Are bonito flakes alive? Read this before ordering them!

by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  January 27, 2022

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If you visit a foreign country, you may be prepared for exotic food. But to see something actually squirming on your plate? That can be a bit of a shock!

However, that’s exactly what you’ll get if you order katsuobushi (or dried bonito flakes) in Japan.

But are these bonito flakes alive? Let’s find out.

Why are my bonito flakes moving

Are bonito flakes alive?

Katsuobushi (also called bonito flakes) is fermented tuna flakes that aren’t alive. They move due to the heat coming off the plate of food.

These flakes are so light that when you put them on hot food, they move around, making it seem as if they’re alive.

However, you have nothing to worry about! Although they’re derived from tuna, dried bonito flakes are very much dead.

Read on to find out more about this food and what to expect when you order it.

But first, check out this video Sasukekun242 made of bonito flakes dancing:

 

History of bonito flakes

There’s evidence that bonito flakes may have first been used as early as the 1600s, although the fermentation process wouldn’t be invented for another 100 years.

The origin story of bonito flakes suggests that an individual may have found katsuobushi that had grown mold and ate it anyway. They found it to be even more flavorful in its moldy state.

From there, it became a popular dish topping!

What do bonito flakes taste like?

Bonito flakes can be described as having a smokey, savory, and slightly fishy flavor. They’re comparable to bacon or anchovies, but they have a lighter, more delicate taste.

Bonito flakes health benefits

Bonito flakes provide several health benefits. They’re rich in protein, iron, niacin, and B12, which contain all the essential amino acids.

They also may help with brain health and metabolism, and lower the risk of diseases like heart disease and diabetes.

How are bonito flakes made?

To further unravel the mystery, let’s take a look at how bonito flakes are made.

Bonito flakes are made from dried bonito fish. The fish is cut into 3 so it’s essentially fileted.

The pieces are then placed into a boiling basket (also called a kagodate), and they’re boiled at 75-98 degrees for 1.5 to 2.5 hours.

After they’re boiled, the bones are removed by hand or with special tweezers. Then they’re smoked, usually over cherry blossom or oak wood.

The tar and fat are shaved off and the bonito is placed in the sun to dry for 2 or 3 days. This is repeated a few times.

Finally, the bonito is shaved with a special shaver. It’s very important to use the right technique when using the shaver or the fish can turn to powder.

The process for making bonito flakes is a very long one. It can take between 5 months and 2 years and 5 kg of bonito will only make 800 – 900 grams of flakes.

Although the preparation process is extensive, don’t worry. You don’t have to travel to Asia or make them in your own kitchen to enjoy them.

Dried bonito flakes are available in some fancy grocery stores and in Asian grocery stores. You can also purchase them online.

Culinary uses

Bonito flakes are quite diverse and they can be used as a topping on just about anything.

The Japanese often use them as toppings for tofu, pickled vegetables, or okonomiyaki, a flavorful type of Japanese pancake. They’re also a major component in dashi broth and they can be used to add flavor to rice dishes.

Don’t worry—bonito flakes aren’t alive

So when you go to Japan and see food dancing on your plate, don’t get too shocked. These are actually flavorful fish shavings that are quite delicious and beneficial to your health!

Many even say they are a gift from the umami gods. How will you be incorporating bonito flakes into your meals?

Ever had trouble finding Japanese recipes that were easy to make?

We now have "cooking Japanese with ease", our full recipe book and video course with step-by-step tutorials on your favorite recipes.

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.