If you are a sushi lover or a big fan of Japanese food, you’ve probably tried to make your own Japanese dishes at home. But, when making sushi, you may not have any nori on hand or you may have some difficulty finding nori at the store.
This is why it’s good to know what nori substitute would work best if you want to make seaweed-free sushi at home. Luckily, there are several alternatives to nori that you can use to wrap your sushi and add additional flavor.
What is nori?
Nori or “laver” is a kind of edible seaweed used commonly in Japanese cuisine. The seaweed is dried and pressed into thin sheets where it is then used to make sushi rolls, especially maki sushi, and other seasonings like furikake.
Where does it originate?
Nori has been a part of Japanese cuisine for over 2000 years. Originally, nori was very expensive due to its limited availability and because of this, it was only part of the diet of Japanese nobility.
As availability increased and new methods of cultivation were introduced, the price decreased and it became more widely consumed by the masses.
Now, nori is a common part of the Japanese diet and has even reached the rest of the world as the popularity of dishes like sushi have gained popularity.
How is it made?
The cultivation of nori is a very interesting and arduous process. First, nori seedlings are attached to nets. Once germinated and attached to nets, the seaweed is refrigerated until ready for installation into the sea bed.
Nori seaweed buds are dried above sea level during low tide. The germinated buds grow for about a month or until ready for harvest.
Then, the seaweed is brought to the production facility to be cleaned, cut and blended into a mixture. This mixture is poured into molds, then dried and pressed. And then you have your perfectly square nori sheets.
What dishes is it used in?
Nori is used in a variety of traditional dishes all around the world, but especially in Japan. Below are a few examples of nori-containing dishes.
- Maki sushi: Rice, veggies, fish or seafood wrapped in nori.
- Onigiri Rice Balls: Stuffed with nori, plum, salmon or tuna.
- Nori Tsukudani: Sweet seaweed simmered in soy, mirin and sugar.
- Chawanmushi: Egg custard topped with a strip of nori.
- Nori Tempura: Deep-fried nori with tempura batter.
- Nori Goma-ae: Veggies in sesame sauce with nori garnish.
- Nori Chips: Baked or fried nori pieces.
- Nori Tamago: Scrambled eggs with nori bits.
- Nori Senbei: Thin crackers with nori baked in.
- Ochazuke: Rice and tea soup with nori toppings.
Where to find it
You should be able to find nori sheets at your local grocery store in the International aisle. If you are unable to find them there, then I would recommend checking out any Asian markets in your area. There should be a section dedicated to seaweed.
If you are still unlucky or don’t have an Asian grocery store near you, you can always find nori sheets online. Amazon (affiliate link) has some great options, as well as online Asian grocery stores like Weee! and Umami Cart.
The 11 Best Nori Substitutes
Looking for the best seaweed substitutes for sushi? The list examines the eleven best substitutes for nori. There are a few different ways you can go here, all with varying flavor profiles and textures.
Soy wraps or soy paper are another great substitute for nori when making sushi. They come in square sheets similar to nori and are meant for making sushi rolls and other dishes.
They typically come in a few flavors and they contain some protein, which is definitely a plus.
You can use soy wraps exactly how you use nori sheets. Lay your soy wraps on a flat surface, add your rice and other fillings, then wrap it on up and cut it into pieces.
Rice paper can be a great alternative to nori in sushi. They are commonly used to make spring rolls in Vietnamese cuisine, but they can have several uses.
Simply soak the rice paper in a shallow dish of water for about 15 seconds, then lay out on a flat cutting board or plate.
You can either construct the sushi like maki sushi, lining the rice and fillings from one end to the other, then wrapping it up in a long hot dog shape.
Or, you could make individual wraps like spring rolls where you enclose either side. To add some extra texture, you could also fry the rolls on either side in a pan to achieve a crispy outside.
You can also use paper-thin omelets to wrap up your sushi. This is a great option if you have eggs on hand and want a more savory, high-protein sushi roll.
First, crack your eggs into a bowl and whisk. I would recommend using about two eggs per sushi roll. In a pan over medium heat, add oil. Once hot, add eggs and gently tilt the pan until the eggs are evenly spread.
Let cook for a minute or two then very gently flip with a spatula. Avoid breaking the egg apart during this step.
Once fully cooked, transfer to a cutting board, then add rice and fillings. Roll into a long hot dog shape, then cut into pieces.
