Asian spice blends are the perfect condiment to add to versatile dishes such as ramen and one of our favorite blends is furikake! The flavorfully complex and delicious spice mix is a regular addition to our bowls whenever we’re having some delicious immi ramen.
Because we love it so much, we decided to take a deep dive on what furikake is, why it pairs so well with ramen, and how to make it. Towards the end, we bet it’ll be your potential favorite too!
What is furikake?
Furikake is a mix of spices and herbs that’s mostly sprinkled over ramen, rice. The word furikake means “to sprinkle over”.
Although the spice blend has many variations based on the flavors a specific region prefers, the classic recipe has fish flakes, sesame, seaweed, dried miso powder, salt, and sugar.
What sets furikake apart from other sprinkled seasonings such as Five Spice or Seven Spice blends is the unique, glutamate-rich flavor profile. Both miso and fish flakes have a high glutamate content, both of which upgrade the natural flavor of the dish you apply them on.
The most common uses of furikake are on plain rice, vegetables, fish, and meats. Basically, any dish that needs an umami topping that’s also a flavor enhancer will benefit from furikake.
History of the topping
Furikake has an interesting history because unlike other condiments in Japanese and Asian cuisines, it was designed as a nutritional supplement and not a condiment.
During the Japanese imperial expansion from 1867 to 1912, there was fear of people not having enough resources to get proper nutrition. A pharmacist named Suekichi Yoshimaru came up with a supplement for people not getting enough calcium and other minerals in their diet.
The general idea of furikake is actually much older (12 – 13 centuries older!) in fact. People were using dried and salted fish to make flakes that they used to flavor rice and other bland foods.
Yoshimaru took the idea and added some ingredients with significant vitamin content to create a seasoning that also served a medicinal purpose. He named this mix gohan no tomo, or “companion to rice”.
Inspired by this, in 1959 a food retailer by the name of Seiichirou Kai added powdered ishimochi (croaker fish) and konbu seaweed that was simmered in soy sauce first and dehydrated again. This is the closest version of the seasoning mix that we know and love today.
Why furikake pairs well with ramen?
Whenever we talk about seasonings that are meant to impart flavor and depth, we have to mention their umami content. This is almost universal for flavor enhancing seasonings such as furikake.
Because ramen is made with a base of flavor enhancers such as salt or soy sauce or miso, it has a similar foundation to furikake i.e. it builds on and adds umami to otherwise bland starchy foods such as noodles or rice.
This is why it pairs so well with ramen. However, that’s not all, since it works with different ramen flavors for different reasons.
Shoyu: Furikake has two distinct flavor profiles – umami and salty. Shoyu ramen is built on a soy sauce flavor base which is a direct combination of both. What makes furikake so good with the shoyu flavor is that because it’s a dry seasoning, it tends to stick to the noodle when you scoop some up for a bite. This gives you an equally intense umami experience with each mouthful instead of you having to slurp somewhat bland noodle and then sip the strong flavored soup.
Shio: Because it’s mainly a salty flavor base (salt is literally the main taste-maker), shio benefits from adding furikake due to the broader spectrum of flavor notes that it brings. The slight sweetness of the added sugar offsets the one-dimensional saltiness of shio and the fish flakes add slightly meaty notes to the whole thing. Just be careful not to add too much or you risk creating an altogether new flavor (not that it’s a bad thing!).
Tonkotsu: Tonkotsu is a unique broth in that it’s the meatiest of them all. It also has naturally occuring umami from the pork bones with a distinct richness that other flavors lack. Furikake contains sesame seeds which add to the richness of the broth while upgrading the natural flavor via the fish flakes and nori.
Miso: Miso is an interesting flavor because it’s already got the powerful umami kick from the miso tare, plus that earthy saltiness that sets it apart from other salty flavors. We’d say this is the most natural pairing with furikake if we’re talking about classic ramen flavors. Furikake increases the earthy quality of miso ramen with the oils from the sesame giving it a very subtle richness to complement the salty pungence.
If we’re talking about delicious immi ramen flavors, we’re spoilt for choice because furikake goes amazingly well with all of them! Our Black Garlic ‘Chicken’ flavored immi ramen works well with furikake because of the aforementioned earthiness from the miso and sesame. It works well with our Spicy ‘Beef’ flavored immi ramen because of its perfectly balanced mix of heat and flavor depth, both of which are taken up to 11 via the umami in furikake.
It even works great with our Tom Yum ‘Shrimp’ flavored immi ramen because of the fish flakes and the light oceany flavor they impart. Plus the nori feels like it naturally belongs in the flavor!
Which other toppings pair well with furikake?
Ramen toppings are as diverse in flavor and texture as can be. That’s part of what makes specific topping combinations so interesting.
For furikake, we’d recommend the following accompanying toppings:
Kikurage: The delicious earthy mushroom packs a significant umami kick when rehydrated in ramen broth and can provide some great texture contrast with furikake. Kikurage is soft and spongy as well, which makes it great in terms of mouthfeel.
Ajitsuke tamago: One of the champions league of ramen toppings, ajitsuke tamago is a hearty, rich boiled egg that can definitely benefit from a salty, crunchy addition in the form of furikake. For best results, add a light sprinkling of furikake to the marinating liquid for ajitsuke.
Shiitake: Shiitake is another great mushroom topping that benefits from the saltiness of the miso and nori in furikake. What’s interesting with shiitake is how it really develops its flavor when you add a tiny bit of sweet, such as if you’re using furikake that has sugar.
Negi: Negi is one of those lightly flavored veg toppings that sometimes require an upgrade in the form of a stronger flavored topping. Furikake does just that, while benefiting itself from the fresh vibrant crunch of the green onion.
Health benefits of furikake
The health benefits of this tasty topping are primarily what make it a perfectly viable regular topping for our ramen bowls.
It also helps that the topping was initially used for medicinal purposes!
Here are the most significant health benefits of furikake:
High in calcium: This one’s obvious because calcium deficiency is what furikake was originally meant for! The seaweed in it is a rich source which works even better when combined with the other minerals in the seasoning.
High in B12: Furikake contains a pretty hefty amount of vitamin B12 which helps prevent anemia and improves overall nervous system functioning.
High in iodine: Iodine is required to keep the bones and nerves growing and functioning normally. Furikake contains a good amount of it, especially when used in other mineral rich foods such as ramen.Print
A delicious and versatile recipe that goes with all ramen flavors.
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon miso powder
1 tablespoon bonito flakes
1 tablespoon nori flakes
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon MSG (optional)
- Use a mortar and pestle to break up some of the sugar and MSG granules for better mixing
- Very lightly toast the ingredients except the nori and bonito flakes in a frying pan
- Take off the heat and let the mix cool
- Mix the remaining ingredients together in a bowl and toss well
- Serve on top of ramen, rice, meat, fish, and vegetables