Japanese Seaweed Salad – the restaurant secret, and my quest for the best

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(Seaweed Salad)

The words ‘Seaweed Salad’ usually conjur images of vibrant, neon green, angel-hair threads of seaweed, tangled with a light sesame dressing and served at every Japanese restaurant. I love this salad. I crave this salad. So I set out to make this salad.

I started my journey with a whirlwind trip through Asia. In one afternoon, I visited three different Asian markets. In each, I struggled to climb the language barrier to ask for the seaweed I wanted. The response was always the same – first, they led me to the dried seaweeds. These are the most commonly available seaweeds, like kelp, Wakame, and sheets of Nori. While Wakame can be rehydrated and turned into a salad, it isn’t in the same ballpark as the bright, fresh seaweed I was in search of.

“Seaweed salad,” I told them. Ah! The words sparked familiarity, and I was led to the refrigerated section and handed a small container of pre-made, ready to eat salad.
“Yes,” I said. “This – but I want to make this.” And time after time, each Asian grocer told me it couldn’t be done. One tried to explain they didn’t carry it, didn’t know where I would be able to get it… other’s simply shook their heads and laughed. I couldn’t understand – if they sold the salad, why not the ingredients for it?

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(This is also sometimes called a ‘Chuka’ salad, a term used in Japanese cuisine for foods which came from, or supposedly originated, in China.)

So I went home and did some research. What I learned is, there are a lot of different types of seaweed! With so many varieties, and different names for each depending on who you ask, it’s no wonder there’s so much confusion. The lack of labeling (in English) and sometimes mislabeling, doesn’t help, either. So here’s my understanding:

Wakame – is most commonly sold dried. It is more leafy than stringy, and can be rehydrated in cold water for several minutes, resulting in a tender, deep green, and mildly flavored seaweed. It is often used in soups, such as miso, and salads either on its own or in combination with other vegetables. Note that some Japanese seaweed salads are labeled as ‘Hiyasha Wakame’. It is my understanding that this refers to fresh (not dried) Wakame stems (not leaves).
Ogonori – sometimes called sea moss, is the source of Agar. I noticed in researching seaweed salads that many say they contain agar, which led me to believe that this was the seaweed I was looking for. It is common along the coast of Japan, as well as Hawaii and the Caribbean. It is always served fresh and cold, such as in salads, but since I couldn’t find any I was unable to verify its shape or texture.
Tosaka – tosaka nori comes in three different colors: red (aka-tosaka), green (ao-tosaka), and white (shiro-tosaka). According to one Japanese restaurant, it is also served fresh and cold as a salad. It is said to be sold packed in salt in the freezer section, but once again, I was unable to find any.

Armed with a (slightly) better grasp of what I was looking for, I returned to my quest and visited two more Asian markets. I found several different kinds of fresh seaweed, packed in salt and refrigerated, but none seemed to be what I was looking for.

Then, at last, I found what I needed – what I really, truly was looking for – someone who spoke English! I quickly explained what I wanted, and was told the biggest piece of information I would never have learnt on my own: Seaweed salads are pre-made. They are shipped that way, frozen, to Asian restaurants and grocers from companies in Japan and China. The specific ingredients to make them are not sold separately, at least not around here.

You can imagine, after so much time spent searching, my disappointment. After speaking with the store owner about the different frozen, salt-packed seaweeds they did carry, I decided to try “Salted Seaweed Stems” as the closest alternative.

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(Salted Seaweed Stems)

These are fresh, long tendrils of noodle-like seaweed. They are a bright green color, and taste of the ocean. To prepare, they must be thoroughly rinsed and soaked to remove the salt. After soaking for several hours, I found they were still quite tough to chew – I would recommend soaking in hot or boiling water, to achieve a softer texture.

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These are much thicker, tougher, and chewier than that in traditional seaweed salads. I also found that because the salad wasn’t as thread-like, it held much less of the dressing, making it bland. Not a terrible attempt, but by no means what I had set out to accomplish. In the future, I will probably stick to rehydrated Wakame when the seaweed-at-home cravings hit.

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My biggest disappointment in all of this is learning that the dish I love is not the doing of any of my favorite restaurants, but a supplier (like this one) half-way around the world. But at least I can get them; my favorite part of a bento box, or a side to a plate of sushi. The little tangle of greens I save for the end, the best for last…

If nothing else, I made a lot of discoveries about Asian cuisine, including making some connections at my local markets. I also concocted a pretty amazing dressing for my salad, which I intend to find ways to repurpose, so stay tuned for that!

What’s your favorite way to eat seaweed? Let me know in the comments!

__________
6/21/12
*Update* – after a little more research, I can be relatively certain that the seaweed used is a form of fresh wakame. Japanese seaweed salads are made with Hiyashi Wakame, and are sometimes referred to as Goma Wakame (or, sesame seaweed).
There are many different suppliers of seaweed salads, including some who customize orders for their clients, which explains why different restaurants carry different salads. Some suppliers use food colorings and preservatives, while others do not.
Interestingly, almost all manufacturer’s are based out of China, lending credence to the term ‘Chuka Wakame Salad’, denoting it as a dish originating from China, but incorporating Japanese flavors.

