Furikake, Japan’s Wonder Spice

What is Furikake?

Japan is well known for its interesting culinary flavors and tastes. The Japanese culinary industry has introduced tastes and flavors that the world has never known before. They have unique seasonings that are not used in any other national cuisines. One of these, and pretty much the most popular, would be the Furikake.

The furikake is a kind of Japanese seasoning which is normally seen sprinkled on top of their dishes. Like a garnish or a spice, the furikake is there to add mouth-watering flavors to the meal or the dish. It is a kind of dry seasoning which is normally seen sprinkled and garnished on top of rice, meat, and even vegetables.

Unlike other kinds of spices and seasonings, the furikake is a mix of different ingredients all combined into one. It is usually made up of very flavorful dried ingredients most of which are local to Japan. But the ingredients that give it its full flavor would be the dried fish, chopped up seaweed or nori, and nothing other than monosodium glutamate. This is a kind of flavor which is typically tested in any normal Japanese meal.

Photo by Jason Lam

The furikake does not only add flavor to the dish, it also adds color and vibrancy to it. The combination of the dried ingredients put together different shades of color from the dark greens of the nori, to the browns of dried fish, and the brilliant whites of sesame seeds. Furikake does not only make food taste good, it can also make food look good as well.

The History of Furikake

What many people don’t know is that the Furikake was only introduced to Japanese cuisine quite recently. According to some accounts, it was developed in the early 1900s just at the time when the 5th basic taste was being discovered – the umami.

What is interesting about this is that the Furikake was not originally intended as a seasoning. It was developed by a pharmacist as a form of supplement for people who are suffering from calcium deficits which were quite common at the time. The original furikake was made from roasted sesame seeds, seaweeds, poppy seeds and fish bones. All of which were combined together to form a powder.

It was post-war when the furikake started to become popular in the country when Nissin foods started to mass produce and manufacture the product to distribute to stores all over the country. Because it was believed that it could give a good source of calcium with an addition of protein, it was considered as healthy food in Japan. At this time, it became phenomenal.

The Concept of the Umami

It was in the early 1900s when a Japanese scientist started to debate the existence of four basic tastes. These are sweetness, sourness, saltiness, and bitterness. There are a number of Japanese scientists who started to question if these are the only tastes that exist. Questions such as meatiness and brothiness started to be raised, do these tastes count as saltiness? Which tastes do they fall under?

This confusion has led to more questions indicating that there are certain tastes that cannot be clearly described or identified under what was then known as the “four basic tastes”. However, their research has led them to one answer – there are more than four basic tastes.

This is when they have discovered that there is a taste known as savouriness, and the Japanese called it Umami. This is the taste that describes the flavor and palatability of food that comes from meat and broth. This is the taste to describe certain seasonings such as soy sauce and more. The main form of origin of this umami taste is from monosodium glutamate (MSG).

The umami taste is a newly accepted and recognized taste and it has revolutionized Japanese cuisines significantly. Based on studies from Japanese scientists, the umami taste comes naturally in certain food such as fermented fish, tomatoes, and more. Since its discovery, the MSG has been an important part of Japanese seasoning. Furikake is one of those that have benefited from the discovery of the umami flavor.

Photo by Yosomono

Different Furikake Recipes: DIY Furikake


Sheets of Nori

¼ cup of sesame seeds (toasted)

½ tsp sea salt

½ tsp MSG (optional)

½ tsp sugar

¼ cup dried bonito flakes or fish flakes (optional)

Step 1: The first thing to do is to toast nori sheets until it is a bit darker in color and crisp. This should then be cut into very small pieces.

Step 2: In a small bowl, mix together half of the sesame seeds, the sugar, MSG (optional) and salt. Using a mortar and pestle, grind the mixture together.

Step 3: All the ground ingredients should be placed in the bowl with the nori and the unground sesame seeds. Mix this together with the bonito flakes or dried fish flakes (optional).

Step 4: Make sure that this is placed in an airtight container to avoid spoilage.

Furikake Shake

For those who do not want to make their own DIY Furikake, there are a number of products which are available in stress which is sold in bottles or in packs. Known as the Furikake shake, this is a popular Japanese seasoning which is made from both black and white sesame seeds. It also has chopped up nori to add a more salty flavor. What is great about this is that it is ready to use seasoning which can be directly sprinkled or shaken on food at every meal.

Where can Furikake be used?

・Furikake Salmon

This dish is not only very healthy and tasty it is also very quick and easy to make. The first thing to do is to season salmon with salt and pepper. Then to put this on a baking pan. Make sure that the baking pan is well greased with oil.  On top of the salmon, add some mayonnaise and a good amount of furikake. Make sure that the top of the salmon has a good slathering of mayonnaise and is completely covered.

