If you have never encountered Furikake before, the easiest way to think of them is as ‘Japanese Savory Sprinkles.’ Essentially, the name refers to a wide range of seasonings that can be sprinkled on to food, not just as an attractive garnish, but to pack an additional flavor punch. The labels on the two jars pictured above both identify the contents as ‘Rice Seasoning’ but, though the condiment is especially favored for enhancing the taste of bland items, like rice, or noodles, Furikake sprinkles are often used on cooked vegetables, and, increasingly more commonly, on fish and fried snacks.
Apparently, the forerunner of today’s Furikake arose about a century ago as a combination of ground fish bones, roast sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and seaweed that was intended to be a dietary supplement during a period of widespread calcium deficiency. Modern blends commonly include seaweed, sesame seeds, and some sort of dried fish or shell-fish product, but the number of additions, and the possible permutations in both commercial and home-made varieties, is just about endless. Today, will take a closer look at two fairly straightforward mixtures…
The two representative Furikake types I have chosen here are ‘Ebi’, or ‘Shrimp’ based, and one flavored primarily with ‘Katsuo’, which readers of my blog will recognize as the dried, smoked Bonito product widely used in Japanese cuisine. By the way, while Furikake is definitely of Japanese origin, and my two sample varieties both have Japanese script on the label, the products are actually made in China.
This is the Ebi, or shrimp, type in close-up. The ingredients list on the label indicates that the mix is composed of sesame seed, shrimp, potato starch, seaweed, sugar and dried yolk powder. The seaweed component, as you may be able to tell, is dried Nori, the same product used for wrapping sushi, and the egg yolk is clearly visible as little fragments of yellow.
On opening the jar, there is, somewhat surprisingly, not much in the way of an aroma. The taste is dominated by the slightly toasty flavor of the nori, while the shrimp is only apparent as a vague shellfish note in the background. There is clearly quite a bit of sugar added as the overall effect is very sweet and I have to say that I found this spoiled the product for me a little. One aspect I did like was the very crispy texture of the shrimp (which are visible as the pinkish fragments). Clearly, this component is not merely crushed dried shrimp, which would be chewy rather than crispy. Some sort of culinary process, freeze-drying, perhaps, has been employed.
The Katsuo (Bonito) variety, is, in contrast, has a very strong aroma dominated by the smoky-marine notes of the shaved Bonito, which is the main ingredient along with sesame seed, sugar, salt, soy sauce and seaweed (the latter, again, being Nori). The bonito also comes through strongly in the taste but, here, it manages to share the spotlight with the sesame and nori. Again, this Furikake is quite sweet but not nearly so much as the Ebi sort. I think it the better of the two.
Above is a picture of the Ebi Furikake being employed in its primary use as a topping for plain rice (I’ve used short-grained brown rice here).
Here are two small rice balls each coated with one of the two Furikake selections. Furikake often gets sprinkled on the cold rice ‘ball’ preparation known as Onigiri. These balls are not quite the same thing but you can see that make a pretty attractive little snack (and are nice and tasty in the bargain).
Anyway, as you can probably imagine, it would be very simple to make something very similar to the above illustrated Furikake in your own kitchen. The permutations, of course, are just about endless and allow great scope for invention. I will be experimenting in my own kitchen in due course and will, of course, post any interesting results…