What Is Kombu & How Do You Use It?

updated Aug 9, 2022
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

What Is Kombu?

A member of the kelp family, kombu is a seaweed that makes for a versatile pantry ingredient, providing dishes with umami flavor, nutrients, and minerals. While most kombu comes from Hokkaidō, Japan, it is also cultivated in Korea, where it is known as dashima, and China, where it is known as haidai. (Maine kelp is similar and can be substituted for kombu.)

Dried kombu can be used to make Japanese dashi (a savory broth), added to beans to make them more digestible, and eaten in salads.

How Does Kombu Taste?

Mildly salty and subtly sweet, kombu contains glutamic acid (the basis of monosodium glutamate, or MSG), which enhances flavor and tenderizes proteins.

Where Can You Buy Kombu?

Dried kombu may be found in East Asian markets and health food stores. The strips are often covered with a white powder from natural salts. Just wipe with a damp cloth before cooking. Store kombu in an airtight container away from sunlight and moisture.

How To Use Kombu

Here are some of our favorite ways to use this sea vegetable:

To make vegetarian broth. Kombu can be used to make a light broth for Asian soups like miso, noodle soup, and tofu soup. To make one quart of broth, fill a pot with 4 cups of water and a 4-6″ strip of kombu. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Add soy sauce if desired. (Use the leftover strip of kombu in other recipes.)

To make dashi. Kombu is combined with bonito to make dashi, an essential stock used in Japanese cooking.

To soften beans. The amino acids in kombu help soften beans and make them more digestible. Add a 4-6″ strip of kombu to a pot of cooking beans. After an hour or two, the kombu will disintegrate when stirred. (Any stray pieces should be tender enough to eat, or you can remove them.)

In stews. Use kombu to enhance the flavor of vegetable stews. It is particularly good with root vegetables like carrots, parsnips, and turnips.

In salads. Place kombu in a pot, cover with water, and simmer for an hour or until soft. Cut into strips and add to salads.

As a condiment. Roast kombu in a dry skillet over medium heat until crisp. Crumble or grind it into a powder and use it as a salt substitute. Sprinkle it over grains, tofu, and vegetables.

Do you have any other suggestions?

(Image: Flickr member FotoosVanRobin licensed under Creative Commons)