 

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112 Responses to Japanese Seaweed Salad – the restaurant secret, and my quest for the best

  1. Foodie Stuntman June 18, 2012 at 6:04 pm #

    I like that you’re dedicated and persistent. Nice salad!

    • Willow June 18, 2012 at 7:47 pm #

      Thanks! It was a pretty tiresome hunt for information, for sure.

  2. Angie's Recipes June 18, 2012 at 6:45 pm #

    A lovely and crunchy salad!

  3. glutenfreehappytummy.com June 18, 2012 at 8:15 pm #

    that looks delicious! i’ve never really gotten on the ‘seaweed train’ but that salad looks so tasty, i might just be persuaded to try!

    • Willow June 19, 2012 at 12:52 am #

      I definitely recommend trying seaweed salad, but keep in mind the salad in my photos (while close) is not the incredible seaweed salad you have to experience. Try ordering one from a Japanese restaurant sometime, it’s one of my favorites!

      • Jak November 5, 2018 at 2:41 pm #

        In the restaurant seaweed salads, some of it is whole pieces of fresh seaweed, but some of it is most likely agar-agar (gelatin-like derivative of ogonori-aka red algae). That’s probably why it’s more delicate and crispy than the whole pieces that you have here.

  4. MyFudo™ June 19, 2012 at 7:23 am #

    Really exotic! I had a special kind of seaweed salad in a Japanese Resto a few years back. It was a little slimy and weird at first, but tasted really good and opened up my appetite after a few tries. It had tomatoes and a bit of lemon, if I could remember it right. This looks appetizing too!

    • Willow June 19, 2012 at 11:27 am #

      Ooh, that sounds unusual!

  5. Jen @JuanitasCocina June 19, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

    There is an amazing Sushi place in Florida that we love, and my favorite part is always the seaweed salad. I CRAVE it.

    I am so sad to know that it’s just…something that is premade. *sigh*

  6. Grubarazzi June 19, 2012 at 12:57 pm #

    simply gorgeous. I love seaweed salad, but my favorite way is the sushi route. It add a nice bite :)

  7. Matt @ FaveHealthyRecipes June 19, 2012 at 2:42 pm #

    Huh, interesting, I had no idea. I haven’t explored with cooking with seaweed before, but I need to seek it out at my neighborhood Asian grocery store.

    • Willow June 19, 2012 at 4:14 pm #

      There are a lot of kinds out there – I’d love to know what you find out!

  8. Magola June 19, 2012 at 6:08 pm #

    My husband and I have been on the same quest. Exact experience strangely. Store owners have no idea what’s in them or where to purchase them. I’m convinced the alluring green is actually food coloring. The clearish ones are agar agar and you can buy that but the nice green ones-mystery. Maybe some day. Until then $5.49/lb plastic tubs of seaweed salad at the local Asian mart it is.

    • Emily December 7, 2016 at 3:41 pm #

      Magola, from my research, I’ve been disappointed to find out that green color comes from Blue #1 and Yellow #4– must be why everyone is so addicted to it!

  9. Magola June 19, 2012 at 6:09 pm #

    My husband and I have been on the same quest. Exact experience strangely. Store owners have no idea what’s in them or where to purchase them. I’m convinced the alluring green is actually food coloring. The clearish ones are agar agar and you can buy that but the nice green ones-mystery. Maybe some day. Until then $5.49/lb plastic tubs of seaweed salad at the local Asian mart it is.

    • Willow June 19, 2012 at 7:31 pm #

      Nice to know I’m not alone, here! I have a hunch that it is Ogonori, or some fresh variety of Wakame not availale here… and I’ve heard the food coloring theory before, but of all the labels I’ve read I’ve never seen it listed. Definitely a mystery!

  10. Kristy June 19, 2012 at 7:11 pm #

    I admire your persistence and determination! I like that you did a post on something you tried that had an unexpected outcome- your experience is educational for all of us!

    • Willow June 19, 2012 at 7:33 pm #

      I’m glad to see it’s been helpful to others – I was bummed to not have a recipe to share, but by the end I thought ‘well, I’ve certainly got a story to tell!’ :)

  11. Sunday Morning Banana Pancakes June 19, 2012 at 10:41 pm #

    I have never had seaweed salad before – what is wrong with me!

    and can we talk about your crazy journey trying to find the ingredients only to find out the Salad is pre-made…I can just picture you know talking to the little chinese ladies and men trying to explain what you wanted to make- they must have been so confused, knowing that it is a premade salad!

    Love that baord – did you make it yourself? Instructions please!

    • Willow June 20, 2012 at 12:03 am #

      Oh, you should definitely try it sometime! Fairly certain it’s sweetened with sugar, not honey.

      I wish I had made that piece, but I was actually at my mom’s house when I took the pictures and it’s just a bench she has, sitting in a window with plants on it most of the time. I saw it and was like “Bingo! Good lighting, nice backdrop, good to go!”

  12. Anonymous June 20, 2012 at 11:22 pm #

    you have answered so many questions i have had for so long!!! ive also been searching for the right seaweed for a “restaurant” style seaweed salad. disapointed that i cant make it on my own, but glad to finally know!

    • Willow June 21, 2012 at 12:09 am #

      Glad I could help.

