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Kaisou (or sanko) is a mix of sea vegetables (“kelp”, “seaweed”). There are many varieties of sea vegetables on the market, but some of the most well-known are nori, wakame and kombu.
Nori is the most familiar sea vegetable in the U.S. Nori usually comes in sheets that are paper-thin, and is often used to wrap sushi rolls. Nori starts as small, soft, algae spores that attach themselves to netting on the surface of shallow bays. These spores gradually grow into wavy leaves and are harvested. On shore, the nori is washed, chopped, pressed into thin sheets between mats on wooden frames, and left to dry. Like all sea vegetables, nori is high in minerals. It also has the highest vitamin A content of all the sea vegetables, but one of the lowest sodium content.
Wakame is a long, dark green, fern-like sea vegetable that grows on the ocean floor. After it is cut and floats to the surface, it is raked together and brought ashore, where it is washed and hung on ropes to dry. Wakame is high in dietary fiber, calcium, iodine, and alginic acid, among other vitamins and minerals. The alginic acid in wakame is said to bond with heavy metals, make them insoluble, and remove them from the body. (I’ve read somewhere that after the Nagasaki bombing, people who ate a strict diet of brown rice and miso soup with sea vegetables did not suffer from radiation poisoning.) Wakame works as a blood-thinning agent, so people taking anti-coagulating medications should avoid it. Wakame is used mainly in soups and salads. You can find wakame salad on the menu at most Japanese restaurants.
Kombu is a ribbon-like, dark green, leafy plant that grows to around three feet high on the ocean floor in shallow water. After the leaves are cut and brought ashore, they are folded and dried in the sun. Dried kombu is used in simmered dishes and soup stock, although I’ve seen kombu candy sold in Asian food markets. Kombu is high in alginic acid, dietary fiber, iodine, and calcium. It is also high in glutamic acid, the ingredient that researchers found to be kombu’s natural flavor enhancer (from which the synthetic form of monosodium glutamate was developed).
These three sea vegetables have been used in Japan and Korea for centuries to lower cholesterol levels, stabilize blood pressure, cleanse the blood, and treat hypothyroid conditions. Because of their extremely high mineral content, they can be consumed in small quantities, usually as a side dish or as a supplemental ingredient in the main dish.
I stumbled upon this package of kansou salad (the only English I could find on the package was on the “Nutrition Facts” sticker). The ingredients were “dried seaweed, snow fungus, and agar agar”. I grew up eating agar agar in various, often pretty, gelatinous treats. Interestingly, the sticker listed 0% of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium and Iron. It also listed sodium at 20% though…yipes.
That did not stop me from trying to make a very delicious kansou salad. I looked up recipes for wakame salad, but opted to leave out the sugar (1 teaspoon if you wanted to add it.)
First, soak a handful of the dried sea vegetable in a bowl of warm water for about 7 minutes.
Then, shake vigorously in a jar:
3 Tablespoon seasoned rice wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 Tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon white sesame seeds (I toasted them first)
1 teaspoon red chili pepper flakes
After draining the kansou, I removed excess water by patting the seaweed down on a couple of sheets of paper towel. (I also cut them up into smaller strips because the kombu and wakame were pretty big). Then I tossed in the vinegar mixture and mixed it up well. It was a delicious and nutritious treat to make in a very short amount of time!