Seaweed common names: Nori

There are many names for commonly consumed seaweeds. However, the species they refer to vary by region and culture. We will cover some of the most commonly used names for seaweeds, and review the differences between connotation and denotation. This series will review some of the most common common-names in use.


Nori is the most recognizable edible seaweed in the world. Almost everyone has eaten, or at least seen, sushi rolled in nori paper. Nori mostly refers to the genus Pyropia even though the literal translation is seaweed.

Nori is the word for the Japanese characters 海苔 or . While both characters are pronounced as nori, the translations are slightly different. The first set 海苔 translates in English as seaweed or laver (laver will be reviewed in a separate post soon), while translates to paste or glue.

Historically nori was used to describe all edible seaweeds, which were traditionally ground into a paste as early as the 8th century. It wasn’t until the 1700s that Japanese began making nori into thin sheets. These sheets were made using similar techniques as traditional paper making during the Edo period. The sugars within nori act as a glue, as translated, and will adhere to itself when ground and dried.

The sheets of nori we see today are typically from the genus Pyropia. How and when this term for seaweeds became genus specific is unclear, but at some point Edo fishermen realized when they used bamboo stakes to hold their nets Pyropia would grow on them. Fishermen began to add extra stakes to grow more Pyropia and this began the Pyropia cultivation in Japan.