I am currently on a pretty strict “healthy foods only” diet to lose the baby weight (about 60 pounds total) that I put on with Tessa. Let me clarify, I see healthy eating as a lifestyle, not a diet. But since I am actively watching the pounds slip off each morning on the scale (only 38 more pounds to go!) I am being really careful about what I put in my body.
My favorite foods to eat at the moment are “superfoods” – foods with low calorie counts and high nutritional value. And right now, nori sheets are one of my daily lunch and dinner staples!
Nori is the black sheet-like food that you see wrapped around rice when you eat sushi. The answer to “What is nori?” is quite literally, “Edible seaweed paper.” C’mon. Think about it. EDIBLE PAPER. How can you NOT be interested?!?!
I, personally, get inappropriately giddy over the idea of eating something that is not normally considered edible.
The History of Nori
Anyway, nori is made from the red algae plant Porphyra yezoensi and Porphyra tenera. Nori farming takes place over 230 square miles of Japanese coastal waters, where 340,000 tons of nori is produced annually – a harvest worth over a billion dollars. (This is especially impressive, given the fact that nori usually costs around 6 cents a sheet in the United States!)
Farmers collect nori by boat, skimming the surface of the ocean where the seaweed grows attached to floating nets. The plants grow rapidly, requiring only 45 days from “seeding” until the first harvest!
Multiple harvests can be taken from a single seeding, typically at about ten day intervals. The processing of the raw product involves shredding and rack drying the seaweed, and then literally putting it through the same steps as wood pulp undergoes for papermaking. The final product is a blackish-green dried sheet approximately 7 × 8 inches.
This is a really amazingly thorough page that details (with lots of photos!) how a nori farming Japanese family makes nori sheets, start to finish.
That’s what I like about the Japanese. Western peeps are all like, “Jolly good! We have created paper and with it, we shall read and write! Good show, good show.” Easterners are all like, “Paper! Yatta! Let’s eat it! GODZILLA!!”
Before it’s mass consumption in paper form, (which was invented in Asakusa, Edo – contemporary Tokyo – in the 1600s), Porphyra seaweed was originally used by forming the plant into a paste. It’s use has been dated back as far as the 8th century, where it was used as a form of taxation in the Taiho Code of 701.
Japanese history is littered with accounts of nori as a diet staple. Common folk have been described as drying nori in the Hitachi Province Fudoki (721–721), and there are accounts of nori being harvested in Izumo Province Fudoki (713–733), showing that nori was used as food from ancient times. In Utsubo Monogatari, written around 987, nori was recognized as a common food.
While nori in paper form has been used since the 1600’s in Japan, it did not come to the United States as a regular grocery till the 1960s. Wikipedia blames this on the influence of the macrobiotic movement of the 60’s – a diet fad that involved a bunch of hippies avoiding the use of highly processed or refined foods and most animal products. Others blame the mass import of nori sheets on the rapid increase of sushi bars in the United States in the 70s. Either way, nori sheets are here in the US now, and they’re (hopefully) here to stay.
Health Benefits of Nori
Seaweed and marine algae have more concentrated nutrition than vegetables grown on land and they have long been considered food sources to prolong life, prevent disease, and impart beauty and health – and nori is considered one of the healthiest plant foods in the sea.
Here are a few of the health benefits of nori:
Nori is protein rich. One of the richest marine floras in protein, protein makes up to 50 percent of the plant’s dry weight. This makes it a popular food for the non-animal nomming bunch.
Nori is rich in fiber. Nori is made up of roughly one-third dietary fiber. One sheet of nori has as much fiber as one cup of raw spinach, which is excellent for digestive regularity.
Tons of Omega-3s. Just one sheet of nori has the same amount of omega-3s as two whole avocados! The omega-3s in nori help promote the production of natural oils on the skin, helping to reduce acne and boost skin moisture from the inside out.
Nori contains magnesium. Magnesium helps reduce the body’s production of inflammatory compounds. The magnesium content of nori helps control inflammation in the body and can help manage the frequency of migraine headaches in some people.
Nori is packed with antioxidants. Nori contains vitamin C, a potent antioxidant and high levels of B12, which is crucial for cognitive function. It also contains the compound taurine, which helps control cholesterol.
An excellent source of bioactive peptides. A 2011 study published in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry reviewed 100 studies on the health benefits of nori and reported that the proteins in seaweed serve as better sources of bioactive peptides than those found in milk products. These reduce blood pressure, and boost heart health.
Nori is rich in folate. The folate in nori plays a significant role in the neural tube development of babies in the first trimester of pregnancy, making this a great food for expectant moms! (Read my article on why sushi is GREAT pregnancy food for preggos.)
Lots of Vitamin K. Dried nori is rich in vitamin K, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Nutrient Database. Vitamin K in your bloodstream helps your blood clot when needed, gives protection against osteoporosis and prevents cell damage by fighting against free radicals created from the breakdown of food.
Nori contain phlorotannins. A study conducted in Pukyong National University in the Republic of Korea explained the health benefits of phlorotannins, a bioactive derivative found in edible seaweed. Phlorotannins has been linked to being an antioxidant, anticancer, antidiabetic, anti-human immunodeficiency virus, antihypertensive, and antiallergic.
Nori is packed with nutrients! Nori also contains high proportions of iodine, vitamins A and B, iron and many other nutrients, minerals and beneficial chemicals. A study conducted at Universidad Complutense In Madrid Spain, did a review of the nutritional and physiological properties of edible seaweeds and concluded that consuming nori can have antimutagenic and anticoagulant effects, strong antitumor activity, and even plays a vital role in the modification of lipid metabolism in our body.