This could be baked for about 25 to 30 minutes. A simple and healthy way to serve salmon, this kind of dish is an absolute favorite. It is simple to make and the preparation will not even make anybody sweat. This kind of meal is great for an indoor dinner during the rainy months of June.

・Furikake Rice

Rice toppings – these are believed to be the best use and purpose of the furikake. In Japanese history, it has always been used as a “sprinkle” on top of steamed rice. This can make the bland and plain taste of rice richer with flavor. The seaweeds and fish give off a seafood flavor to the rice, the toasted sesame seeds give a more crunchy texture. A lot of people actually enjoy eating Furikake rice without anything else. Some enjoy it with fried eggs for an additional flavor.

There are actually different flavors available there is salmon flavored furikake which are made from dried flakes of salmon. There is also citrus pepper flavored furikake which has that tangy hint of citrus and peppercorns. There is also vegetable furikake which have dried up bits of delicious vegetables which make the rice extra crunchy. Some also have spring greens or spring onions. Some have chili bits which make the furikake rice very spicy, great for the cold days of October, November, and December.

All these different flavors of furikake is a good addition to a popular Japanese snack called Onigiri. It will add to it interesting flavors and more. Also, the different kinds of furikake give a colorful mix that makes onigiri really cute, photo worthy and eye catching.

・Furikake Chicken

This seasoning is usually made from dried fish. These are bonito flakes, salmon flakes, and much more. However, for those who wish for something of a different flavor, it might be a good idea to make it from dried chicken flakes. It will give off a less salty flavor but still very meaty and a bit salty. This is a good spring time meal during the months of March, April, and May.

On the other hand, furikake is also great with fried chicken. First is to put the chicken in egg and flour, then sprinkle it with a good amount of furikake. Then, this could be a good flavorful alternative to simple salt and pepper. Once the chicken is fried golden brown, it could be dipped slightly and quickly in soy sauce.

・Furikake Fries

This kind of dish is an absolute party favorite, it is more than just the simple French fry that people are familiar with. Instead of just adding salt to newly fried or baked French fries, it might be a good idea to sprinkle it with a good serving of furikake.

This is a good alternative to just plain salt because it will give off more flavors and an added crunch from the sesame seeds. This is also very good with ketchup since the savory taste from the furikake is intensified by dipping it in ketchup. Since ketchup are made with tomatoes which are also rich with glutamate, this is a very savory dish.

Another way to serve this could be through potato wedges. Thicker slices of potatoes which are fried or baked with butter sprinkled on top with furikake is also a great party snack. Baked potato halves which are crispy on the outside but very soft in the middle topped with cheese and furikake is also a great recipe. Lastly, why not go crazy with mashed potatoes garnished with furikake? The milky sweet flavor of the mashed potato will surely be a good mix with the savory taste of furikake.

・Furikake Popcorn

There are typical flavors to popcorn which include cheese, butter, sour cream, and bbq. However, there are a few restaurants in the world that offer up new and interesting flavors of popcorn to deviate from the typical taste. One trending and increasingly popular flavor of popcorn would be furikake. It is a good snack to share with a friend during a summer outing in the months of August and September. It may be an impressive snack for a stay-at-home date during the romantic months of February.

The savory taste of the seasoning gives an interesting twist to the snack. The seaweed is an interesting addition which gives it a semi-salty, seafood taste. The dried fish is also in good combination with the sweetness of the popped corn. This is a healthy and new way to enjoy popcorn. It will give popcorn a special taste even without the addition of salt. It makes eating popcorn a very enjoyable experience.

The Benefits of Furikake Seasoning

Furikake is made of so many ingredients where each has an interesting health benefit. This is especially true since it was originally made as a food supplement for those with calcium deficiencies.

For instance, nori is a good source of vitamins and minerals. Among these is Iodine which is helpful in maintaining a body’s metabolism. It also has vitamin A and B. Sesame seeds, on the other hand, have natural oils which are healthy for the body. It also is a good source of protein and other organic compounds. Furthermore, the addition of fish and ground fish bones provides an ample source of calcium and protein.

The problem with Furikake seasoning is the fact that manufacturing of these products will require the addition of certain preservatives and chemicals to make it spoil much slower. Since these are dried up products, any exposure to moisture can be bad and cause spoilage. For its longer shelf life, manufacturers have added a few preservatives.

Another issue with this is the fact that it has MSG and there is already a multitude of studies showing that too much intake of MSG can be bad for the health and can cause certain diseases. This is why homemade furikake considers MSG as an optional ingredient.  So, it might be a good idea to make sure that the consumption of Furikake is modulated.