Kombu (pronounced KOM-boo) is an edible sea vegetable. Hailing from Japan, it's most historically used as one of the three main ingredients in 'dashi' noodle broth as a flavor enhancer (and can pretty much be used in most broths for the same benefit). It can be found dried (which is how it's used in broths), pickled in vinegar or eaten fresh.
The other common use for kombu is to help make food, especially beans, more easily digestible.
The amino acids in the sea vegetable help break down the heavy starches in the beans, helping them move through your body a bit easier. The glutamic acid in kombu is also responsible for its umami flavor. It also reduces cooking times for the beans, as it helps to soften them while they boil.
Kombu is increasingly recognized in Western culture for its health and culinary benefits, with companies like Eden Foods using it in their canned beans instead of adding salt.
How To Cook With Kombu
A Tuscan White Bean soup is delicious, nutritious and reminiscent of Tuscany in the spring. In this version, kombu is added for a helpful aid to the beans, helping them cook quicker and digest easier. As you'll see below, a piece of dried kombu is added to the broth along with the beans and vegetables to simmer away.
Kale is another addition to this traditional Italian soup, adding superfood benefits like higher energy and brighter moods. This soup makes for the perfect soothing winter meal.
Tuscan White Bean + Kale Soup