Seaweed? More like PEE-weed!
May 25, 2011 4:57 PM   Subscribe

I can't smell roasted seaweed, but my coworker says they stink. What's going on here?

Recently, my workplace started to get a regular shipment of roasted seaweed packs (laver?). I think they're delicious, but my coworker claims they smell bad. He usually sits five feet away from me and complain when I munch on them. Strange thing is, I can't smell them at all, either before tasting them or during. I can definitely taste them, though (and they taste great!)

Is seaweed one of those "papaya" or "asparagus pee" cases (where some people say it smells bad, and others can't smell anything at all)? I haven't found anything about seaweed in particular. What does seaweed (roasted or otherwise) smell like to you?
posted by curagea to Food & Drink (31 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Maybe it's a cultural things, like lutefisk?

I remember in college, I was in the anime club before anime was at all popular in the US. We had a substantial number of japanese members (mostly grad students) who loved those seaweed snacks and would always munch of them during screenings. I thought the smell was nauseating, and I never once saw any of the american members (even those that were ethnically japanese or korean) eat them.
posted by Oktober at 5:14 PM on May 25, 2011

Well, if you consider that what we all consider to be "the smell of the ocean" is actually rotting seaweed. Also, there may be other ingredients, especially if the seaweed is from Korea, such as sesame oil and sea salt.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:17 PM on May 25, 2011

Nori smells like delicious nom to me but I grew up eating it. It smells of clean ocean, roasted nuts and iodine, all things I enjoy smelling in combination or separately. My fractionally Japanese son loves it too and also grew up eating it. My SO did not grow up eating nori and finds it...challenging and has complained about our seaweed breath. His loss.
posted by jamaro at 5:21 PM on May 25, 2011

Swedes can smell lutefisk (and surstromming, which is the bigger olfactory offender) just fine, they just eat it anyway. This isn't "it smells tasty to me but not to other people", this is "I do not smell whatever it is you are smelling."

I am curious about this also because I have heard plain old roasted nori and related snacks referred to as "stinky" but I also don't smell anything. I know people who will only eat sashimi and nigiri specifically because there's no chance that nori will show up. And to me that is like saying you don't like the taste of air.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:22 PM on May 25, 2011

This is kind of fascinating. I did not grow up eating nori, but do eat it now. I've never noticed any particularly odd smell with plain or flavored varieties.
posted by smirkette at 5:25 PM on May 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

(Should also note I have a difficult time not nibbling on fresh seaweed that has been cast ashore when walking on Pacific beaches. Also smells awesome. My son, when much younger, tried to eat some of the specimens out of the touch pool at Monterey Bay Aquarium which goes over about as well as you'd imagine it would with the docents).
posted by jamaro at 5:26 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @KokuRyu: the seaweed is indeed from Korea, with the ingredients you mentioned. Maybe that, combined with the seaweed itself, triggered my coworker's response.

I hadn't considered the cultural thing; that's the ticket. He never ate this stuff before, I grew up eating it like it's crack.
posted by curagea at 5:31 PM on May 25, 2011

I think those seaweed snack type things smell awful. A bit like dead fish, maybe? And so strong, too. I also don't like any kind of sushi involving seaweed. Never saw or touched any kind of seaweed-food as a kid. I don't actually know anything about it but my vote would be for the cultural explanation!
posted by ootandaboot at 5:35 PM on May 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

If these are the same kind of thing as the roasted seaweed crack snacks that Trader Joe's sells, I'm Anglo and didn't grow up eating them, but I get no particular scent/aroma/odor from them (and I have a pretty good sense of smell most of the time).
posted by Lexica at 5:42 PM on May 25, 2011

As a side note, this is not like the asparagus thing - it's not that some people can't smell the asparagus pee smell, it's that their bodies lack the enzyme that creates the smell. So there actually is no smell in their pee.

It might be a little more like the difference between Americans and Australians to the Australian confection musk sticks, which smell like the candy they are to my Australian colleagues and like a bad Jovan to my American colleagues. I think it has something to do with the fact that you ate this treat growing up and he didn't.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 5:52 PM on May 25, 2011

I am Korean and grew up eating all kinds of seaweed. I have always noticed a fishy smell in the unroasted laver, but never on the roasted kind. Nori rolls are usually made with unroasted seaweed, and I've noticed some types or brands of nori can be quite stinky.

