Seaweed common names: Kombu

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.

Previous posts include: Nori, Wakame, Laver

Kombu is a common name for seaweeds that typically belong to the group of brown seaweeds: Laminariaceae. Kombu is traditionally used for soup stocks, salads, and even fertilizer. Brown seaweeds are high in minerals and by adding them dishes one can improve the nutritional value of their food.

The word kombu is Japanese, but it’s thought to be borrowed from the Chinese. In old Japanese the word for seaweed was “me” as in “waka-me”. The predominant theory, is that kombu is derived from the Chinese word 昆布 kūnbù, which is traced back to the 3rd century in China. However, records from the 8th century are spotty at best in their descriptions of kūnbù, and it is impossible to know what species of seaweeds they were referring to.

Nowadays there are modifiers to separate the different species of kombu. (Borrowed from Wikipedia).

However, in other parts of the world the term kombu is used to describe other species of brown algae such as Saccharina or Laminaria. For example, the company Salt Point Seaweed calls Laminaria setchellii, California kombu.