- Japanese: 昆布 (konbu)
Kombu is a type of kelp widely used in Japanese cuisine, both as a means of making soup stock (dashi) and eaten directly, whether dried, boiled, or prepared otherwise. Kombu became a common/standard element of the cuisine in many areas in the late 18th or early 19th centuries.
Chiefly harvested in the areas around Ezo (Hokkaidô), kelp, along with abalone, sea cucumbers, and certain other marine products, was a major Japanese export good in the Edo period; it was in such high demand throughout the region that by the end of the 18th century, Japan was able to substitute marine products for bullion in its regional trade, halting the grievous outflows of silver which had so concerned the shogunate up until that time. Kombu was also harvested elsewhere in the region, such as in the waters around Tsushima.
The great expansion of production and circulation of kelp, however, though chiefly meant for export, led to it becoming increasingly commonly consumed within Japan by the early 19th century. Today in Hokkaidô it is chiefly used for making stock, while in the Hokuriku region (Toyama, Fukui, and Ishikawa prefectures along the Sea of Japan coast) it is typically used in a dried form, in a variety of different dishes. Meanwhile, as the kitamaebune and other shipping networks brought these products from the far north to Osaka and from there to the southern reaches of the archipelago, people in Kyûshû and Okinawa gained a taste for kombu, and from 1799 onwards, boiled "long kelp" (nagakonbu) became a popular food item.
- Robert Hellyer, Defining Engagement, Harvard University Press (2009), 122-123.
- Kombu, abalone, and sea cucumbers were considered together in a category known as tawaramono, distinguished from various other marine products (shoshiki kaisanbutsu). Hellyer, 55.