Asian cuisine is known for its rich and unique flavors that are unachievable in any other type of cooking. The flavors are deliciously unique!
Japanese cooking specifically has many different flavors, like dashi broth, that invoke what is known as umami, which is a savory and unique taste.
Dashi broth is a staple in Japanese cooking and can be hard to find at times; therefore, you may need to use a substitute to develop that rich and specific flavor that dashi tends to offer.
So, what are the 11 best substitutes for dashi? The best substitutes are Shiro-Dashi, Mentsuyu, Kombu-Tsuyu (Kombu-Dashi,) Hondashi, Dried Bonito Shavings, Kombu Tea, Shio Kambo (Salted Kelp,) Tororo Kombu (shredded Kelp,) Shitake Mushroom stock, Chicken Stock, and fish stock.
Keep reading to learn more about what dashi is, how it is used in Japanese cooking, quick ways to make dashi at home, as well as the 11 best substitutes for dashi!
What Is Dashi?
Dashi is an irreplaceable food item used in Japanese cooking. It provides the base for many Japanese staple dishes.
It can be hard to decipher exactly what Dashi is as there truly is no definitive answer, for it can be made in a variety of ways.
At its core, Dashi is a group or family of broths that is made by steeping a variety of ingredients in either cold or hot water.
The simplest and most basic form of dashi is made from kombu, otherwise known as dried sea kelp) and it is a vegan broth.
However, more often if making a basic variety of dashi, it will include both kombu and bonito flakes, which is fermented and smoked skipjack tuna.
However, other popular ingredients in dashi are dried sardines, dried mushrooms, toasted soybeans, and dried anchovies.
Dashi is explicitly known to provide an umami flavor to the dish, regardless of which variety of ingredients you choose to use.
Umami, which basically just means indescribably delicious, is what gives Japanese food that savory and rich flavor that leaves you wanting more; it is an indescribable taste.
You can mix and match these ingredients to form your own dashi and to create the flavor and umami you desire. The options are endless with this flavored Japanese broth.
How Is Dashi Used?
Dashi is not only versatile in how you prepare it, it is also versatile in how you use it.
As it is a staple in Japanese cooking, there are many different ways to use dashi.
One of the most known and popular ways is in miso soup. If you have been to a Japanese restaurant, you most likely have had this simple, yet incredibly delicious, soup.
You can use dashi when boiling rice for extra flavor to make Takikomi Gohan or Gomoku Gohan (Japanese flavored rice).
It can be used when making congee, a porridge-like rice dish that can be eaten by itself or with toppings like meat, scallions, and chili oil.
Dashi can be used in noodle soups like ramen, udon, or soba noodle soup creating different flavors and broths depending on the added ingredients (pork belly, boiled egg, seaweed, etc).
Boiling vegetables in dashi give them much better flavor than simply boiling them or steaming them in water. Eggs taste delicious boiled in dashi as well.
Use it with tofu in a tofu scramble or simmered tofu to give the non-tasting food item loads of flavor.
Dashi can also be added to dressings and sauces for vinaigrette or a tempura dipping sauce.
Lastly, simply sip on the dashi broth for warmth and added nutrients like you would chicken or beef bone broth.
As you can see, dashi is a staple in Japanese cooking that can be used in a plethora of ways.
How To Make Dashi
Dashi is a simple stock that can be made at home if you are able to get the ingredients.
To make the most basic version of dashi, you will need water, kombu (dried sea kelp) and bonito (dried skipjack tuna flakes).
You then want to get your water hot, but not boiling or even simmering. Unlike most broths and stocks, dashi cooks at a lower temperature and for just 15-20 minutes.
Once your water has the tiniest bubbles starting to form, add in your kombu. Let it sit and soak in the water for about 15 minutes. Do not go any longer or your dashi may have a bitter taste.
After 15 minutes, put the kombu aside. You may use it again for a very mild broth or for adding it to other soups for more flavor.
After taking out the kombu, add in the bonito flakes. Like the kombu, you only want this to set in for a few minutes or the dashi will taste overly fishy before you strain the bonito out. About 10-15 minutes will suffice.
Remember, through this whole process to keep your water right under a boil. Boiling the water is not a part of the dashi process and will result in odd tasting and possibly bitter dashi.
This is a recipe for the simplest of dashi. If you wanted to keep it vegan, you could just do kombu and dried shiitake mushrooms.
If you wanted it richer, you could add shitake mushrooms and more dried fish like anchovies and sardines.
The choice is yours and the options are endless.
Where Can I Purchase Ingredients For Dashi?
Depending on where you live, dashi ingredients may be hard to come by.
The best place to purchase dashi ingredients would be at an Asian specialty market.
These ingredients most likely will not be found at your traditional neighborhood grocery store.
However, many of these ingredients can now be found online, specifically kombu, bonito flakes, dried shitake mushrooms, and other dried fish are easily accessible online.
The 11 Absolute Best Substitutes For Dashi
The best part about dashi is that it truly can be made in any way you want it to; you want to remain authentic to Japanese culture but you have some freedom when building your stock.
This means you have more options available if kombu or bonito flakes are no longer in your pantry or you simply cannot find them.
If making dashi is not an option, or you are having a hard time finding the exact ingredients, here is a list of substitutes that may work:
The first option on the list is a soup base (stock/broth) that is made with different ingredients: shiro-dashi.
Shiro dashi is made up of white soy sauce, mirin, and sugar mixed with either bonito infused or kombu infused dashi depending on the type or brand you purchase.
As this has dashi already included in the ingredients, it is a good alternative. However, it will be on the sweeter side as mirin and sugar both add sweetness to the broth.
