Dashi: the broth at the base of almost every Japanese dish

by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  June 14, 2022

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

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Dashi (だし) is what gives the amazing “umami” flavor to Japanese dishes and is a class of soup and cooking stock used in Japanese cuisine.

As you can imagine, it’s often used in Japanese dishes.  As a fan of Japanese food, you cook it quite often.

To name a few of my favorite dishes, takoyaki and okonomiyaki are grilled foods that use dashi to form their tasty batter, which is made of flour (making it konamono, or “flour things”).

What is dashi?

Dashi is made by simmering kezuribushi (preserved, fermented skipjack tuna shavings, also known as katsuobushi) and kombu (edible kelp) in boiling water for 3 – 5 minutes. Then, it’s strained, leaving only the broth, which is called “dashi”.

Dashi is a base flavor for soups, broths, and stocks. Think of dashi as a bouillon cube, giving flavor to the dish.

The most popular form of dashi is a hot broth made with kombu, known as edible kelp and shavings of bonito, fermented tuna, or skipjack (kezurikatsuo). 

The most basic version of the dashi is a vegan broth made by cold-brewing kombu. The other types of dashi contain all kinds of flavor enhancers, dried fish, bonito flakes, soybeans, and adzuki beans. 

Katsuobushi is dried, smoked bonito, which is a kind of tuna. Katsuobushi is often used as flakes shaved from a piece of dried fish.

This is actually kezuribushi, but we still call it katsuobushi.

You can actually buy the main ingredients katsuobushi and kombu on Amazon these days:

KatsuobushiKombu
Marutomo bonito flakesWell Pac dashi kombu
(view more images)(view more images)

What does Dashi taste like?

It tastes savory and has different flavors of seafood. It is salty but has the flavors of seaweed and dried fish.

Most people describe dashi as a combination of marine flavors and glutamic acids which provide it with that umami flavor. 

The high content of sodium inosinate in the katsuobushi and the glutamic acids in the kombu create a synergy of umami that’s very appealing to the taste buds on the tongue, which is why most people love it.

Combining the flavors of katsuobushi and kombu in the broth unleashes the element of umami (one of the five basic tastes) into the dashi.

Dashi is commonly used as a base for soups, curries, stews, and even a component in dipping sauce and batter. 

However, homemade dashi is no longer that popular these days. Even in Japan, it’s been replaced by granulated or liquid instant dashi since the end of WWII (read all about the history of dashi here). 

The added glutamates and ribonucleotides (which are chemical flavor enhancers in the instant dashi) are preferred by chefs since they have a stronger and less subtle flavor compared to homemade dashi.

I don’t make my own anymore and prefer to use this Ajinomoto HonDashi for its rich flavor:

Ajinomoto Hon Dashi

(view more images)

There are also other variations of dashi stock that include soaking shiitake, niboshi, or kelp in plain water for long hours to extract their flavors, or simmering them in hot water (70 – 80° Celsius) and then straining the broth that you get out of it.

Kikunae Ikeda, a chemistry professor at Tokyo Imperial University, discovered the unusual and strong flavor of kelp dashi in 1908 and identified it as the “fifth flavor” of the umami.

According to him, the glutamic acid found in the kelp in dashi stimulates a specific human taste receptor.

What is “umami” in dashi?

Umami is one of the five basic tastes that the human taste receptors react to and roughly translates as “pleasant savory taste”.

It’s one of these five taste types: 

  • sweet
  • sour
  • bitter
  • salty
  • umami

It’s been described as savory and is characteristic of broths and cooked meats.

Believe it or not, until dashi was invented, scientists didn’t know that humans had a specific taste receptor that reacts to the glutamate in dashi!

In essence Professor, Kikunae Ikeda discovered both umami and the glutamic taste receptor in the tongue. It was also Professor Ikeda that coined the term.

What is umami

This is a text overlay image of the original work Japanese green vegetable, dried bonito flakes, herring roe by City Foodsters on Flickr under cc.

Origins of Dashi

Dashi is the cooking broth at the heart of Japanese cuisine.

