower parts are wide and wedge-shaped near the stem. It is divided into sirokuchi-motozoroi and kurokuchi-motozoroi, with the cut edges of the former white and the latter yellow. 
[ Usage]
Ma-Kombu is used to make high-quality broth, but is also good for making shio-kombu, oboro-kombu (dried shredded kombu kelp), or tororo-kombu.


Rishiri Kombu
Rishiri-Kombu is sweet, saltier, and harder than ma-kombu. Its Dashi is rich, savory, and clear.
[ Shape ]
Rishiri-Kombu is thinner than ma-kombu and is thinly wedge-shaped near the stem. The leaves are dark brown and hard.
[ Usage ]
Rishiri-Kombu is mainly used to make broth and is especially popular in tea-ceremony dishes in Kyoto. The hard leaves prevent it from discoloration or deterioration when shaved, making it a perfect ingredient for premium tororo-kombu.


Rausu Kombu
Rausu-Kombu is fragrant and soft, producing rich broth. The broth is characteristically kombu-colored.  
[ Shape ]
Rausu-Kombu's leaves are wide at 8-12in and 5-10ft long, sometimes growing even longer. It is divided by color into kurokuchi (black) and akakuchi (dark red). 
[ Usage ]
Rausu-Kombu is mainly used to make broth. It is also processed into kobu-cha (kombu tea) and su-kombu (pickled kombu kelp).


Hidaka Kombu
Hidaka-Kombu is good for both making broth and eating. It is soft and easy to boil. It is also known as mitsuishi-kombu.
[ Shape ]
Hidaka-Kombu is 7-23ft long and thinner than other kombu kelp at 2-6in. The edges are not ruffled. The color is a blackish dark green.
[ Usage ]
Hidaka-Kombu is easy to boil and also tastes excellent. It is used in many prepared dishes such as ni-kombu, kombu-maki, or Dashi-kombu.


Hosome Kombu
A type of kombu kelp harvested in its first year. It has white edges, thin (hosome) leaves and a slippery texture. It is normally harvested in the summer of its first year, before it washes away.
[ Shape ]
The leaves of hosome-kombu are black,1-5ft long and 2-6in wide. Its cut edges are the whitest among all kombu kelp varieties.
[ Usage ]
Because of its slippery texture, hosome-kombu is used to make tororo-kombu rather than soup broth. It is also used to make shio-kombu or tsukudani-kombu.


Naga Kombu
Naga-Kombu is a long kombu kelp that is most commonly produced. It is best suited for nimono.
[ Shape ]
The leaves are 2-7in wide and sometimes grows to over 48-66ft in length. The leaves are a grayish black.
[ Usage ]
Naga-Kombu is processed into tsukudani-kombu, oden-kombu (a type of nimono), ni-kombu (boiled kombu kelp), or kombu-maki.
Saomae-Kombu is a rare type of kombu kelp, found in areas where naga-kombu grows. It is harvested earlier than naga-kombu, from early May until mid-July. It is extremely soft, cooks quickly, and has good flavor. Harvested in small amounts, saomae-kombu is quite rare.

History of Kombu and the Kombu Road

Kombu seaweed from Hokkaido has long been distributed around the country as an important commercial commodity.

Kombu seaweed harvested in Hokkaido was transported by ship in earlier times, moving westward along the Japanese Sea coast to Osaka, which has been a commercial center since those days. For this reason, kombu seaweed wholesalers and processors are mainly found in or around Osaka. The route that kombu took from Hokkaido to its destination is called the Kombu Road. It extended as far as China via Okinawa.

Kombu Road Map Tap to enlarge "Kombu Road Map"
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