(Sargassum fusiforme, syn. Hizikia fusiformis) is a brown sea vegetable growing wild on rocky coastlines around Japan, Korea, and China. Its two names, which are examples of ateji, mean deer-tail grass and sheep-nest grass respectively. It is a traditional food and has been freely sold and used as part of a balanced diet in Japan for centuries. Hijiki is known to be rich in dietary fibre and essential minerals. According to Japanese folklore, hijiki aids health and beauty and the thick, black, lustrous hair of the Japanese is connected to this regular consumption of small amounts of hijiki. Hijiki has been sold in United Kingdom natural products stores for 30 years and hijiki's culinary uses have been adopted in North America. Recent studies, however, have shown that hijiki contains potentially toxic quantities of inorganic arsenic, and food safety agencies of several countries (excluding Japan) have advised against its consumption.

History in the West

In 1867 the word "hijiki" first appeared in an English-language publication - "A Japanese and English Dictionary," by James C. Hepburn.

Starting in the 1960s, the word "hijiki" started to be used widely in the United States, and the product (imported in dried form from Japan) became widely avaialable at natural food stores and Asian-American grocery stores, due to the influence of the macrobiotic movement, and in the 1970s with the growing number of Japanese restaurants.

Appearance and preparation

Hijiki is green to brown in colour when found in the wild. After collection, it is boiled and dried to be sold in the form of dried hijiki. Dried processed hijiki turns black. To prepare dried hijiki for cooking, it is first soaked in water then cooked with ingredients like soy sauce and sugar to make a dish.

Hijiki is black when found packaged in stores. It is a slightly bitter tasting seaweed that comes in short strips about the size of a match. It is similar in texture and appearance to black spaghetti.

Okinawans usally eat it simmered with vegetables and soybeans, as hijiki is best used in dishes that require simmering. To prepare; soak hijiki and dried soybeans for about two hours until tender (Okinawans prepare them the night before). Then, simmer them in water with carrots and konnyaku. Fianlly, season with soy sauce, sugar, and sake. A half cup of dried hijiki will do for four people.


Most hijiki seaweed is sold at the wholesale and restaurant levels. It is normally eaten with other foods such as vegetables or fish. It may be added to foods that have been steamed, boiled, marinated in soy sauce or fish sauce, cooked in oil, or added to soup. Hijiki seaweed may also be mixed in with rice for sushi, but is not used as a wrap to prepare sushi.

Possible arsenic health risk

Several government food safety agencies advise consumers to avoid consumption of hijiki seaweed. Test results have indicated that levels of inorganic arsenic were significantly higher than in other types of seaweed. These results have been independently verified

Government food safety agencies that have issued warnings include:

The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare of Japan has responded with a report pointing out that, while the consumption of more than 4.7g hijiki seaweed per day could result in an intake of inorganic arsenic that exceeds the tolerable daily intake for this substance, the average daily consumption for Japanese people is estimated at 0.9g. Several of the reports from other food safety agencies acknowledged that occasional Hijiki consumption was unlikely to cause significant health risks, but advised against all consumption regardless.

Although no known illnesses have been associated with consuming hijiki seaweed to date, inorganic arsenic has been identified as carcinogenic to humans, and exposure to high levels of inorganic arsenic has been linked with gastrointestinal effects, anemia and liver damage. People who follow a macrobiotic diet that often includes large amounts of seaweed may be at greater risk.


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