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The first important thing you need to know is that not all konbu are the same. We sell 3 different varieties: Rishiri, Rausu and Ma konbu which are thought of as the top konbu for dashi making. All are very different from one another. Interestingly enough, if you talk with our konbu suppliers they will each tell you that their konbu is the best! That is just one of the reasons why we can confidently say that we have 3 superior konbu offerings! But this is not even half of the story - there is still much to learn. That’s why we’ve started this Konbu Journey with you.
It really does take some time to ‘get to know’ our three varieties of konbu. We all need to taste, experiment and compare. The first step on this Konbu Journey is to taste the simplest preparation of konbu – Konbu Dashi. By soaking konbu in water for 24 hours (cold steeping, really) you can start to see, smell and taste the differences. Konbu Dashi is used often in Japanese cooking. As a vegan alternative to a dashi made with katsuobushi, it provides an umami backbone to dishes.
This week we set up a blind tasting of all three varieties for all of us at The Japanese Pantry plus a few other food professionals from the Bay Area. We created four categories: Aroma, Taste, Texture and Finish. Aroma and Taste are self-explanatory. For Texture we meant how the konbu dashi felt on the tongue. Since the ingredients are just water and konbu, did it feel just like water on the tongue? Finish is the flavor left on your tongue after you swallow the konbu dashi. To present the results, we combined everyone’s tasting notes together.
Uneno’s Rishiri konbu has an aroma of sea water with a touch of sweetness. The taste has light umami with notes of green cucumber, sea water and a hint of bitter at the end. The texture of this konbu is what we all described as creamy and it finishes quickly with a nutty and mellow umami.
Aimono’s Rausu konbu has a briny-ocean aroma and tastes of strong umami and slight vegetal cold sea. The texture is that of half & half or as one taster said, “gravy in good way”. The finish is clean with a lingering taste of sweet seaweed.
Konbu Doi’s Ma konbu has a very light floral ocean aroma. The taste is more umami forward with vegetal and slightly medicinal notes. The texture is that of soft silky heavy cream and the finish was very clean with a light umami sea flavor.
Okay, now that we know that there are different types of konbu and their characteristics, how does this translate to cooking with konbu? This is a tough question to answer simply. Konbu is something I found truly hard to understand until a few years ago when, out of the blue, I discovered my konbu palate. Every time we go to Japan, I learn more and more about konbu. After tasting it used in many different dishes over time, it just clicked. Now, I can understand (or at least I think I can understand) why this konbu is used for that and that konbu is used for this. Keep in mind, I consider this a lifelong journey. Buckle up as we continue this journey …