Although it may not look like much, this clear broth is imbued with one of the five basic tastes called umami (savory). 

The dashi adds richness and depth to any recipe you cook, which is why Japanese chefs always keep this stock in their kitchen.

Approximately 800 years ago in Japan, the cooks started experimenting with kombu (a type of kelp) and mixing it with pure spring water. The kombu contains glutamate from which the dashi’s umami’s flavor is derived.

It’s amazing to know that making the dashi is incredibly simple yet it is used in half of all Japanese cuisines!

Kelp and bonito were combined in the mid-Edo period to create the modern-day dashi. This food base was most used in the Kansai region around Osaka

The Japanese use dashi because it’s so easy to make and cook with! Just boil water and add kombu plus some dried bonito flakes and the broth that results from that combination is your dashi stock (bonito is a fish that evolved from the tuna fish).

The dashi stock can be prepared in about 30 minutes or so, which is faster than the Western stocks that normally take a couple of hours to cook.

It is practically impossible to truly appreciate Japanese cuisines without the dashi as any other substitute for the dashi doesn’t come close to bringing out the authentic flavor of the dishes when dashi is present in the ingredients.

Types of Japanese Dashi

There are different types of dashi, some are vegan and made from mushrooms and kombu (kelp) and most have bonito flakes (fish) or dried bonito powder. You can find all types of dashi in Japanese grocery stores. In America, Asian grocery stores will likely carry this type of stock. 

Kombu Dashi

Kombu dashi uses just two ingredients, pure water, and kombu kelp, making it an excellent broth option for vegans and vegetarians.

The 2 techniques used for preparing the kombu dashi are:

  1. nidashi (simmering)
  2. mizudashi (cold water extraction)

Using the nidashi technique, you must first place the kombu kelp in a pot of cold water. Then allow it to sit there for about 30 minutes – 3 hours.

Afterward, place it on top of the stove and boil the water over medium heat. Meanwhile, skim the water’s surface in order to remove any foam and keep the broth clear.

Remember to take out the kombu from the pot just before the water starts to boil. If you don’t, then the dashi stock may end up tasting bitter and slimy.

After boiling the dashi, strain the broth through a sieve to remove any foam or pieces. 

If you want to extract the dashi from kombu via cold water extraction, then cut a steep piece of kombu kelp. Next, put it in a small water container, and refrigerate it overnight.

Once done you can pour the dashi stock in a bottle container and use it sparingly on multiple dishes.

You will notice a clear, lightly colored broth with a deep umami flavor.

You can also make dashi without kombu, here are 7 easy ways to do it

Iriko/Niboshi Dashi

Iriko dashi (also called niboshi dashi) is another kind of dashi made by mixing anchovies or baby dried sardines and water.

This dashi has a deep fishy flavor than the others and is preferred in the eastern Kanto region in Japan as it came from a tradition of fishing folks.

You can make the iriko dashi by simply putting baby dried sardines or anchovies in a pot with 2- 4 cups of water in it, bring it to boil and wait until the scent of the fish emerges.

When that happens, then this means that the dashi is ready.

It is believed by some people that the head and innards of dried fish cause the dashi to become bitter, so they remove it. Others don’t mind it and boil the dried fish as a whole.

And as for the dried fish in the dashi, you can strain then through a sieve to remove them from the broth or leave them as is.

Shiitake Dashi

Shitake dashi is made from the dried shitake mushrooms. It is famous in Japan and many vegetarians or vegans prefer it because it adds a strong salty flavor to the dashi. 

This dashi doesn’t need boiling and all you have to do is to soak the dried shiitake mushrooms in lukewarm water.

It is not recommended that you use water that’s been heated to almost or at its boiling point. This may prevent the shitake mushroom from releasing the much-needed savory umami flavor.

Unlike the kombu dashi though, the shitake dashi has a dark brown color to the broth.

Some people mix shitake dashi and kombu dashi to get the best of both flavors.