  13. Alyssa @ Everyday Maven June 21, 2012 at 5:11 am #

    This is one of my favorite dishes as well and I am often hesitant to eat anywhere except Whole Foods and 2 particular Sushi restaurants who order from one of the few vendors that doesn’t add food coloring and other crap. I love your persistence!

    • Willow June 21, 2012 at 11:05 am #

      That’s good to note! And I wouldn’t have thought to look at WF, but that’s good to know that they carry it.

  14. Unknown June 22, 2012 at 11:51 pm #

    Thanks for the post!! I just had this same conversation with some Chinese and Japanese coworkers and they were convinced I’d be able to find it!

    They couldnt believe that I had been looking for the right seaweed for about 5 years. I’m glad to know I wasnt alone in my endeavor! but I”ll stop looking now, lol

  15. Unknown June 22, 2012 at 11:51 pm #

    Thanks for the post!! I just had this same conversation with some Chinese and Japanese coworkers and they were convinced I’d be able to find it!

    They couldnt believe that I had been looking for the right seaweed for about 5 years. I’m glad to know I wasnt alone in my endeavor! but I”ll stop looking now, lol

    • Willow June 23, 2012 at 2:20 am #

      You’re welcome! It’s crazy that such a seemingly simple ingredient isn’t available, but I’m so glad I was able to solve the mystery. I had done so much looking online, and had no luck finding answers.

  16. Soubriquette June 23, 2012 at 1:09 am #

    I’ve definitely been on the same hunt as you and was equally disappointed to find out there was no way to make this at home. I LOVE seaweed. Ended up buying the salted seaweed stems, as you did and found them way too briny. But the ones I bought definitely weren’t as chewy as you described them.

    Have you tried looking in Korean markets? That’s where I got my seaweed stems. Super salty, but the texture was pretty close to the seaweed salad served in restaurants/pre-made.

    • Willow June 23, 2012 at 2:23 am #

      I did try Korean markets, but none of the ones I went to had anything like this. It was one of the larger asian markets where I found the seaweed stems I did get… and they were very salty, but after soaking and rinsing and soaking and rinsing, that wasn’t a huge problem. The texture was definitely different, though… very chewy/noodley. I’ll have to keep my eye out for other types of seaweed stems.

  17. Kat June 23, 2012 at 3:04 pm #

    I’ve had a few unsuccessful attempts at making the Japanese seaweed salad at home myself. I also love the salad they have at the Japanese restaurant, but after trying a few different types of rehydrated seaweed, gave up. Thank you for dispelling the mystery! I also hadn’t thought to look in the refrigerated section at the Asian markets for the salted seaweed.

    • Willow June 23, 2012 at 5:32 pm #

      Yeah, I started with looking at dried seaweed as well… Very different stuff!

  18. Courtney J June 28, 2012 at 4:29 am #

    These photos are so so so gorgeous. My goodness, you are one talented lady! :) Your composition/styling is always so stunning and so perfect. Teach me!!!

    • Willow June 28, 2012 at 12:49 pm #

      Haha – I’m flattered, Courtney, but I don’t know that I have much wisdom to share… I spend a lot of time fiddling around behind the scenes, and end up with a lot of bad photos as a result. I try to learn from the good ones, and do better next time.

  19. Anonymous December 30, 2012 at 3:44 am #

    Ingredients
    Dressing: Water, Sesame Oil, Vinegar, Rice Cooking Wine, Sea Salt, Soy Sauce, Kombu Extract, Onion Powder. Salad: Wakame, Wakame Stem, Sesame Seed, Kombu, Agar, Red Pepper.

    Directions
    Add water over the seaweed and let it soak for 5 minutes. After 15 minutes, it will triple in volume with softer texture. carefully drain the water. Add the dressing. Mix it well and Enjoy!

  20. thegrumblebee January 16, 2013 at 4:55 am #

    Wow! This is such good info and very helpful! Thank you for taking the time to write this out. I have been curious about making my own seaweed salad for quite some time, because, as I’m sure you know, the pre-packaged ones are: 1) TINY, and 2) EXPENSIVE, considered how little you get. :( I thought making it might be more economical. (a Google Search brought me here, actually…)

    Anyway, now that I know this I won’t exactly concede defeat, but rather go in search of an alternative seaweed salad that is made with sea veggies I have access to! Since I won’t be expecting an exact duplicate of the nice restaurant ones, I won’t be disappointed.

    Thanks again for such a great post. I’m gonna bookmark you… :)

    Cheers,
    Monica.

    • Willow January 16, 2013 at 5:07 am #

      You’re very welcome, Monica! I’m glad you found this post so quickly and easily… I wish this information had been available to me when I was searching! There are plenty of great seaweed salad recipes out there using dried (and re-hydrated) wakame leaves – it makes for a dark, soggy salad in comparison to what’s in the restaurants, but if you’re okay with something different can be quite good in their own right. Hope you find something you like! :)

  21. Anonymous March 12, 2013 at 12:40 am #

    Thanks for your persistence. I was just about to research this myself and you have saved me from wasting my time. I bought several dried seaweeds in search of this but nothing compares. I am currently soaking some arame, which is okay, but won’t really scratch the itch. sigh….

    • Willow March 12, 2013 at 12:43 am #

      Glad I could save you the trouble. Definitely a disappointment, but oh well.

