Sushi’s stunning rolls and morsels require something to hold them together. So what exactly is sushi wrapped in? The key wrapping ingredient is nori.
Nori seaweed sheets lend structure and define sushi’s iconic cylindrical shapes. With its dark green hue and robust, oceanic flavor, nori is the traditional wrapper.
But sushi can also be wrapped in thin omelettes, soy paper, cucumber, or other alternatives. Nori remains the most common wrapper that gives sushi its trademark form.
Nori’s papery texture crisps up with a quick toast. This allows it to cling tightly around sushi rice and fillings like raw fish, vegetables, and eggs. The savory wrapper keeps these elaborate creations intact.
Let’s unravel the mysteries of sushi wrappings! Discover what allows sushi chefs to transform simple ingredients into bite-sized works of Japanese culinary art.
Nori – The Classic Wrapper
Nori seaweed sheets are by far the most common sushi wrapper. With its dark green hue and robust, oceanic flavor, nori defines sushi’s look.
This edible paper is made from Porphyra umbilicalis, a red algae farmed in shallow ocean waters. After harvesting, the seaweed gets shredded, pressed, and dried into paper-thin sheets.
When briefly toasted, the nori becomes pliable yet crisp – ideal for clinging tightly around sushi rice and fillings. Its savory umami taste also perfectly balances the rice and fish.
Nori is integral to rolls like futomaki, uramaki, and temaki. It lends structure while allowing flavors to mingle.
So the next time you bite into a sushi roll, thank the nori for keeping it all wrapped up!
While nori is the norm, sushi can also be wrapped creatively in:
This thin, pliable paper is made from soybeans. It has a translucent beige color and very mild, nutty flavor.
Soy paper is a great nori alternative for anyone with seaweed allergies. It also adheres well when dealing with moist or delicate fillings.
A thin Japanese omelette called tamago can wrap sushi too. Fluffy eggs impart a hint of sweetness and give rolls a breakfast vibe.
Tamago wrappings pair especially well with smoked salmon, bacon, and cheese.
Crisp, cool cucumber slices can cradle fillings instead of nori. This light summery wrap works well for veggie sushi.
Pro tip: Remove the watery seeds first so the cucumber holds its shape better.
This crunchy, mildly sweet aquatic tuber can be sliced paper-thin to wrap sushi ingredients. It adds an earthy snap that contrasts with fish.
Shredded daikon radish stands in for nori with a peppery bite. It also tints the rolls a natural pink hue.
Translucent spring roll wrappers encase ingredients in a sticky, chewy package. Great for deep fried sushi!
Butter lettuce or shiso leaves wrap up fillings burrito-style. Their ruffled edges give a unique organic look.
Zucchini or Avocado
Thin strips of zucchini or avocado can wrap sushi with a health halo. Their mild green flavors allow the fillings to be the star.
How Nori Is Prepared for Sushi
Now that we know nori is sushi’s claim to fame wrapper, let’s look closer at how it’s prepared:
Toasting the Nori
Nori needs to be toasted quickly to release its oils and soften it up. This enhances both the texture and savory flavor.
Pass each nori sheet over an open flame or heat source until the color brightens. It happens fast, so pay close attention!
Cutting the Nori
For rolls, halve the toasted nori sheet crosswise. You’ll wrap each half into one long roll.
For hand rolls, keep the sheet whole or cut it in thirds if you want smaller cones.
Moistening the Nori
Brush water along the edges of the nori sheet. This helps it seal tightly and adhere to itself when shaped into rolls.
You can also moisten it by laying the nori on the sushi rice briefly – the rice’s moisture transfers.
Flavoring the Nori
Some chefs brush flavors onto the toasted nori to complement the fillings, like:
- Soy sauce
- Mirin rice wine
- Chili oil
- Sesame oil
Spiced or truffle nori also provide exotic flavors.
Shaping the Nori
Once filled, the nori is rolled into cylinders or cones along with the rice and fillings.
Press gently to seal in the moisture and flavors. Let constructed rolls rest briefly before slicing.
Nori’s Role in Different Sushi Types
Now let’s see how nori is utilized across various sushi preparations:
This broad category includes thick and thin rolls of all kinds. Nori is central to:
- Hosomaki – thin rolls wrapped in a nori sheet
- Futomaki – fat rolls with extra fillings
- Uramaki – inside-out rolls with nori on the interior
For these, nori lends structure and its dark green color defines the rolls.
Hand Rolls (Temaki)
In conical temaki, one whole nori sheet is wrapped into a cone shape around fillings.
The extra nori infuses more flavor as you eat this sushi burrito-style with your hands.
Onigiri (Rice Balls)
In these compact triangular rice balls, a small strip of nori often wraps around the perimeter.
The nori adds visual contrast and a hit of flavor to the rice exterior.
Poke and chirashi bowls topped with sushi ingredients will often include strips of nori for garnish.
The nori flakes add seasoning and textural contrast scattered over the rice.
Nigiri and Gunkanmaki
Nigiri (fish on rice) doesn’t contain nori. But gunkanmaki (battleship sushi) wraps nori strips around wide rice “boats” holding toppings.
The nori contains wet or loose toppings like sea urchin roe or quail egg securely over rice.
Hacks for Handling Nori at Home
Working with nori’s paper-thinness and tendency to tear can be tricky. Try these handling hacks:
- Toast it – this makes nori more pliable and less prone to ripping
- Work quickly – don’t let toasted nori sit too long or it loses moisture
- Keep it covered – store unused nori covered with a damp cloth
- Brush with water – lightly moisten nori to help it seal and stick
- Use a sushi mat – this supports the nori as you roll
- Wet your knife – dip knife in water between slices for clean cuts
- Have extra handy – keep spare nori sheets around just in case
- Slow down – don’t rush the wrapping process, guide the nori gently
- Practice makes perfect! – it takes trial and error to handle nori finesse
Creative Ways to Work With Nori
Looking to change up your sushi nori game? Try these creative preparation methods:
Make Nori Chips
Brush toasted nori sheets with oil or spices. Bake at 400°F until crispy. Crunch these seaweed chips on salads, rice bowls, or soups.
Nori Salad Sprinkles
Crumble toasted nori sheets into tiny bits. Use as a finishing touch over salads, noodles, and more.
Make this Japanese rice seasoning by blending toasted nori, sesame seeds, salt, and dried fish flakes. Sprinkle on rice, eggs, veggies, popcorn – anything!
DIY Nori Snack Sheets
Brush nori with olive oil and sprinkle on sesame seeds, toasted coconut, and seasonings. Bake into flavored nori snack sheets.
Burn nori sheets to black ashes. Use this umami flavor boost sprinkled on fried rice, roasted veggies, grilled meats, etc.
Nori Butter or Oil
Blend sheets into softened butter or oil. Brush on corn, fish, sweet potatoes – so many things taste better with nori!
Wrap Up on Sushi Wrappings
We’ve unraveled the mysteries of sushi’s iconic wrappings. While nori seaweed sheets are the traditional favorite, the possibilities are endless!
Sushi wrappings set the structure, color, and contribute flavor accents. They tie each artful creation together into an edible package.
So the next time you bite into a sushi roll, hand cone, or morsel, take a moment to appreciate the wrapping that makes it all possible.
Time to get creative with nori and other wrappers in your own sushi making adventures!