What Is Furikake? Learn More About This Savory, Salty Seasoning Blend That Can Elevate Any Dish 

You'll use this umami-packed Japanese condiment on everything from rice to pizza.

Raw Organic Furikake Seasoning Spice with Sesame Seeds and Seaweed
Photo: bhofack2 / GETTY IMAGES

Umami heaven may be closer than you think. With a dusting of flakey furikake, a deep category of condiments found in Japanese grocery stores, you can add umami to just about any savory creation. Furikake means "to sprinkle" in Japanese—but how large a shake is open to interpretation.

"Furikake is a versatile Japanese seasoning that's full of flavor and texture. If you want a quick and convenient way of boosting the flavors of your favorite homemade dishes, furikake is your best friend," says Karman Cheung, founder of Karman Foods, an online Asian market. Here, we explore the history of the seasoning—and share how to use it in your dishes.

The Origins of Furikake

Furikake has, in fact, regularly accompanied a Japanese mainstay since its inception: Furikake was initially called Gohan no Tomo, which translates to "friend of rice." Its backstory is as much humanitarian as culinary.

In the early 20th century, when many people in Japan suffered from calcium and mineral deficiencies, a pharmacist named Suekichi Yoshimaru came up with a nutritional supplement by grinding dried fish bones and adding seaweed and sesame seeds to enhance the flavor. Sold in glass bottles, the vitamin-rich powder was used to embellish white rice, and over the decades, variations ensued; it eventually became a kitchen staple. In 1959, an organization called The National Furikake Association christened the seasoning category furikake, a name that stuck.

What's in Furikake?

"Furikake is a seasoning all Japanese people grow up enjoying," explains Danny Taing, founder of Bokksu, a snack box subscription service specializing in artisanal Japanese products and an online Asian market offering pantry essentials. Fish bones are now history. Instead, classic furikake blends combine katsuobushi or bonito flakes, nori seaweed, sesame seeds, salt, and sugar, while others include shiso leaves.

New Variations

As to varieties, well, the sky seems to be the limit. Sawako Okochi, who, along with her husband, Aaron Israel, is the co-chef/co-owner of the restaurant Shalom Japan in Brooklyn, N.Y., and co-author of the forthcoming cookbook, Love Japan, points to other modern-day furikake blends with add-ins like dehydrated egg and vegetables. "I've seen some spicy ingredients like chile or dried yuzu zest as a featured ingredient," she says.

Wasabi-flavored furikake is also popular. "Salmon and shrimp flavors are also available for those who are fans of the taste of seafood," Cheung says.

What About Gomashio?

Black or white toasted sesame seeds (goma, in Japanese) and flaky sea salt (shio) are also the foundation of the Japanese vegan seasoning, gomashio. Classic versions feature just the two components, but some interpretations are tweaked with additional ingredients, including seaweed.

So is it gomashio its own thing or yet another furikake? Taing considers it the latter. "Furikake is a general term for a topping you sprinkle on top of food, so I would consider gomashio a type of furikake, especially because there are already many modern versions in Japan that deviate from 'traditional' furikake," he says.

Furikake and Umami

As for how furikake supplies that umami punch? "The bonito flakes add umami [and] nori seaweed brings a mix of salty and savory tastes, while the sesame seeds offer nuttiness and added crunch," says Cheung. According to Taing, each of those ingredients contributes to the umami magic—but it's the amalgamation that delivers. "The combination is definitely what increases the umami-ness to the max," he says.

Other factors may contribute to furikake's flavor profile, Okochi adds. "It depends on what's in the furikake, but the ingredients are dehydrated, meaning the flavor is concentrated, so that could be your umami flavor. And some furikake has MSG added," she says.

How to Use Furikake

Furikake is usually strewn over hot white rice, but for many furikake fans, that's just the jumping-off point. Cheung explains that Japanese restaurants usually use it in chirashi dishes, seasoning bowls of white rice with Japanese rice vinegar and a sprinkle of furikake before crowning it with sliced sashimi. When making Japanese rice balls, called onigiri, add furikake to the rice for a flavor kick before adding the filling, he suggests.

Think Beyond Japanese Food

You can use furikake as toppings for other dishes, "including avocado toast, tofu, eggs, poke bowls, fish dishes, even popcorn!" Cheung says. Taing likes adding furikake to Japanese-style pasta—and Okuchi, who once limited her usage to white rice, now scatters it on salads, open-face sandwiches, and pizza. And she doesn't rely solely on store-bought blends: "We make our own furikake, so we can totally control what goes in it," says Okuchi. "We are planning on packaging it up for sale one day!"

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