  22. Anonymous March 17, 2013 at 8:31 pm #

    I made the salad with salted seaweed and the taste of the sea was overwhelming. I left it in the salad mixture for a few days and it got better. You are right that the precut seaweed in the frozen section is too thick. I think if I make it again, I’ll try to use the dry leaves but soak it real good for a few days, cut it really fine, cook it in boiling water then soak it in the salad dressing mixture for a few days more. The vinegar in the dressing keeps it from going bad and it will soak up the flavor better too. Maybe discard the original dressing and mix in a new batch before serving.
    Also, I think those clear strips that we find in the store made salad are really agar. I used to see them sold in sticks (1 foot long, 1 inch thick) at Asian market to be used for making agar desert. Don’t see them being sold anymore. If we can find those, soak and shred them, that may work.
    I found the salad sold in 1 pint box at Cosco. Not expensive and enough to satisfy my craving; but I kind of hate giving up thinking the answer might be right under my nose. :)

    Cheers!

    • Willow March 17, 2013 at 9:44 pm #

      You’re definitely on to something – the clear strips in the pre-made salads are a form of agar, but as far as I know it is fresh agar, as opposed to the dried sheets you can buy and use as a vegan replacement to gelatin. I’ve been able to confirm that the seaweed used in the salad is fresh (not dried, frozen, salt-packed or anything else) wakame, which is not available on its own. The dried varieties can definitely make a delicious salad, but I’ve found they don’t have the same brightness and texture of the fresh. If you figure out a way to make it work, though, be sure to let me know! And thanks for the tip about costco – I’ve only ever seen the salad in very small, overpriced boxes… will have to look for that! :)

  23. Stephanie April 12, 2013 at 7:29 pm #

    I also found this post via Google. I just returned from the Asian market and am rather disappointed by the selection. I’m so glad to know that others have had this problem as well. This post provided a little bit of closure for me. Until now, I’ve been running around looking for this stuff and getting more and more frustrated. I guess I’ll just have to be okay with the premade stuff and rehydrated wakame. Thank you so much for writing about this.

    • Willow April 12, 2013 at 10:13 pm #

      You’re welcome! I’m amazed to see how many people have been looking for this information. I wish it were easier to find out than going through all the trouble I did, but I’m glad my experience has been helpful to you!

  24. Anonymous April 24, 2013 at 3:59 pm #

    Same here….

  25. Anonymous April 24, 2013 at 4:16 pm #

    Guys, it is this recipe we are looking for, I guess. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FdJOZaQaCEk
    It uses these long seaweed stems mentioned erlier. They are made soft through cooking. It looks pretty much the same and aside from the used surimi, it has the same ingredients. I will try it in the next days.

    • Willow April 24, 2013 at 8:36 pm #

      That recipe sounds great! It isn’t the thin, stringy seaweed salad I was trying to find, though. Those seaweed stems look just like the ones I bought, but I’m sure they would be much better cooked like that, instead of just soaked (very tough and chewy). Will have to give that recipe a try sometime. Thanks for sharing!

  26. SimplyBarb April 26, 2013 at 12:28 pm #

    The source of this wonderful salad and how to make it has been a question in my mind for years. Thank you for the great article and the comments and responses as well!

    • Willow April 26, 2013 at 9:03 pm #

      You’re welcome! Glad to be helpful. :)

  27. Seriously? April 28, 2013 at 7:38 am #

    The pictures in your post of the Seaweed Salad look exactly like the Seaweed Salad that Costco sells. Naturally Costco sells their Seaweed Salad pre-made, and there is enough in the package to last about 5-7 days as the package notes to eat within 1-week of opening package.
    I have almost forgotten about it until I was researching for natural remedies on “boosting” my Iodine. For a while I was eating the Seaweed Salad regularly until I moved and kind of forgot about the salad. Thank you for the reminder.

  28. Rin July 22, 2013 at 4:57 pm #

    I sort of wish I’d read your article before I made my own seaweed stem salad. It’s not bad, really, but yeah, not as good at the shipped-halfway-around-the-world-goma-wakame stuff (that’s SO expensive). Mine is still too salty though.. I guess I’ll have to eat it in small servings or with rice.

  29. Elyn July 25, 2013 at 2:58 pm #

    This blog post is so helpful. I’ve been searching around as well so it is nice to know that I’m not insane or missing something in my searching. Have you tried any of the dried seaweeds that are packaged as “seaweed salad mix”?

    • Willow Arlen July 25, 2013 at 3:09 pm #

      I have tried dried wakame before, but I don’t think I’ve found anything labeled “seaweed salad mix”, so I don’t know what they’re like. As far as I can tell, dried seaweed salads are perfectly fine, but they’re very different than the bright-green-strands you can find pre-made.

  30. Anonymous August 1, 2013 at 1:01 am #

    Thanks so much for posting this, I was on a quest myself for the same thing and I am glad you saved me the trouble!

  31. Anonymous August 8, 2013 at 1:54 am #

    To me the key is the dressing. It’s finding the right balance of rice vinegar, sesame oil, sugar & a touch of sweet chili sauce that makes the dish delicious to YOUR taste.

  32. Anonymous August 30, 2013 at 1:46 pm #

    Oh! It’s just a Korean home meal! The picture of the wrapping paper is written in Korean. Its pronunciation is the ‘Mi York Jul Gi’. This food is a side dish to eat with rice.

