Wakame (若布, Undaria pinnatifida) is a type of seaweed used in Japanese and Korean food, primarily in salads and soups. While technically a brown algae, wakame looks like a vibrant, spinach-y dark green thin flat sheet. The canonical bowl of miso soup has a few tiny cubes of tofu and a slice or two of wakame on the bottom; the canonical bowl of clear soup has the same ingredients without the miso. Wakame is high in vitamins and minerals (esp. calcium), has virtually no calories and virtually no taste.

Wakame is commonly available in two forms: heavily salted nama wakame (lit. raw wakame) and dried hoshi wakame. (Unsalted, "really" fresh wakame is a delicacy usually only available in the spring in Japan.) Nama wakame must be washed several times to get rid of the salt; dried wakame should be soaked in tepid water for about 20 minutes to rehydrate it. Any ribs and tough stems should be removed at this point. When used in soups, wakame should only be simmered for a minute or so, or it will lose most of its nutrients and degenerate into a slimy mess.

Wakame has a close cousin called alaria (Alaria esculenta), found in the Atlantic Sea. Alaria and wakame can be used more or less interchangably, although alaria requires a longer cooking time. Also note that wakame should not be confused with kelp (Jp. kombu), which looks similar when dried but tastes, acts and is used completely differently.

A tip from sneff: take a look under jellyfish for an unusual recipe featuring wakame.

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