Savory All-Purpose Seasoning

How many of you are familiar with the Japanese seasoning called furikake? From the verb furikakeru, which means to sprinkle something, it refers to a flavorful condiment made up of a variety of different ingredients that is generally eaten sprinkled over hot rice, even though it has many other applications as well! Many furikake combine sweet and salty, crunchy and soft, etc. for exciting taste and texture sensations. There are over 1000 types of furikake produced by major food manufacturers that can be currently found in Japan's supermarkets and groceries, and when we add regional specialty furikake, sold only at local stores, the number of furikake on the market is said to come to approximately 1500 different types.

We could probably say that furikake is in the cupboard of every Japanese household, and it would not be an exaggeration to call it one of Japan's comfort foods. Let's find out more about this seasoning, so incredibly varied in flavor and texture, that adds brings a zing to our meals!

History of Furikake

From the Meiji period (1868-1912) through the early Taisho (1912-26), the population of Japan suddenly increased to approximately double, which led to a drastic food shortage throughout the country resulting in widespread undernourishment. The calcium deficiency was particularly worrisome. Japan was not a "dairy country," and didn't raise cattle or ingest dairy products which might have helped alleviate the deficiency. Furthermore, Japan's soil was acidic, due to the fact that the nation evolved as a volcanic country, and compared to European countries the calcium content of its water and native crops were low to begin with.

In the early Taisho period, approximately one hundred years ago, there was a man named Suekichi Yoshimaru, a pharmacist by occupation, living in Kumamoto prefecture in Kyushu. Concerned especially with the effects children would suffer from calcium deficiency, Yoshimaru came up with the idea to make a meal supplement that was rich in calcium by drying whole fish (bones included) and grinding them into powder. By neutralizing the odor of the fish by mixing the powder with aromatic additions like toasted sesame seeds, poppy seeds and powdered green seaweed, he created a topping that could be sprinkled on top of rice and gave off a savory, appetizing aroma. Children (and adults) who might have objected to eating plain ground dried fish enjoyed the seasoning and were able to replenish some of calcium their bodies so badly needed. This seasoning, dubbed Gohan no Tomo, or "Friend of Rice" has been recognized as the precursor to today's furikake by the Japan Furikake Association. Over 100 years after its inception as Gohan no Tomo, furikake, created by a lone pharmacist who was concerned about the health of his countrymen, is a beloved part of Japanese cuisine, enjoyed by people of all ages.

Varieties of Furikake

While the population of modern day Japan no longer suffers from the type of nutritional deficiency it faced one century ago, furikake is still currently enjoyed by consumers of all ages and its ever-expanding popularity has spread to Southeast Asia, North and South America, and Europe. From among a mind-boggling array of varieties, here we'll list the most typical furikake. Note that the name of the furikake is often the ingredient which is present in the largest percentage among other ingredients.

Bonito flakes
Made from mainly umami-rich bonito flakes and seasoned with mirin (sweetened rice wine), this lightly sweet flaky textured furikake is also flavored with toasted sesame seeds and pieces of seaweed. Perfect when mixed with rice for rice balls!

Nori (sheets of dried seaweed that have been shredded or cut into strips or powdered.)
A bit less sweet than other furikake, this mixture of black seaweed and/or green powdered seaweed with a small amount of toasted sesame seeds is favored by adults. The straightforward seaweed flavorcan be widely used in a variety of dishes.

Nori and egg
This furikake contains eggs that have been dried, made into a crunchy granular form and mixed with plenty of nori. It is enormously popular with children.

Broadly speaking, these are divided into two types. One type consists of shirasu (young herring, anchovies, etc.), or chirimen (young sardines) which are dried whole and used as is. The other type consists of the dried meat (no bones) of salmon, sardines or cod, etc., which is finely ground. Both types mix in toasted sesame seeds and konbu (another type of seaweed), to neutralize any "fishy" aromas that some people might find objectionable. The first type is especially recommended for those who aren't getting enough calcium in their diets.

Fish roe
This furikake is usually made with the roe from fish such as cod, which can be lightly seasoned (mentaiko) or not (tarako). The roe is cooked, then dried and made into granular form which adds a nice crunch. Good for ochazuke (Japanese green tea poured over hot white rice topped with furikake, or other toppings).

Kaiso (seaweed in general, and includes hijiki, wakame and konbu.)
Seaweed is dried, then mixed with nori, and sometimes toasted sesame seeds for a simple and distinct flavor. This type of furikake not only has plenty of calcium, but is rich in minerals and fiber as well.

Vegetables and grains
This furikake may be thought to be more in the "healthy furikake" category as it mostly contains ingredients such as assorted richly hued vegetables known for their high nutrient levels, perilla leaf (shiso), ume, wasabi, grains, and the like.

Other types
Novelty flavors such as sukiyaki, curry, yakiniku, tuna-and-mayo, grilled marinated eel etc., appear year after year in seemingly endless fashion to the delight of many customers.

As a Cooking Ingredient
Furikake is delicious when mixed in with rice for rice balls, tempura batter, omelets or scrambled eggs, okonomiyaki, sautéed dishes, etc. Adding a dollop of butter and a few shakes of tarako furikake to some al dente pasta and giving a quick toss lets you have elegant, tasty pasta when you're pressed for time.

Marukai has all flavors of furikake in packaging that suits your needs. And it's so easy and versatile to use! Instead of salt and pepper, how about using some furikake to bring a new level of deliciousness to your cooking, and watch the smiles light up around your dinner table tonight!