  33. Tom Theeke October 2, 2013 at 3:59 pm #

    Thank you. I was just about to start my hunt for ingredients for the wonderful salad I had at L’Attitude Café in Marquette, Mi. It was served with Beef Negamaki which was excellent, but the salad was the star of the show. Whole Foods hear I come!

  34. Anonymous November 19, 2013 at 4:59 pm #

    I was tired of paying $4 for the side salad at my local grocery store and was trying to find the ingredients to make it myself. I went to a Korean grocery store and bought a pouch of refrigerated noodles. But they are too thick and downright scary looking. I was debating trying a different brand to see if they were cut thinner. But after your experience I will not try to rehydrate the dried seaweed instead. Thanks for the info.

  35. DREAMSSSS January 8, 2014 at 3:32 pm #

    As I wanted to try make my own chuka wakame salad and it seems like from ur blog and others are saying is actually a chinese food so i went to baidu(similar to wikipedia) to search for it. and I found below information which I think is what we are looking for. I have translated the information using google translate. Hope that you find it useful

    http://baike.baidu.com/link?url=5UD1dc2pU2wJbq2BJe7GF8pCBOD8KLTrhSWZy-ZAS4MB2Rs3VVH3w7dKcvu5groJ#5_7

    Wakame stem (stem)

    Wakame is in leaf processing time, use torn rib and stem production of seaweed products. Ribs are generally cut into strips salted products in the marketplace selling, popular with families in general are welcome. In addition, there will be ribs and stems cut into small pieces in a variety of dishes made of the sales in the market.
    These are trafficked in the Japanese market currently wakame commodities. Japan is now an annual domestic consumption of fresh products wakame about 24 tons, of which consumption is the largest boiling salted wakame. However, the recent development of boiled dried seaweed because of its convenience food, and easy to merit preservation welcomed by consumers, consumption is increasing year by year.

  36. Plum Honey, Creep Magnet. February 2, 2014 at 4:25 am #

    I have been on your same quest too! It’s so funny that so many of us have been confused by this. I have so many packets at home of half eaten dried seaweed that I’ve been disappointed by in trying to fulfil this. Yesterday I actually just bought a bulk bag of the pre-made one from the korean/chinese grocers. It’s the stuff for sure and was still pretty pricey but cheaper than buying all of the little containers of it. The store employees were like, “this is $15, you still want?” and we nodded. After ringing us up they gave us some free coconut popcicles so maybe they were impressed with our dedication! After buying that bag of the yummy pre-made, and all of my failed attempts I started to think “it must be pre-made – I bet the japanese buy the very same bulk packs I just got” so I did a search, found your post and feel like I’ve finally figured out this mystery (while sort of – you did, but you confirmed my hunch).
    Thank you so much!

  37. Larry September 19, 2014 at 12:11 am #

    Thankyou for this! I too am kind of a freak for seaweed salad and I’ve failed miserably over the past few years trying to make it my own. I’m a pretty decent home cook and it’s reassuring that I “just wasn’t getting it” in my home attempts were not totally due to incompetence. Guess I’ll have to stuck with my fav sushi places! Thanks again!

  38. Christine October 13, 2014 at 11:18 am #

    If you have an H-mart or other type of Asian grocery store nearby, they sometimes sell the prepackaged seaweed salads in their prepared foods section!

  39. Diverse|Foodie November 2, 2014 at 2:38 pm #

    I too have lost many hours searching high and low for the delicious green stuff and also discovered the same as you. This is pre made frozen salad that is simply defrosted.
    I also discovered that along with sesame seeds they use agar agar strands.

    So where can I buy it frozen? Its difficult as this is mostly sold in bulk but I have found a retailer in that does so for those still looking…

    I found this product http://www.hottlet.be/en/products/other/seaweed/ being sold here.

    http://tinyurl.com/seaweedsalald

    They also sell a smaller pack.

    Very reasonable price too as I used to pay £2.50 for a small pot.

    Enjoy.

  40. Jaime November 2, 2014 at 3:16 pm #

    You answered all my questions. Thank you!

  41. Neil Stansbury February 25, 2015 at 3:48 am #

    I thought you might like to know the results of my investigations…

    You are right it is Kuki or Hiyashi Wakame seaweed stems – not the leaves which are a duller green.

    The florescent green colouring comes from food colouring – namely e102 (Acid Yellow 23) and e133 (Food Blue 2) with citric acid for added zing, and e631 for added umami!

    It is not actually a Japanese dish, but based on Chinese jelly fish salad – hence name ‘Chuka’ wakame you’ll sometimes see.

    This package shot with ingredients gives away the ingredient horrors – you might like to download and keep for posterity: http://i00.i.aliimg.com/photo/v5/493144384/hiyashi_wakame_salad.jpg

    Interesting though this Japanese site claims that just boiling the stems makes them much brighter: http://jo6ayc.jp/How%20to%20cut%20fish%20into%20pieces%20wakame%20no2.html

    • Willow Arlen February 25, 2015 at 11:31 am #

      Thanks for sharing, Neil! That ingredient list is shockingly long. I’ve actually taken to reading the labels (on all the ones I can find written in english), and they range from long lists like that to short ones, and even those containing no food coloring seem rather vibrant. So much mystery over something so (seemingly) simple!