I have had Anglo roommates in the past who did not like the smell of sesame oil, and seemed to find the combination of sesame oil and nori rather unpleasant. When roasting seaweed at home, my mother always used a neutral vegetable oil instead of sesame oil, because she thought sesame oil made it smell "oily." I currently have a pack of Korean laver roasted in sunflower oil and I can't detect any particular smell. So perhaps see if your coworker reacts differently to non-sesame oil roasted seaweed? (Of course it's possible that he will declare it stinky just because it's seaweed.)
posted by needled at 5:56 PM on May 25, 2011

I grew up in the midwest - nowhere near the ocean or most ocean products - and didn't try sushi or nori till I was in my mid 20s. I eat those snacks now and haven't ever noticed any kind of smell. My daughter loves them and she is super picky about weird odors and flavors.

So I'm gonna cast a vote for sensitivity (just like cilantro - tastes like a wetnap right??).
posted by lilnublet at 5:59 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seaweed things don't smell bad or stinky to me. I grew up in Hawaii, and ate a lot of seaweed snacks as a kid.
posted by rtha at 6:09 PM on May 25, 2011

I grew up on the Canadian prairies, lived in Korea for a few years, live in Vancouver now, and regularly eat/make Korean food, including seaweed (kim). Of all the Korean food smells that one might object to, I'm surprised that anyone would choose this one. It's never bothered me, and I've rarely even noticed it.
posted by smorange at 6:19 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

curageaPoster: I hadn't considered the cultural thing; that's the ticket. He never ate this stuff before, I grew up eating it like it's crack

I think maybe it's an early exposure thing rather than a cultural thing? I ate sushi early and often as a kid and teen because it was heavy in our dinner restaurant rotation, and these days I like laver just fine. It does have a very identifiable smell to me, yes, but it smells yummy.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:26 PM on May 25, 2011

Unroasted seaweed (like what you find on the beach near the ocean) smells, well, ocean-y to me. But once it's roasted, I can't smell it. FWIW, I did grow up eating seaweed snacks and think they are the bee's knees.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:35 PM on May 25, 2011

I can definitely smell seaweed, it is not the worst smell, but very distinct. But then, I've been cursed with a good nose, and will frequently get migraines if something smells too strongly. For example, people using spray deodorants in the office. My onus, etc..
posted by lundman at 6:46 PM on May 25, 2011

I did not grow up eating roasted seaweed and I can smell it and it isn't the most pleasant smell. Definitely dirty ocean/fishy smelling... yet, I'll still eat it.
posted by simplethings at 7:03 PM on May 25, 2011

Just to throw things off - I love nori, and I first tasted it around age 18. I also have no idea what your friend means when he says it has a "smell", though. To further throw off the unofficial tally, I have a friend who grew up in Japan but dislikes nori.

I'd guess it's more individual taste than culture or early exposure, but like marmite, most people who grow up with it are just used to it.

I do smell fresh wakame, though. To me it smells like people have described nori, like the ocean. But I think it's delicious too.

posted by lesli212 at 7:06 PM on May 25, 2011

re: asparagus pee (and this mostly incorrect comment) -- can be either a lack of smelling ability, OR a lack of making the pee ability. But is more commonly a smelling issue. This is an article showing that people who can smell it can smell it in everyone, and people who can't, can't smell it in anyone. Though this one found both scenarios.
posted by brainmouse at 7:16 PM on May 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

I wonder if this is like the cilantro gene. To people with a certain gene, cilantro tastes like soap, not an herb. Or your neighbor could be a supertaster who are hypersensitive to some green vegetables. There may be similar offending compounds in nori. Since smell and taste are so closely intertwined, a supertaster would be put off by the smell of the foods they don't like, and if nori is similar (to their nose, anyway) the supertaster would thus be put off.

All this to say, for the sake of office harmony, maybe enjoy your nori snacks in the office kitchen.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:54 PM on May 25, 2011

I know the smell but I don't dislike it (I will more than happily chow down on toasted seaweed and I did not grow up doing so). I guess I can understand how it would be possibly unpleasant but then, as a vegetarian/vegan, I smell all kinds of things I don't really find appealing (various meals people heat in the microwave or whatever). I just don't find any of it a big deal.

