What is this strange green stuff?
Why, it’s kombu! In brief, kombu is a mineral-rich seaweed in the kelp family that adds an umami or savory flavor to stocks and broths. But there’s SO much more to tell.
Kombu is richly rewarding in both culinary and nutritional ways.
Nutritionally, kombu has detoxifying, and immune supportive properties. It plays a role in detoxing heavy metals and chemicals such as fluoride and chlorine, and in disease prevention. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods, by my colleague Joe Pizzorno and co-authors Lara Pizzorno and Michael Murray, describes kombu’s nutritional highlights splendidly — and they are astounding.
Sea vegetables offer the broadest range of minerals of any food, containing virtually all the minerals found in the ocean — the same minerals that are found in human blood. Sea vegetables are an excellent source of calcium, iodine...and sodium, a very good source of folic acid and magnesium, and a good source of iron, potassium, riboflavin, and pantothenic acid. In addition, sea vegetables contain good amounts of lignans, plant compounds with cancer-protective properties, and fucans, which can reduce the body’s inflammatory response…
A rich iodine source, sea vegetables can play a role in supporting thyroid function, as iodine is a needed precursor to make thyroid hormones. These sea plants may also help prevent cancer via inhibiting the growth of vessels that feed tumor cells and via their lignans, which can block the hormonal signaling of estrogen-dependent cancers.
Utterly fascinating! And a very handy treasure from the sea.
The 5th flavor: umami
Are you aware that instead of the traditional 4 flavors (sweet, sour, salty and bitter), there is a 5th? A slightly mysterious flavor known as “umami,” a Japanese word translated as “pleasant savory taste.”
As the taste of umami itself is subtle and blends well with other tastes to expand and round out flavors, most people don't recognize umami when they encounter it, but it plays an important role making food taste delicious. — Umami Information Center
Umami-flavored foods were intentionally employed by cooks in ancient Roman, Byzantine, Arab and Chinese cultures, and by legendary chef Auguste Escoffier in his restaurants in Paris and London in the late 1800’s.
Umami was first identified scientifically and proposed as a the 5th basic taste by Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda, a professor at Tokyo Imperial University, in 1908. He found that the savory flavor is imparted by glutamate, a type of amino acid, and ribonucleotides including inosinate and guanylate, which occur naturally in many foods. Professor Ikeda noticed that glutamate was responsible for the palatability of broths made from kombu; and that the taste was distinct from sweet, sour, bitter and salty. He named it umami.
In addition to kombu and other varieties of sea vegetables, examples of umami rich foods include bonito, cod, squid, oysters, tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beef, pork, chicken, parmesan cheese, green tea, soy sauce, eggs and oyster sauce. Perhaps you are getting a feeling for the somewhat mysterious savory flavor that is umami?
If you are especially taken with taste, you might enjoy this chart showing various factors that influence the way we humans experience flavor.
From the Umami Information Center website
The magic in Magic Mineral Broth
My single MOST famous recipe is Magic Mineral Broth, which has both remarkable healing powers and deeply appealing flavor. People who have tried it often ask, So, what IS the magic in Magic Mineral Broth? Though it’s truly a synthesis of flavors and healthy ingredients, my one word answer would be “kombu.” I tend to think kombu makes the difference, with its extraordinary range of minerals and it’s round, smooth, savory flavor. It enhances the flavor of all the vegetables in the broth, just like sea salt does.
My neighbors and I have made it a habit for years to have batches in the freezer, so if anyone becomes ill, we can rush over with a comforting, healing jar full. And I’ve heard from SO many people who do the same, for themselves, friends, family and neighbors. It’s incredibly special to be able to offer help when help is needed :)
Read my blog post, You, too, can be a healer: Magic Mineral Broth for stories and history. And if you haven’t tried it, do!
A note about sourcing & storing kombu
Kombu is usually found in the Asian section of grocery stores near the nori (seaweed sheets) that are used for sushi. You can also order it here. The brand I use and recommend is Maine Sea Coast Vegetable’s Kelp “Wild Atlantic Kombu.” It’s sustainably harvested, certified organic, and their testing and purity is the best. Read more about it here.
It’s best to store dried Kombu in a cool dark area in your pantry.