  42. Jenny February 26, 2015 at 1:31 pm #

    Hi All,
    I found a packaged seaweed salad at my local health food store that is exactly like the salads you eat at sushi restaurants. It is sold by a company out of San Diego called Sea Tangle noodle company. It is packed in salt, so you have to rinse it several times. It is just the seaweed mixture so you have to add any other flavorings or seeds. I have not yet tried their kelp noodles but I’m planning on it. Their website is http://www.kelpnoodles.com

  43. Chana July 30, 2015 at 9:36 am #

    i have a friend that works at a sushi restaurant so he ordered for me. A big box for 32 dollars (he did it as a favor because the company only sale this stuff to a restaurant. ) I was so happy until I read the ingredients ,I don’t remember if was food coloring in it ,but I do remember that one of the bad ingredients is glutamate monosodium or MSG and is well known that this particularly ingredient is very bad for your health.
    http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/food-nutrition/facts/the-dangers-of-monosodium-glutamate.htm

  44. Mia November 25, 2015 at 11:16 pm #

    I ran across your blog while searching for recipe of seaweed salad. Actually I already discovered the secret of seaweed salad (that they are pre-made and shipped frozen!) when I was shopping in Asian grocery stores. Still I was searching for recipes thinking maybe I could make it at home. It’s interesting that Japanese call this salad Chuka but as a Chinese who grew up in China, I never had this type of seaweed salad. We did eat seaweed a lot, in soup and salad, but the seasoning and texture was totally different. The first time I had the Japanese kind, I was blown away.

    I did some research on the ingredients as well. There are two things I’m pretty sure about: 1. the seaweed in this Japanese version of salad is called Sea Lettuce. It’s one kind of seaweed but it’s different from the regular seaweed we usually see. In fact, sea lettuce is called Hai Zao in Chinese while seaweed is called Hai Dai. Hai Zao by its name has an implication that it’s much tender and softer than Hai Dai. Hai Zao is written as 海藻 or 干海藻 (dry Hai Zao). Maybe people in grocery stores can help you find it if you show them the characters.

    2. Do you notice the transparent, stringy, and all most plastic looking things in the salad? They are Agar as you mentioned in your blog. They can be purchased from most Chinese grocery store. They literally look like inedible plastic strings sitting. They are called 琼脂 or 大菜丝。

    • Willow Arlen November 26, 2015 at 8:30 am #

      Really great information, Mia, thank you for sharing!

  45. kamal December 23, 2015 at 1:54 am #

    Wakame seaweed is Undaria pinnatifida. Thank you willow and responders for digging into the mystery.

    Cheers

  46. Dave January 4, 2016 at 9:17 pm #

    I’ve been in the same boat for years. I’ve adored seaweed salad since I first had it some 20 years ago, and I’ve since bought every type of seaweed I could find in Asian stores, yet have struggled in vain to find that elusive bright green, crispy one. Now I know why.

    What I don’t understand is why Asian stores don’t stock this seaweed – they tend to stock just about everything else under the sun in base-ingredient form. Since the pre-made salad is shipped frozen, why doesn’t anyone ship frozen wakame stems on their own?

    Anyway, thanks for helping to clear up the mystery. I guess I’ll be on the lookout for premade salads in the frozen section next time I’m at my Asian shop.

    • Willow Arlen January 5, 2016 at 1:31 am #

      I agree, Dave — I wish they sold the seaweed on its own. Glad you found my post helpful, at least!

    • Daiva September 9, 2016 at 6:16 pm #

      MSG is probably a secret to the great taste and addiction to this food. It can make any food taste very good. It is called excitotoxin for that reason.

      • Willow Arlen September 14, 2016 at 2:30 pm #

        It probably is in a lot of seaweed salads, you’re right… but you can find some without. I know some wholefoods sell it without MSG, so good to read the labels. :)

  47. Antonia January 6, 2016 at 5:48 pm #

    Thank you so much for useful information. Now I understand my disappointment. I had “wakame salad” at the local sushi bar. It was light green, very thin pieces, crunchy and very tasty. So, today, I bought dried wakame seaweed. When soaked for couple of mins., it looked nothing like the salad, I used to order. On the packaging or on the web, they say that stems are not edible….Anyway, I will keep my dried wakame and make my own salad versions…these seem to be healthier than the stuff I order.

    PS: Happy new year!

    • Willow Arlen January 7, 2016 at 1:13 am #

      Glad you found the info helpful, Antonia! Happy new year!

  48. M January 19, 2016 at 1:57 am #

    Thank you sooooooo much. I love it too and wanted to do it at home, but unsuccessfully, surprisingly. Thank you for saving me time :)

    • Willow Arlen January 19, 2016 at 11:06 am #

      You’re welcome — glad I could save you from having to find out the hard way!

  49. Sheryl January 28, 2016 at 3:34 pm #

    Hi! I too went through everything you did and this is what I found: a large container of pre made salid so I put it in a strainer and rinsed most of the calories away. Then I added fresh ginger, cilantro, green onions, lime juice, carrots, sesame seeds, rice vinegar and stevia to taste and it came out fantastic!

