Nori’s Price Tag: Factors Behind Its High Cost (and What To Do About It)

In a world buzzing with health and wellness trends, it’s no surprise that Nori is having its moment in the spotlight. The benefits of Nori range from providing iodine to losing weight, improving cholesterol levels, and, of course, adding a delicious crunch to your diet. But the benefits are not cheap; a pack of nori sheets can be quite costly, especially the organic ones.

So, why is Nori so expensive? Many different factors influence the price of Nori, including the rule of supply and demand. As a result of Nori trending all over the world, it is in high demand. In addition, acquiring food from the sea is more complicated than farming the land, and exporting Nori can also be complicated.

Are you eager to learn why Nori is so expensive? In this article, we’ll walk you through ten reasons to help you understand why it’s expensive and what you can do about it. 

1. It Requires Quality Seaweed

First of all, let’s talk about what Nori is actually. In simple terms, Nori is an edible seaweed. Nori grows in the seawater and comes from the red algae species. Nori is used extensively in Japanese cuisine and is a big part of Japanese culture, along with other East Asian countries like Korea and China.

Nori, then, is a type of seaweed that hails mainly from the waters of Japan. But just any kind of seaweed won’t do, and the quality of the surrounding waters is always a major concern. Seaweed, as you know, soaks up necessary nutrients, plus whatever else is in the water around it like a sponge. And if you have ever been to the seashore, you’ve probably seen algae and seaweed growing on waters that aren’t so clean. 

Clean water is the key for good algae growth – for that’s what you end up eating in a nori sheet anyway. As a result, farming seaweed requires clean, unpolluted waters, which are farther off the coastline. On top of that, you get the best crop only in the first couple of harvests. Although each crop can be harvested four times every two weeks, the first harvest yields the finest, making the best nori sheets.

2. Production Is Costly

If you imagine that you could take a walk on the seasides of Japan and help yourself to some fine Nori, think again. Farming Nori is a costly process that requires seeded nets, sophisticated machinery, large capital investments, fertilizers, chemical treatments, and packaging, not to mention the cost of hiring skilled employees to make the whole industry possible.

The old days of gathering wild seaweed by hand or using bamboo sticks are long over. Although a few people may still practice it in some areas, it’s an impossible and unreliable way to meet the global demand. As a fact, approximately about 95% of the world’s seaweed production is cultivated in modern seaweed farms. 

3. It’s a Complex Process

Running a seaweed farm and acquiring food from water isn’t easy. Anyone can run up to a grocery store and get a lip-smacking packet of Nori, but most people don’t know the complex production process that goes on behind the scenes.

The production and processing of Nori is a highly advanced form of agriculture. Nets are suspended at the sea surface, where the plants attach themselves to grow. Skilled farmers must hang the nets at a certain depth where the seaweed can be exposed to the air for a few hours daily when the tide is out.

After the plants mature, farmers set out with boats and machinery to harvest them. Next, they are transported to production facilities, where they are cleaned, minced, blended, and pressed into paper-thin sheets. Finally, they are roasted and bundled into piles of tens and hundreds and packaged to be exported.

4. Transport – Getting From Point A to Point B 

Most of the Nori comes exclusively from Southeast Asia, but it’s popular worldwide, meaning that demand is exceptionally high and production relatively low. 

Seaweed farming is a booming industry. The world produces millions of tons of microalgae every year, but almost all of that comes from Asia. In fact, European countries contribute only 1% to these global figures.

Furthermore, not all countries use the Japanese special Pyropia. For example, China primarily relies on Laminaria, and others use Porphyra.

Whatever species of algae is used, the majority of Nori is always imported. Importing foods internationally results in higher prices throughout the global supply chain.

5. It’s Seen As a Delicacy

Another reason Nori is expensive is that seaweed, especially in the West, has always been seen as a cool and expensive option. So most people encounter Nori almost exclusively when having Sushi or Onigiri on a special occasion. These dishes are regarded as kind of royal and exotic, if not vaguely alien, in the West. This is in contrast with the mundane, usual dinner folks usually have!

The simple novelty of food that looks and tastes different takes it to an expensive side.

6. It’s a Superfood

Japanese cuisine is well-known for its healthy food items and dishes, and among its many ingredients is Nori. The discovery of many health benefits in Nori has earned it a badge of being a superfood.

