Spice Up Your Kitchen with Furikake

From ORIGAMI Magazine

Interesting and slightly exotic spice mixes sit on your grocery store shelves (especially your Asian grocery store shelves) waiting for you to discover them. These spice blends, called furikake, are staples of Japanese cooking but still relatively unknown to most of us, even those of us who love to go out for Japanese food. In most cases, you have to cook Japanese food to be familiar with furikake.

Furikake is mostly used to add some pizzazz to white rice, but these flavorful, nutritious, and umami-filled spice mixes have been used recently in salads and on savory baked goods. They add an extra dimension, and the possibilities are just starting to open up as chefs around the world get more used to using them.

Furikake means “to sprinkle over.” There are many different kinds of furikake. Ingredients such as salt, dried fish, seaweed, and bonito flakes are mixed together and turned into a coarse powder.

In Japanese cuisine, the simplest dish is a bowl of white rice with furikake sprinkled over it. Furikake is a staple of the Japanese dinner table, like Tabasco in an American restaurant.

Furikake connects you to suwayari, a flavoring that has been around at least since the 700s. Suwayari was made of dried and salted red snapper, salmon, shark, and other fish. In the oldest Japanese cookbook, Chujiruiki, a suwayari recipe calls for salmon to be “salted and dried and shaved to serve.”

Furikake first appeared in the stores around 1910. It was developed by pharmacist Suekichi Yoshimaru as a way to build calcium intake. Small fish was dried and turned into a powder so that even people who didn’t like fish could stomach it. The powdered fish was mixed with dried seaweed, toasted sesame, poppy seeds, and other ingredients. Yoshimaru called his furikake Gohan no Tomo (Friend of Rice). Gohan no Tomo is still sold in stores today.

Furikake has evolved in the more than 100 years since it was introduced. Today, a typical Japanese grocery store will dedicate a lot of shelf space to all the different kinds.

Author profile

Yasushi Kurita was born in Tokyo. He has spent the last 30 years as a writer for print publications and TV. When he was in college, he spent two years in New York. His favorite band is the Atlanta Rhythm Section, making him one of about 15 Japanese people who actually like that band.