The Story of Seaweeds Produced in the Ariake Sea
Nori (seaweed) is a familiar and indispensable ingredient in Japanese food such as onigiri (rice balls) and sushi. In the Edo period (1603-1868), seaweed was eaten as we know it today, so there is no doubt that it is a familiar traditional food. Seaweeds grows in the calm bays on the Pacific Ocean side from Tohoku to Kyushu. The Ariake Sea, which spreads Saga, Fukuoka, and Kumamoto prefectures, is particularly famous for its delicious seaweed.
How Seaweeds are made
The process of seaweed production begins with the creation of seeds. The seeds are then sprouted in nets and grown in the sea to be harvested. This sounds simple enough, but the technology for seaweed cultivation was not stabilized until after World War II. Nowadays, the fishermen's associations have their own cultivation facilities that specializes in producing seaweed seeds, which are sold to the producers.
Cultivation site for hundreds of thousands of seeds
At the end of the fishing season in March, spores are released from the lavers. When these spores burrow into calcareous materials such as shell, they form thread-like algae called "filamentous bodies". In the fall, when the sea temperature drops, these spores on the shells reattach to the nets and sprout.
Creating Seeds for Delicious Seaweeds
The seed production period is from around March until the end of September. Oyster shells are used as calcareous material to grow the spores. After the laver spores are attached to oyster shells, they are placed in a pool of sterilized seawater. The oyster shells are evenly exposed to light to allow photosynthesis to occur, while the status of filamentous growth and the presence of diseases are checked daily. It is a tough job to grow hundreds of thousands of seeds in a facility that is hot in summer and cold in winter.
Growing Seaweeds in the Vast Field of the Sea
Work in the sea finally starts around September. We start laying out the poles that connect the nets, and then begin the process of "seedling collection," in which we put seeds on 30 or so nets at a time. Then we nurture the sprouts for a while. The seeds usually attaches completely around mid-October, when the water temperature drops below 23 degrees Celsius. After the seaweed sprouts and have grown, only one layer of nets is left and the rest are stored in the freezer.
Harvesting Seaweed continues until March
Once the seaweed buds grow to 15 to 20 centimeters, harvesting begins. The first piece of laver left after seeding is called "Akime” (first-picked). These Akime seaweeds are rich in flavor and nutrients . Every year, Numatanori procures the rare "first-picked" seaweed that has grown in the richly nourishing, youthful sea. After the harvesting, the nets that have been frozen are put back into the sea. Until the end of March, when the fishing season ends, the seaweeds are harvested repeatedly in this way.
Processing Technology for Making Delicious Seaweed
After the seaweed is harvested, it is washed repeatedly to remove debris, chopped into small pieces, mixed with fresh water, and stretched into sheets. By changing the processing method depending on the harvest season and conditions, the individuality of each producer is brought out in the seaweed.
Over 100 ways of Grading
After the seaweed has been processed into sheets, it is taken to the inspection site of each fishing cooperative for grading. Grades vary depending on the production area and there are more than 100 ways to grade seaweeds. Numatanori does not rely only on the grade, but also chose seaweeds that we think is delicious when we try it.
Seaweed that has been purchased after bidding by various companies still has about 10% water content at this point, and is dried to less than 3%. The drying process takes about three hours, gradually raising the temperature to 55℃, 65℃, and 85℃ to produce crispy and fragrant seaweed.
Careful and delicate, that's how Seaweeds are made
Seaweed production has been handed down over a long period of time, influenced by the weather and the natural forces of the environment. It is often thought of as just a simple dried lavers, but there is a long way to go before a single piece of seaweed is produced. From researching the seeds, harvesting in the harsh winter sea, and the careful processing techniques accumulated by the producers. At Numatanori, we would like to deliver carefully selected seaweed and convey the original taste of this traditional food.