Although its origins date back just at the beginning of the 20th century, furikake is today one of the basic products of any Japanese pantry of which there are also many variants. It has the ability to transform the flavor of many dishes and is so versatile that we can use it in all kinds of recipes, not necessarily Japanese. And the best part is that it is very easy to prepare our own homemade mix.
What is furikake, the dressing that is sprinkled
The word furikake（ふ り か け） comes from the verb furikakeru（ふ り か け る, which means nothing more than sprinkling. The term defines very well the function of this product, a dry ingredient that is sprinkled directly on everyday dishes, especially cooked white rice ( Gohan ), but also soups, stews, pasta or fish.
The basic ingredients of the simplest version are roasted sesame seeds, dried nori seaweed, and dried fish, usually pretty ( katsuobushi). In addition, it usually carries salt and sugar and can incorporate other ingredients such as shiso leaves, dried prawns and other fish, eggs, wasabi, dehydrated egg, miso, chili, green tea, kombu seaweed or other varieties, etc.
Many commercial versions also incorporate flavor enhancers and various aromas, or variants are offered that stand out for a specific ingredient, including regional specialties and even furikake intended more for an adult or gourmet audience, with luxury packaging.
Since it is mostly a dry product with a very concentrated flavor, it is packaged in small portions and used for practical purposes as another spice, although today there are also fresher varieties with a more humid texture, with a shorter shelf life. Traditional dry furikake can be preserved for a long time at room temperature, although it gradually loses aroma.
The origins of furikake: an ingenious idea to combat calcium deficit
At the beginning of the 20th century, with Japan in the process of economic, social and cultural transformation, some regions suffered from a shortage of basic food due in part to the large population growth. The lack of calcium was especially worrying, so pharmacist Suekichi Yoshimaru from Kumamoto prefecture had the idea of developing a supplement based on fish bones.
His invention was to directly grind whole dried fish, combining them with seaweed and roasted seeds to slightly camouflage the flavor and thus encourage children and adults to incorporate it into their dishes. He named it Gohan no Tomo, “friend of rice” and became a very popular dressing to enrich one of the population’s staple foods.
A local company acquired the rights to the product and began selling it commercially in bottle-shaped containers that were intended to prevent moisture from penetrating inside. This friend of rice is considered as the forerunner of modern furikake.
The furikake precursor was born as a calcium supplement based on dried fish
Years later, a food merchant from Fukushima, named Seiichirō Kai, saw the business possibilities of the dressing field and created his own version. Baptized as Kore Wa Umai (something like “this is good”), its mixture contained dried fish, kombu seaweed and other ingredients first cooked in broth with soy sauce. Although at first it was considered an almost luxury product reserved for the most affluent, it soon became accessible to all Japanese.
Kai expanded its business by moving to Japan and launched new product variants, extending its popularity. Other companies created their own versions of this dry dressing to sprinkle on rice, no longer so focused on its nutritional benefits. In 1959 the National Association of Furikake was formed, thus establishing the official term by which the product is known today.
How to use furikake in the kitchen
Unlike other more exotic ingredients, furikake has many advantages to Western cuisine because it does not require special knowledge of Asian cuisine. We can consider it as any mixture of spices that surely everyone already has at home, and experiment with it at convenience.
The most traditional use of furikake is as a topping or final dressing of cooked rice, either alone or as part of more complete dishes, chirashizushi style or even a poke. In Japan, it is also widely used to sprinkle on rice balls and triangles (onigiri or omusubi), soups, pasta dishes, curries, fried or poached egg, grilled fish, tofu, etc.
Ideally, add it hot so that the temperature or hot steam of the dish enhances the flavors of the furikake and helps integrate its components. But it can also be added to cold dishes, getting a delicious crunchy texture, for example in salads.
And another option is to use it as an ingredient in the preparation of a dish, integrating its aromas even more. For example, in the egg mixture of an omelet, the broth of a soup or stew, in a sauce or cream of vegetables, in the mixture of minced meat of hamburgers, meatballs or pasta, as part of a vinaigrette or mayonnaise, etc.
In recent years, its use has been popularized with a multitude of different mixtures and flavors – very much in the line of the Japanese style and its huge variety of food products – especially integrating into more western dishes. In the United States, for example, it is common to find chips, pizzas, coleslaw, hot dogs or popcorn with furikake.
How to make our own homemade furikake
Existing such a varied catalog of flavors of furikake we could almost say that there are no rules when preparing our own homemade version. Starting from the three most basic ingredients, such as dried fish, seaweed and sesame, we can play in the kitchen creating our custom dressing.
To start, it is best to prepare it in its simple version, using the dry ingredients. Although you can grind everything together to obtain a kind of powder, it is more advisable to leave some texture and keep the sesame seeds whole, always toasted.
A good basic recipe to start would be as follows:
- 1-2 teaspoons freshly toasted sesame seeds (white, black or mixed)
- 1 teaspoon katsuobushi flakes (crumbled dried bonito)
- 3-4 tablespoons dried nori seaweed cut into thin sticks or chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon of sugar (or to taste)
- 1 very small pinch of salt (fish and seaweed are already salted)
- 1 pinch of shichimi togarashi or ground chili (optional, for a spicy touch)
Mix everything and try to adjust quantities according to personal taste. Store in an airtight container in a dry, cool place and away from direct sunlight.