Hijiki (Hizikia fusiformis)

Hijiki (Hizikia fusiformis)
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Hijiki or hiziki (ヒジキ, 鹿尾菜 or 羊栖菜, hijiki?) (Hizikia fusiformes) is a brown sea vegetable growing wild on rocky coastlines around Japan, Korea, and China. Its two names, which are examples of ateji, mean deer-tail grass and sheep-nest grass respectively. It is a traditional food and has been freely sold and used as part of a balanced diet in Japan for centuries. Hijiki is known to be rich in dietary fibre and essential minerals. According to Japanese folklore, hijiki aids health and beauty and the thick, black, lustrous hair of the Japanese is connected to this regular consumption of small amounts of hijiki. Hijiki has been sold in United Kingdom natural products stores for 30 years and hijiki’s culinary uses have been adopted in North America. Recent studies, however, have shown that hijiki contains potentially toxic quantities of inorganic arsenic, and food safety agencies of several countries (excluding Japan) have advised against its consumption.

Hijiki is green to brown in colour when found in the wild. After collection, it is boiled and dried to be sold in the form of dried hijiki. Dried processed hijiki turns black. To prepare dried hijiki for cooking, it is first soaked in water then cooked with ingredients like soy sauce and sugar to make a dish.

Hijiki is black when found packaged in stores. It is a slightly bitter tasting seaweed that comes in short strips about the size of a match. It is similar in texture and appearance to black spaghetti.

Okinawans like to eat it simmered with vegetables and soybeans. Hijiki is best used in dishes that require simmering. Soak hijiki and dried soybeans about two hours till tender (Okinawans prepare them the night before), then simmer them in a bit of water with carrots and konnyaku, and season with soy sauce, sugar, and sake. A half of cup of dried hijiki will do for four people.

Most hijiki seaweed is sold at the wholesale and restaurant levels. It is normally eaten with other foods such as vegetables or fish. It may be added to foods that have been steamed, boiled, marinated in soy sauce or fish sauce, cooked in oil, or added to soup. Hijiki seaweed may also be mixed in with rice for sushi, but is not used as a wrap to prepare sushi.