History of Furikake
As poke becomes popular across America, you might wonder about the popular poke topping furikake. Previously popular only in areas with large Asian populations like Hawaii and Los Angeles, furikake is a category of Japanese seasonings traditionally used on rice. Furikake has so much variation that it’s hard to define what, exactly, this “rice seasoning” is!
At its most basic, furikake is a mixture of small seaweed pieces, sugar, salt, monosodium glutamate, and sesame seeds. It also often contains small pieces of dried fish such as salmon or bonito flakes, egg, powdered miso, and shiso. Sometimes there’s even vegetables!
This variety in ingredients can be explained by furikake’s history. Did you know that furikake’s predecessor was created as a health product? It’s true! Before our modern conception of “furikake,” a pharmacist named Suekichi Yoshimaru created a product of poppy and sesame seeds, ground up fish bones, and seaweed. He called this product “Gohan no Tomo” or “A Friend for Rice,” and intended it as a way for people to boost their calcium intake.
Before World War II, people mostly made furikake at home or purchased local versions made with regional ingredients. For example, coastal areas used more fish and farming areas often included beans in their furikake. This changed after consumers were introduced to Gohan no Tomo.
From there, companies created many variations on the concept of seasoning mixes for rice. They marketed some of these as luxury products, while others maintained the health food precedent set by Gohan no Tomo.
Furikake’s commercialization and popularization came about because of its status as a health food in Japan. In World War I, furikake members of the Japanese military were provided furikake as an easy source of protein and calcium. Then, in the late 1940s, widespread malnourishment caused by World War II brought about the rise of furikake as an easy way to get nutrients on meals of relatively cheap ingredients like rice. Japanese people fell in love with it, and haven’t stopped using it since!
This development led to the creation of the National Furikake Association in 1959 and the formalization of the term “furikake” for these various types of rice seasonings. Companies also popularized it for children, with many furikake being marketed in packaging with popular characters such as Doraemon.
Today, people in Japan still think of furikake as a health food. They eat it to boost their intake of calcium and other nutrients, starting from the time they’re children. The inclusion of seaweed, which is a natural source of iodine and several vitamins and minerals, means that it’s an easy, low-calorie way for people in Japan to look after their health.
Even though it’s called “rice seasoning,” people are now using furikake in new and interesting ways. They put it on popcorn, granola, and even burgers!
Now matter how you use it, we hope you consider adding furikake to your collection of spices and seasonings.