I guess my point is: I can understand why it would be off-putting, but don't necessarily understand why it's more off-putting than other food smells, other than it's maybe more unusual. I think it's up to you about how nicely you want to play with your coworker on this issue.
posted by darksong at 8:15 PM on May 25, 2011

I'm not familiar with the snack you're talking about, but I can tell you that sheets of dried seaweed smell like low tide to me. Not revolting, but really not appealing, either. Why would anyone want to eat something that smells like low tide? I guess it's an acquired taste. I am OK with small amounts of seaweed in (veggie) sushi or rice balls, but I don't like seaweed soup and I'm guessing that I wouldn't enjoy your seaweed snacks, either.

I wonder if some of us have a special sensitivity to something in the seaweed—analogous to the cilantro sensitivity, as several others have already suggested. I gag at the taste or strong smell of any kind of fish or shellfish, and have wondered if there's a common denominator between seafood and seaweed (like iodine?) that puts me off.
posted by Orinda at 9:46 PM on May 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

I didn't grow up eating anything remotely exotic and now nori smells and tastes delicious to me. No idea what your coworker is talking about.
posted by Space Kitty at 11:08 PM on May 25, 2011

I can smell it and it smells bad. The smell of a beachside vacation ruined by rain and swarms of screeching seagulls and jellyfish everywhere, basically.

The taste is not as bad as expected, but it's not exactly mashed potatoes, y'know?
posted by Sys Rq at 11:16 PM on May 25, 2011

(I think it has more to do with not being able to smell one's own breath than the pee thing.)
posted by Sys Rq at 11:17 PM on May 25, 2011

I have a pretty sensitive sense of smell, and discern only a mild salty odor from laver, and that's only if the seaweed is right up against my nose while I munch on it.

Oh, and I grew up in a typical boring whiteperson suburb, not even knowing that seaweed was a foodstuff until my early 20s.
posted by desuetude at 11:38 PM on May 25, 2011

I am also in the camp of bad smelling seaweed. My hawaiian roommate in college used to crush up sheets of nori and eat it on his popcorn. Gross. It definitely smells like low tide and bad fish to me. I'm okay with sashimi and sushi, but rolls wrapped in seaweed are pretty gross.

But then, my wife (also Ohio born and bred) LOVES sushi and thinks nothing of nori smell and doesn't understand what I'm talking about.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 7:30 AM on May 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yea, I'm pretty puzzled as to how Korean-style laver smells bad. Only because if we're talking about similar products (those tiny packets of processed little square sheets? not the huge nori for like maki/kimbab?), those are a) toasted, which usually eliminates a lot of that weird seaweed smell b) it's coated in some kind of oil like sesame, c) it's salted. So if anything it usually just smells toasty roasty with a little bit of salt to me, like Chex mix or something, but not really of the ocean or rotting sea matter. Like a lot of people in this thread are using blanket "nori" but there are a lot of different nori (ahem, "gim") products in Korea. The unprocessed straight up sheets of nori definitely have a certain ocean-y smell to them and I'd get the nauseated reaction we were talking about like dashima or miyuk, here.

Does sesame oil smell like crap to people who didn't grow up around it? It kind of boggles my mind because I remember as a kid the first time I smelled it my brain what "Oh MY what is that lovely smell???" only to be disappointed when I snuck a spoonful of sesame oil in my mouth, since no matter how nice it smells a mouthful of oil isn't really the best experience.
posted by kkokkodalk at 7:48 AM on May 26, 2011

A lot of Americans who aren't terribly cultured think anything with a scent that isn't reminiscent of a Glade Plug-In "stinks". We have an olfactory lexicon of like five different food smells, and if it's not distinctly sweet/vanilla or savory/butter it's officially disgusting.

This is stupid and wrong. Your officemate will get used to it. Frankly, I used to think these same seaweed snacks smelled bad, too, until I moved to a big city where you can buy them in any corner store. Now even though I don't eat them regularly, I don't notice the smell when others eat them.

There are people who hate the smell of microwave popcorn in the office. People can basically go suck it, is what I'm saying.
posted by Sara C. at 11:09 AM on May 26, 2011

I doubt it's cultural or something you had to grow up with. Actually, I'm proof it isn't. I'd never eaten nori straight up until my 30's and now I plow through it and wonder why it doesn't come in larger packages. I'm white and grew up in Illinois.
posted by chairface at 8:34 PM on May 27, 2011

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