    • Willow Arlen January 28, 2016 at 4:12 pm #

      Haha, very resourceful of you! Thanks for sharing!

  50. Jessa April 19, 2016 at 1:42 pm #

    I know it’s four years later but wow. I chanced upon this article whilst nervously poking this weird pile of green stuff in my sushi box from the local restaurant. I’ve always chucked them away – I thought they were inedible decoration! After reading this article I very carefully started nibbling it and I’m amazed how nice it is. I’ve been missing out for years.
    Thank you for opening my eyes!

    • Willow Arlen April 19, 2016 at 1:51 pm #

      Haha, I’m glad my article could open up the world of seaweed salad to you! It’s one of my favorite things at any Japanese restaurant! :)

  51. Cheyenne June 13, 2016 at 7:40 pm #

    After shelling out $20 trying to make it myself, I’m sitting here completely disappointed, and NOW I find your article. Go figure. At least you saved me from further trying to look.

    • Willow Arlen June 15, 2016 at 7:39 pm #

      I hear ya — I’m glad I found out (even if I had to find out the hard way) just to save others some of the trouble!

  52. Jeremiah Fiegl June 24, 2016 at 11:25 pm #

    Thanks! This is the answer I was fearful to find (I came home with 2 different brans of wakame tonight). Guess we’re a bit hosed.

    • Willow Arlen June 25, 2016 at 12:43 am #

      Haha! “guess we’re a bit hosed” pretty much sums up my entire article. I’m glad I could save you some searching, but sorry to deliver the bad news!

  53. Maria August 14, 2016 at 11:48 pm #

    Oh my! I am really SD!qd to learn that I can only get the salad pre made. So disappointed cause I was almost salivating at the thought of finally getting everything to make at home every other day… Guess I’ll cross my fingers to see if there’s any chance I can find it here in Mexico. Thanks for your research!

    • Willow Arlen August 18, 2016 at 1:18 pm #

      I hear you — sorry to break the bad news! I hope you have better luck in mexico!

  54. Amber August 20, 2016 at 9:05 am #

    Thanks for your post. I tried seaweed salad recently on a trip and loved it. I’ve come to the internet to find out how to buy/make the noodles. I am super glad I found your blog first. Sigh…. I will go to our Asian market for a pre-made tub! Thanks again!

    • Willow Arlen August 21, 2016 at 8:37 pm #

      You’re welcome, Amber, glad my post was helpful!

    • Jess the Cook October 18, 2016 at 1:49 pm #

      I first had this seaweed salad in Hawaii on my honeymoon (June 2015). I didn’t have it at a restaurant, but at a church potluck. I thought for sure I heard someone say an older Asian woman made it (Japanese?), and I remember it tasting more like soy sauce…in other words, salty Umami. The texture is what I remember liking the most.

      I randomly decided to look it up to make it a few months ago, but I could not for the life of me find any seaweed that looked similar to the one I described. I only searched on Amazon, not in the store. I heard that the stems was what I needed, but I couldn’t find an online supplier.

      Fast forward to today — I ate an Asian restaurant in town and to my delight they had seaweed salad! It was much sweeter, but it was basically the same thing!! I am in a sleepy, southern college town, so I didn’t expect to find it on any menus here. I then decided that I would try to make it at home again, and the Google search led me here.

      I am glad to know the stems weren’t what I was looking for, thank you so much for your research.

      However, even though my memory is fuzzy I just kind of believe that that salad in Hawaii was homemade. Either that or she doctored up the storebought version. It just tasted different, and I remember the green being less bright and artificial. *shrugs*. I want to give up, but I don’t want to give up, lol. I’m a vegetarian who doesn’t like traditional lettuce salad, so finding a “raw” green that suits my taste was like the holy grail. I would literally make this all the time at home if it were possible.

      • Willow Arlen October 20, 2016 at 12:03 pm #

        Hi Jess, thanks for the comment! I wonder if the seaweed is more readily available in Hawaii than in the states. I have seen wonderful seaweed salad recipes using other types of seaweed (like wakame), so if you don’t like standard salads those might be worth a try. They aren’t the same as the kind served in most Asian restaurants, but they can still be tasty!

  55. rochelle August 25, 2016 at 12:31 am #

    you just blew my mind.

    is this in the frozen section of asian stores? neaaaar what?

    • Willow Arlen August 25, 2016 at 3:22 pm #

      Hey Rochelle! It will vary depending on your particular market. Mine generally have seaweed salad in the fresh (prepared foods) section, in little tubs… and I think they also have it in the frozen section, already prepared and ready to thaw. It’s worth looking in both places. :)

  56. Ken Lertzman December 28, 2016 at 10:22 pm #

    Hi Willow – I enjoyed your write-up and sympathized with how hard it was to fine components to make it yourself. I wanted to let you know that I’ve made something very similar (though not identical) to the storebought premade salad from dried wakame (sliced thinly), hijiki (which is sort of thin and hair- or twig-like), and some other local seaweeds I get here in British Columbia. The look is different (not bright green, etc), but the taste and texture is right – and its cheaper and fun to make. When we’re having a sushi-making party (or whatever) I’ll often buy some of the storebought stuff for colour and authenticity and then add my own wakame and hijiki to it to double the volume and stretch it farther. I just make up a sesame oil based dressing for it.

