Gomasio and furikake are two dry condiments from Japanese cuisine. Even though you can sprinkle them onto many of the same kinds of dishes, the two have some important differences that keep them from being perfectly interchangeable. Here is a look at how they compare in this SPICEography Showdown.
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How does gomasio differ from furikake?
Gomasio and furikake have different ingredients. Gomasio usually has only two ingredients: black unhulled sesame seeds and salt. Some versions may contain sugar or may use tan sesame seeds instead of the black ones. Most furikake has a more varied list of ingredients that can include items like seaweed, bonito flakes, and sesame seeds. Furikake ingredients can vary from maker to maker. Gomasio is vegan since it never contains animal products. Because it tends to include bonito flakes, traditional furikake cannot be classified as vegan; however, there are vegan versions that do not include bonito flakes. In Japan, there are numerous varieties of furikake available on grocery store shelves.
Gomasio and furikake have different origin stories. Gomasio is a compound word comprised of two parts: goma and sio. Goma is the Japanese word for sesame and sio means salt. Gomasio is therefore literally sesame salt.
According to some sources, gomasio is a seasoning blend that is centuries old. It is the main condiment of the Macrobiotic Diet and is viewed by the diets’ adherents as being medicinal mainly due to the nutritional value of the sesame seeds. The Macrobiotic Diet was created by George Ohsawa who promoted the use of gomasio for its benefits. Furikake was invented in the early 20th century by a pharmacist from the city of Kumamoto. He made it as a nutritional supplement that would provide malnourished Japanese people with important nutrients like minerals and amino acids.
Gomasio and furikake have different flavor profiles. Gomasio offers a concentrated nuttiness along with its saltiness. Versions with sugar will have a slight sweetness to accent the salty and nutty flavors. The toasted nuttiness of the sesame seeds enhances the salty taste so that it is possible to use the blend to season food without making it too salty.
Furikake’s most consistent contribution to food is umami. There are different varieties with their own flavor profiles, but all bring a similar savory intensity to dishes via seaweed and bonito flakes. Furikake versions with wasabi will bring a moderate heat while those with shiso leaves will bring that herb’s minty qualities.
If your recipe calls for one, can you use the other?
Because the traditional applications of gomasio and furikake are as seasonings rice-based dishes, you can use gomasio as a furikake substitute, and it will work in the sense that it will flavor the dish. That said, the flavor will be different from that of furikake so it won’t be ideal for every dish.
Gomasio won’t give you the meaty complexity that you would get from furikake. Using gomasio as a substitute for furikake without using other seasoning ingredients may leave some dishes tasting bland. Similarly, furikake won’t give you gomasio’s clean simplicity.
When should you use gomasio, and when should you use furikake?
In Japan, gomasio is commonly used to season onigiri rice balls. It also goes well with noodles and is great for sprinkling onto salads and popcorn. The preferred application for furikake is as a seasoning for plain rice. Alternative uses include as a seasoning for tofu or soup.