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Enhancing Flavor with Kombu

By Cook's Illustrated Published July 2013

A little kelp can help out the flavor of your soups and sauces in a big way.

Kombu is a dried kelp rich in flavor-enhancing glutamic acid that’s used ­extensively in Japanese cooking. One of its most popular applications is in dashi, Japan’s multipurpose base for soups, stews, and sauces. Japanese cooks often add the seaweed to cold water, which is then brought to a simmer, at which point the kombu is removed (temperatures above a simmer can pull out off flavors). We found that the kelp can also be used to deepen flavor in nontraditional applications like ­vegetable soup and tomato sauce when small pieces of it are added to the pot with the soup’s liquid ingredients and with the tomatoes in pasta sauce. For every quart of liquid (or liquid-like ingredients), add a 2 by 2-inch piece of kombu (which can be found in both Asian markets and many ordinary grocery stores), making sure to remove it just as the liquid begins to simmer.