The addition of soy sauce also adds a bit of saltiness to the broth so you want to be extremely careful when seasoning whatever dish you choose to prepare with this dashi alternative.
Specifically, you want to be wary of how much salt you include.
One plus to this alternative is its color–it is extremely light in color because of the white soy sauce so it will closely resemble traditional dashi.
Mentsuyu is a similar option to shiro-dashi as it is also a soup base that is made with different ingredients.
Specifically, it is made with the same ingredients: mirin, sugar, either bonito infused or kombu infused dashi, and, the one place where it is different, brown soy sauce.
Traditionally, mentsuyu is used to make noodle soup dishes like udon or soba noodle soup, but the flavors of the broth make it a good choice for a dashi substitute as well.
It will be a bit darker than traditional dashi because of the brown soy sauce, so keep in mind it may change the color of your dish.
Also keep in mind that compared to dashi, mentsuyu has a stronger flavor profile due to the ingredients included so you want to be mindful of what you include, especially salt, or it has the chance to ruin the dishes flavor.
3. Kombu-Tsuyu (Kombu-Dashi)
Kombu-Tsuyu, also known as Kombu-Dashi, is very similar to mentsuyu and shiro-dashi as it contains a plethora of ingredients to form a broth base.
Kombu-Tsuyu is kelp-based whereas the previous two have the option of being kelp or bonito flake based and it contains other ingredients like soy sauce, mirin, sugar, and mushroom extract.
When deciding on a dashi substitute and confused at how to pick between these first three, go with kombu-tsuyu when looking for a more kelp forward substitute.
With kombu-tsuyu, because it is so heavily flavored and contains many elements, keep your other additions to a minimum.
Hondashi is a great option for those who do not want a soup or broth base as hondashi is a dashi concentrate.
Hondashi comes in small tiny granules that are made with dashi’s core ingredients: bonito flakes and some form of kelp or seaweed.
Because they come in small granules and not a fully formed broth, you have a lot more freedom with this substitute option.
You can add as many or as little of the granules as you want and you do not have to shy away from adding any other ingredients like dried mushrooms or dried sardines and anchovies.
5. Dried Bonito Shavings
If you just want to create a fish like broth and have access to dried bonito shavings, then you can create a version of dashi that way.
Using dried bonito shavings may require the addition of other ingredients, depending on what you are making or what your preferences are, but overall it works as a substitute.
Like hondashi, bonito flakes are a good option for those who like control over the flavor of the broth as you have the power to add whatever amount you want to get your flavor stronger or more mild depending on your desired preference.
Some claim that if you cannot get the broth done, you can sprinkle some bonito shavings on the dish to get the desired umami flavor.
6. Kombu Tea
Where bonito flakes are an excellent option for those who prefer a fish forward dashi, kombu tea works as a substitution for those who prefer a more kelp forward dashi.
Kombu tea comes in a powder form and though it is traditionally used to make a sipping tea, you could use the powder to create a version of dashi.
One thing to be wary of is that not all kombu tea comes pure. Some have other sweeteners and flavors, like plum, that will not work well in dashi. Make sure to look for kombu tea that only has kelp on its ingredient list.
7. Shio Kambo (Salted Kelp)
A second option for those who prefer a kelp forward dashi is using shio kambo, also known as salted kelp.
Shio kambo is small pieces of seaweed that have been dried and coated in salt. If you were to let them soak in water, you would have a kelp-tasting dashi broth to use.
However, as they are coated in salt, you need to be careful with how much shio kambo you are using and how long you choose to simmer it.
When using shio kambo, start small and boil for a short amount of time to not make your broth too salty or too bitter.
8. Tororo Kombu (Shredded Kelp)
The last option for those who prefer kelp-based dashi (which is excellent for those who are vegan) is tororo kombu.
Toro kombu resembles bonito flakes specifically in texture as the flakes are super thin.
It is made by taking kombu and drying it before allowing it to absorb a vinegar/water mixture, which is then formed into blocks.
The flakes are then grated off the block, giving you that paper-thin consistency that you also see with bonito flakes.
Use toro kombu like you would bonito flakes as a substitute. Keep the water under boiling and only let it sit for a few minutes. The kelp can become bitter.
9. Shitake Mushroom stock
Another vegan option (but not very traditional) would be to use shitake mushroom stock.
Though this stock does not contain kombu or bonito flakes so it will not be very traditional, but if you like mushrooms, this is a great option for you. It also is a vegan option where some of the other options on this list are not.
However, mushrooms provide a special umami taste that will still create a rich and savory broth for dishes that require dashi.
Dried mushrooms also tend to be easily accessible compared to some other substitutions on this list.
10. Fish Stock
Fish stock is one of the least traditional substitutions on this list, but in a pinch, it works well for those who prefer fish forward dashi that uses a lot of bonito flakes.
Fish stock is made from simmering fish bits and vegetables in water for a long period of time and results in a subtle seafood base.
Though it is not very traditional, fish stock is accessible in almost every grocery store. You could add a bit of seaweed to the fish stock and create a (very) makeshift dashi in a pinch.
Again, it will not be traditional, but it will be work if you are struggling to find a better substitute.
11. Chicken Stock
We only recommend using chicken stock if none of the other dashi substitutions are available on this list.
Unlike fish stock that can be manipulated a bit to resemble dashi, chicken stock tends to have a pretty prominent chicken flavor that is not necessarily in line with dashi.
But, like fish stock, chicken stock is widely available and the most accessible of all the items on this list.
Because of that, in a hurry or a pinch, chicken stock will work. Just make sure to add other ingredients to get it a bit closer to a traditional dashi.
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