The World of Furikake: A Tasty Everyday Condiment

The World of Furikake: A Tasty Everyday Condiment

There are some things that are just perfect on top of Japanese rice. Fish (both cooked and sushi-style), karaage fried chicken and yakiniku (Japanese barbecue) are just a few examples. While those are more luxurious options, a simpler but just as tasty option exists in Japan—furikake.

Let's dive into this tasty seasoning that we all love!

What is Furikake?

Furikake is a kind of Japanese-style seasoning traditionally sprinkled over white rice. Furi means "shake" while kake means to "pour." Depending on the ingredients, it can taste like sesame, nori seaweed, fish, and pickled plum, for a savory, nutty, umami flavor. Some of the most common premade furikake in Japan may include dehydrated salmon, whitebait, egg, sesame seeds, and nori seaweed.

But wait - If you're going to season rice, why not just pour soy sauce on top? Well, this practice is considered somewhat controversial in Japan. In the past, impoverished households would resort to eating white rice with soy sauce when protein and vegetables were scarce.

Over time, eating rice with soy sauce alone gave rise to old wives’ tales, claiming that the combination could lead to tapeworm infestations or poisoning. While these claims are not scientifically accurate, and there's no harm in enjoying soy sauce on rice on its own, you might encounter less scrutiny if you pair it with some protein.

Furikake, on the other hand, has mostly been spared of this negative image, and you can enjoy it as a topping or mixed into rice without worry of being judged.

A bowl of rice with plenty of salmon furikake seasoning on top
Flaked salmon is one of the oldest forms of furikake, dating back to the Kamakura period. Image via Adobe

Where did Furikake Come From?

While the word “furikake” didn’t come about until the 1950s, rice seasoning has long been considered a staple of Japanese cuisine. For example, the Chujiruiki (厨事類記), a 13th century record of Japanese cuisine and its preparation, suggests topping rice with dried red seabream, salmon, and bonito flakes.

The prevailing theory about the origin of furikake (as we know it) is that it was developed by 20th century pharmacist Suekichi Yoshimaru as a calcium supplement as Dairy wasn't common in the Japanese diet until the postwar period. Yoshimaru invented Gohan no Tomo (literally “A Friend for Rice”), a concoction of ground fish bones, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and seaweed, and sold it to a food company based in Kumamoto prefecture.

It was not until 1948 that Nissin Foods began to mass-produce furikake to address widespread malnourishment after World War II. Ten years later, Nissin introduced instant noodles!

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Kumamoto is thought to be the birthplace of furikake and hosts a Furikake Grand Prix every year in co-operation with the Japan Furikake Association, in which competitors go head-to-head to serve the most delicious furikake. The association also donates furikake to schools in Southeast Asia dealing with food insecurity and has dedicated May 6 as “Furikake Day” after Suekichi Yoshimaru’s birthday.

How to Enjoy Furikake

Furikake is easy to make at home and highly customizable. Simply toast sesame seeds in a frying pan until golden, shred seaweed into tiny flakes with clean hands, and add your desired seasonings. We recommend bonito flakes, shiitake mushroom powder, garlic chips, and anything else that strikes your fancy.

Did you know you can mix furikake into uncooked or cooked rice?

Furikake in a Rice Cooker: Adding furikake directly into rice with water in a rice cooker helps the flavors infuse better and softens the texture of the rice. We recommend this for dishes like takikomi gohan (mixed rice), onigiri (rice balls), and hijiki (seaweed) rice.

Furikake in Cooked Rice: This is the most conventional way to enjoy furikake. Sprinkle it on top of rice and eat as is or mix well to disperse the flavors.

You can also enjoy furikake on top of udon and soba noodles, toast, salad, popcorn, omelets, and other dishes in addition to rice.

Popular Japanese Furikake brands

Mishima

Mishima is known for its wide range of furikake that have women's names, like Yukari, Kaori, and Akari. In fact, the company has an online application where you can create your own furikake label using your name.

Mishima's Yukari furikake, made with red shiso leaves, used to season onigiri. Image via Adobe

Marumiya

Marumiya is most famous for its Noritama furikake, made with nori seaweed, sesame seeds, and dehydrated egg. It's a popular seasoning for encouraging young children to finish their meals.

Marumiya's Noritama furikake is popular with children. Image via Adobe

If you want to try premium seasonings straight from Japan, check out mackerel and sea bream furikake from Saganoseki Kako group, or for a modern take, try fried chicken furikake from Sanyo, available at MiauMall.

Japanese Condiments Similar to Furikake

Gomashio

Gomashio is a combination of roasted sesame seeds with baked salt. It is traditionally served over sekihan (rice mixed with adzuki red beans), common for ceremonies and celebrations, such as birthdays, baby showers, and weddings.

 Gomashio is a variant of furikake with minimal ingredients, often used to season celebratory rice. Image via Adobe

Shichimi Togarashi

One of the most popular condiments in Japanese restaurants is shichimi togarashi, a seven-spice seasoning made with chili pepper, peppercorns, orange peel, ginger, nori seaweed, and black and white sesame seeds. It is typically enjoyed over dishes like gyudon (beef bowl) or noodles.

Add a pop of red color to soba noodles with shichimi togarashi. Image via Adobe

Chazuke

Chazuke is a traditional meal made of brown rice crackers, green tea powder, seaweed, and other ingredients like dried salmon or pickled plum. Cha means "tea," while zuke (tsuke) means "submerge" or "soak." Ingredients like salmon provide a buttery richness to counteract the bitterness of green tea.

If you have leftover rice from supper, you can use a ladle to put it into a small bowl, pour chazuke seasoning on top, and finally add hot water. This digestif is the perfect palate cleanser after a heavy meal. You can find chazuke served on its own in small teahouses or you can try a popular commercial brand like Nagatanien.

 

Savory chazuke is the perfect palate cleanser. Image via Adobe

Furikake in the news

Furikake became a hot topic in the news this year. Japanese public schools have what is known as kyūshoku, a cooked lunch served in public schools for a nominal monthly fee. In general, children do not bring their own lunches to school, and each meal is carefully planned by a certified dietician with a weekly rotating menu. Children are not permitted to bring their own lunch to school and are provided with alternative meals in case of dietary restrictions or allergies.

Last April, a group of local junior high school students in Kawanishi city, Hyogo Prefecture proposed bringing their own furikake to school to prevent food waste in school lunches. Their reasoning was that students would be less likely to leave behind white rice if it were made a little more appetizing.

However, city officials argued that introducing outside foods may inhibit food safety measures or alter otherwise nutritionally balanced meals. Or that it would be disrespectful to those who have carefully prepared the meals with a cheap condiment.

The Board of Education in Kawanishi conducted a survey among local residents, revealing widespread support for the students' proposal. Many residents reminisced about their school days, recalling instances where they often left rice uneaten, and commended furikake as being far from a "cheap condiment."

In September 2023, the Kawanishi students’ request to bring their own furikake was granted by the school council, under the condition that students bring a maximum of one furikake packet per household per day and not share among their peers. As of February 2024, the school has maintained their ruling that students be allowed to bring their own furikake.

We are glad to hear that students are enjoying their school lunches with the addition of this beloved condiment and hope that it can play a role in reducing food waste!

Six mini-packs of different furikake seasoning flavors sit on a table
Furikake is so widespread that you can even find furikake keychains as capsule toys! Image via Instagram (@cc.gachaco)

Do you like to eat furikake on top of rice? What is your favorite flavor? Let us know in the comments!

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