Also read: different kinds of Japanese soups you can make with these recipes

Bonito/Katsuo (Awase Dashi)

katsuobushi on udon

Awase dashi is the most common name for dashi these days.

The awase dashi has a more complex flavor when compared to other dashi types. It is made out of a combination of katsuobushi (bonito fish flakes) and kombu kelp.

First, you extract the kombu dashi by using the nidashi method.

Check the pot regularly when you’re simmering the kombu. Wait until the water is almost at its boiling point, then remove the kombu. After that add the bonito fish flakes to enhance the flavor.

As soon as the pot comes to a boil, turn off the stove. Allow the dried fish flakes to absorb the broth for a few minutes.

Make sure to check if the flakes have already sunk to the bottom of the pot before straining the broth.

It should have a delicate taste to it with a cadmium-like yellow tinge to it and a refined flavor.

You can keep the kombu and bonito flakes to make more dashi. The resulting dashi will actually have a stronger flavor than the first one.

FAQs about dashi

Here, I answer some of the most common questions around dashi that I didn’t get around to answering in the main post!

Is dashi the same as fish sauce?

While there’s fish in dashi, it’s not the same as fish sauce.

Fish sauce is often made from anchovies, salt, and water, and has a strong salty taste. Dashi is made from seaweed (kombu) and fermented dried tuna (bonito flakes).

Is dashi the same as bonito flakes?

Dashi is not the same as bonito flakes. Rather, bonito flakes are one of the ingredients to making dashi, next to dried seaweed (kombu).

Is dashi the same as miso?

Miso is not the same as dashi, though they’re both used to make miso soup. Dashi is a broth made from dried fermented tuna and dried sheets of seaweed and miso is a paste made from fermented soybeans.

How long does dashi last in the fridge?

You don’t have to use all of your dashi at once, right after you’ve made it. You can save dashi in a closed container but you have to put it in the fridge.

It’ll keep for around 7 days or you can keep it in the freezer, where it’ll last 3 weeks.

Can you buy dashi at the grocery store?

Unfortunately, you can’t buy Dashi at the normal grocery store. Even most Asian grocery stores don’t sell it! However, you can purchase dashi from most Japanese stores and a wide variety of online stores that deliver across America.

You can buy Hon dashi stock, which is great:

This is Ajinomoto hondashi

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What can I use instead of Dashi?

Honestly, there is nothing like dashi but you can substitute it with two umami food: anchovy paste and chicken broth. If you just ran out of dashi or don’t like the seafood flavor, use chicken broth.

It is considered to be savory so it will work well as a base. For a fish-like flavor, mix anchovy paste with some hot water and use that mixture as your stock. 

Find more ways to substitute dashi in your dishes here

Is Dashi healthy?

Dashi is generally a healthy food because when it is made from dried fish flakes, it contains amino acids that contribute to a healthy body.

Kombu, the main ingredients in dashi is high in iodine, calcium, iron, potassium, zinc, magnesium, and vitamins B, C, D, and E. Therefore, dashi is not unhealthy. 

The only issue with Dashi is that many instant dashi powders use MSG (monosodium glutamate). This food additive is considered to be unhealthy because it stimulates your nervous system and can become addictive. 

But luckily, there are many dashi powders and cubes that are free from harmful additives. 

Overall, dashi is an important base for a lot of Japanese food and these dishes are pretty healthy so there’s not much to worry about. 

Is Dashi the same as miso?

Many people confuse dashi and miso. Both may be used as base flavors for soups and stocks, yet they are made from different ingredients.

Dashi is made with seaweed combined with smoked and dried fish, known as bonito. The Japanese make miso out of soybeans combined with rice or barley, depending on the type

Therefore, note that miso and dashi taste different. 

How do I store Dashi? Does it go bad?

You can make a big pot of instant dashi (check the water to granules ratio here) and store it in the refrigerator for approximately 3 days. It goes bad after about 3 days so make sure to use it up. 

As for the dashi powders, cubes, and sauces, you can store them in the pantry for at least 6 months. If the packet is open, close it tight and use it within a week so it doesn’t absorb too much moisture.

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.