Inari age or deep-fried tofu pockets are a good substitute for nori when making sushi. They look like fried tofu skin and open up in the middle so you can stuff them with rice and other fillings.
While inari sushi doesn’t look like conventional sushi, it’s a very tasty and delicious way to enjoy rice and veggies. The tofu pocket is savory and slightly sweet, perfectly complementing the rice.
Also, inari age is great if you want to have a good on the go snack. You can throw it into a plastic bag or pack it in a lunchbox and snack on it whenever you need a pick me up.
Deli meat is another good, high-protein alternative to nori sheets. Plus, it can add a nice savory element to your sushi rolls.
First, lay out several pieces of deli meat on a cutting board. Try to form a rectangular shape by overlapping the pieces of meat.
Add your rice and fillings to the middle of the deli meat rectangle, then roll into a hot dog shape. Then, use a sharp knife to cut the individual pieces of sushi.
Sesame seeds are another good alternative to nori sheets. You can use black sesame seeds or white sesame seeds, whichever you prefer or have available near you.
First, lay out some plastic wrap. Add rice and fillings and use the wrap to press into a cylindrical shape. Remove the plastic wrap.
Then, lay out the sesame seeds on a flat plate or cutting board and roll the cylinder of rice in the seeds. Use a knife to cut into individual sushi pieces.
Shiso leaves are another great alternative to nori in sushi. While they are commonly used as garnish, they can also be eaten alongside rice, meat and vegetables.
You can either wrap the shiso leaf around a piece of sashimi or nigiri and eat it that way, or you can use it as a wrap in place of nori.
Simply lay out several shiso leaves, add a layer of rice and fillings, then wrap up into a hot dog shape and cut into small pieces. The shiso leaves may unravel slightly, so keep that in mind.
Collard greens are another surprising alternative to nori in sushi. They can be used in a similar way to shiso leaves, meaning they can be used to wrap around rice and fish or in place of nori.
To use in place of nori. Lay out one or two large collard green leaves. Add a layer of rice and fillings, then gently roll into a long log shape. Cut into pieces and enjoy.
Romaine lettuce leaves are another surprisingly good alternative to nori in sushi. Again, use these leaves in the same way you would use shiso leaves or collard greens.
Lay out one or two large leaves of romaine. Press the leaves down so they lay flat. Add a layer of rice and fillings, then roll into a log shape. Cut with a sharp knife into individual pieces.
Cucumber is another great nori substitute. In fact, you may have already stumbled upon sushi that is wrapped in thin cucumber slices.
First, chop off the ends of the cucumber. Then, with a potato peeler, julienne slicer or sharp knife, cut the cucumber into thin, long strips.
Lay out the slices side by side to form a square. Add the rice and fillings in a layer across the cucumber slices. Then, roll into a log shape and cut into small pieces.
None of the above
You can also opt to have no nori or nori substitute in your sushi. In this case, simply place some plastic wrap on a flat surface, add your rice and fillings, then roll into a log shape.
Press the roll into the shape you desire and remove the plastic wrap. You should be left with a roll of sushi with no nori or other substitute.
You can add a sprinkle of furikake, dashi flakes or sesame seeds for extra flavor and texture if you desire.
How to make sushi
Start by laying down a bamboo mat. Then, add a layer of plastic wrap on top. Grab a sheet of nori and place it down, shiny side down, on top of the plastic wrap and bamboo mat.
Grab a handful of warm white rice, ideally sushi rice or short grain rice, and line the nori. Leave an inch or two of space at the end of the nori.
Then add your sushi fillings (whatever your favorite ingredients are) in a long line on the end opposite of the blank area of nori. Begin adding fillings about an inch from the side.
Then, roll the sushi. Start at the end with the fillings and roll towards the end with the gap. Make sure not to wrap the plastic wrap into the sushi roll.
Once rolled up, gently press into the roll to shape it and press everything together. Transfer the roll to a cutting board and use a sharp knife to cut your pieces.
What to serve with sushi
Sushi is typically served with soy sauce, wasabi and pickled ginger. The soy sauce is for dipping, the wasabi is optional (for some heat) and the pickled ginger is to clear your palate after trying a different type of sushi.
For an appetizer, you can serve miso soup or clear broth soup. Other good side dish options include pickled vegetables, steamed edamame, gyoza or a small side salad with ginger dressing.