    • Willow Arlen December 30, 2016 at 4:54 pm #

      Thank you, Ken, that’s great information! I’ve never seen the hijiki seaweed you mentioned, but I’ll be keeping my eye out for it.

  57. Jessica Hansen January 23, 2017 at 10:41 pm #

    Thank you for posting about all your findings! This is incredibly helpful. :) I just bought the refrigerated salt-packed seaweed stems thinking the same, that it was the closest I could get to the restaurant seaweed salad and can prepare it in a way to get close. All your information is fantastic to read about! Thank you so much for posting and updating this. Praise to Google for leading me to your website!

    • Willow Arlen January 23, 2017 at 11:05 pm #

      Glad you found my article, Jessica! I’m amazed by the response I’ve gotten hear. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one so desperately trying to recreate this salad!

  58. Michaela February 5, 2017 at 12:00 pm #

    ???I was on the same quest and got the same responses at my Asian market ! I did finally buy the same bag that you did but I don’t think mine are stems they look like leaves. I can’t read the info so hoping. I will give it a try and let you know my discovery.

    • Willow Arlen February 6, 2017 at 3:15 pm #

      Oh man, it sounds like a lot of people have run into the same problem I did! Thanks for sharing, and I hope you have better luck with the seaweed leaves you found.

  59. Cindy April 14, 2017 at 7:46 pm #

    Looking for the same. I love the stuff. Lol

  60. Ray Goldberg June 17, 2017 at 10:09 am #

    Seaweed coming from China is definitely 100% replete with unmentioned ingredients such as preservatives, colourings and low in hygiene. I will never eat Japanese Salad every again. Thanks for great info.

  61. Metu August 31, 2017 at 3:57 am #

    Hi! Thank You very much for this! :) I’m from Finland and love the taste of that Seaweed salad! And also had similar difficulties to find that seaweed anywhere else, than in restaurants. I’ve asked and asked and answer always was: weed/seaweed :D Yesterday I asked again and had the answer: Hai Záo, seaweed. So I found your article. I’ll dry that wakame, dehydrated.

    With this quest, I sometimes felt that I was stupid or crazy, because couldn’t understand the mystery. It’s fun to know that I am not alone :) :) :)

  62. Louise November 9, 2017 at 10:16 pm #

    I haven’t eaten a good Seaweed salad for 10 years. This recipe “looks” very much like what I remember. I’ll have to try it sometime.

    We used to go to a Chinese Restaurant that made a Japanese style salad with jalapeno peppers and it was sooo good. All the Chinese Restaurants we go to since don’t do Seaweed salad. Bummer! BRING BACK THE SEAWEED SALAD!!!

  63. Ian November 19, 2017 at 4:01 pm #

    I am so happy that I found this thread. I was beginning to feel insane trying so many different kinds of seaweed in search of the shredded neon green stuff but only left feeling disappointed when I got home and it wasn’t even close. I can rest easy now and eat the ready-made stuff. However, I really wanted to try recreating it myself.

  64. Tina Isaakidis January 26, 2018 at 12:22 am #

    OMG, I’ve been in the same situation and ended up buying the same frozen pack as in your photo here!
    Please share your dressing recipe!

  65. A February 1, 2018 at 12:53 am #

    It’s years later and people are still finding this thread, including myself. I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with kombu left over from making dashi. I rolled it up and chiffonaded it into very thin strips. So now it looks the part of seaweed in a seaweed salad and has a lovely texture. I hope I can find your dressing recipe on here to try with it.

  66. Cheria April 11, 2018 at 3:14 am #

    Thank you for sharing about your journey!

    I’ve also wondered about the same thing for a long time. I knew for sure it wasn’t fresh because it’d be difficult to go fish for seeweed every time the salad is made.

    It’s easy to know if food colouring is used, they have a greenish sauce.

    I’ve bought dried seeweed that can be rehydrated and eaten at home too, but they’re more suitable as miso soup condiments.

    Your type of dried seeweed seem like it might be good in a stir-fry with shredded carrots and zucchini.

  67. Sheila April 16, 2018 at 1:38 am #

    We first found this salad at the First Nations’ Casino buffet north of Olympia, WA. Been craving it ever since, but that’s too far to go for salad. Found it in small boxes at the Asian market, but a recently opened Chinese buffet has it and they sell to go boxes by the pound. We just put the salad in our box and buying it that way is cheaper than a few ounces for $3 or $4 at the market.

  68. Liam May 29, 2018 at 7:53 pm #

    I’m not sure, but we made Whole Foods Kelp noodels. Made by sea tangle noodle company. And I swear these are the same noodles used in the salad but dyed green.

    Just add some sesame seeds and and dressing and bam! Seaweed salad.

  69. Tammy August 12, 2018 at 12:55 am #

    Costco sells the yummy seaweed salad???
    Do you know the brand?
    Thanks!

  70. Sara August 29, 2018 at 1:20 am #

    I never never comment but I have to thank you for this- I’ll be making my own seaweed salad for the first time and although I got Wakame and just felt it wasn’t what I was looking for. Now I know what’s up and it was hard to find this answer online as well! So thanks again!

    • Willow Arlen September 4, 2018 at 6:46 pm #

      You’re welcome, Sara, glad my article was helpful! I hope the wakame salad turns out well!

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