The benefits of Nori are extensive. The goodness of Nori ranges from purifying the blood to having glowing skin to losing extra weight! In Korea, new mothers are given Nori soup three weeks after giving birth. It’s also great for the baby as it contains even more calcium than milk!

Besides, Nori is loaded with vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K. It’s also rich in detoxification minerals like antioxidants, removing toxins from your body. By the way, it’s also a powerhouse of the much-wanted protein and fiber.

These were just a few of Nori’s health benefits, but you can understand why Nori is so expensive!

7. It Becomes a Trend

Whenever a new class of powerful superfood arises, a food trend follows. And anything that becomes popular often gets a price hike as it’s in greater demand.

More and more Americans today realize that they lack healthy ingredients on their dinner plates and are turning to substitutes. One of the top trending foods is seaweed. Getting your veggies from the ocean has become a growing trend for the past few years. And guess what? Nori is the most popular seaweed on the list. 

Trendy foods can be good for your health and fun to try, but they can also be pricey. An increased demand for these greens, combined with the relatively low number of supplying countries, dramatically increases the cost. 

8. Supplier Mindset

The price-increasing factors don’t stop there – so let’s dive deeper!

The Japanese love affair with Nori is no longer a secret, and more and more of the world is starting to taste and embrace this food. Of course, seaweed producers have always wanted the price of their products to rise. But for that to happen, the consumers needed to be aware of the standard and value of the product!

With the growing craze over seafood, there has never been a better day for Nori, and ocean farmers are hiking their prices.

9. Food Safety

Despite being an exotic food and a superfood, Nori doesn’t go without safety concerns. Seaweeds absorb minerals around them, including any heavy metals and toxic chemicals that are around them. If the Nori seaweed was grown in polluted waters – then that’s what you get in a Nori sheet. Furthermore, many people are concerned that Japanese Nori might be contaminated with radioactive exposure due to the nuclear meltdown of Fukushima in 2011. 

As a result, Nori producers need to perform safety tests regularly to ensure that they meet the standards. Many producers maintain a high standard for their Nori, and each sheet has to pass a quality control check before being shipped. This, of course, is costly and increases the expense.

10. Packaging Costs

Good packaging is an essential step in Nori production as Nori absorbs moisture easily. Nori sheets require air-tight and water-sealed packaging, which is another factor that raises the price of Nori by several notches. Nori must also be handled with care during transport, as tears in packaging can ruin the entire pack.

So, What Can You Do About It?

Eating Nori can be a diet saver, but it can also be costly. Fortunately, there are things you can do about it. If you want to save money, Asian stores can be a great help. Asian shops are one of the cheapest places to buy Nori, primarily because of the way they operate. Many small Asian shops don’t spend much money or time on advertising and big overheads. On top of that, many Asian market owners have direct contact with suppliers back home, making it an ideal place to get imported food like Nori.

Alternative and Substitutes

Here are four great substitutes that you can try!

Lettuce is a super alternative to Nori. In fact, it’s common in East Asia to use a lettuce leaf to wrap rice, pork, or grilled meat with some sauce. It’s absolutely delicious and healthy!

A thin omelet also makes an excellent Sushi wrap. Make a paper-thin omelet and let it cool down before wrapping your rice and ingredients in it. Adding a bit of cornstarch or potato starch will prevent the egg from collapsing! Additionally, you can also try flavoring your egg with sugar, salt, or some soy sauce.

Another option for Nori is rice paper, which is popular in Vietnam and Thai cuisine. You can wrap almost anything in rice paper, which makes it excellent for Sushi. The only catch is that, unlike Nori, it’s a bit chewy.

Thinly sliced meat is also an alternative used in Japan when making Sushi. You can use any type of meat, for example, roast beef or even ham. It might not look like Sushi, but it is a unique Japanese dish that’s super tasty.

Nori isn’t going anywhere, and it’s destined to grow more popular. Now you know all about what makes Nori expensive and what you can do about it. So whether you have Nori or not, you are all set to help yourself to a great Japanese dish at home!

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This article was co-authored by our team of writers and editors who share one thing in common: their passion for food and drinks!

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco works as a New York-based editor at Foodrinke, driven by his lifelong love for food. His culinary journey began in childhood, as he eagerly assisted his mother with her local sandwich and bakery business, relishing every opportunity to sample her creations. Known among family and friends as an easy eater, JC has a particular affinity for Chinese, Italian, Mexican, and Peruvian cuisine. At Foodrinke, he channels his passion for food into his work, sharing his enthusiasm and knowledge with readers.