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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.
But you’ve realized: I don’t have dashi! What to do?!
Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. You can actually make dashi at home with a few simple ingredients, and that’s also the most common and authentic form of dashi you’ll find anywhere else in Japan or abroad.
You can also use one of these 6 secret substitutes instead! Or if you’re not feeling up to it just yet, just buy some of my favorite instant dashi here now!
As I’ve mentioned above, you can actually make dashi at home with a few simple ingredients (find the recipe below), and that’s also the most common and authentic form of dashi you could make.
But if you’re a vegetarian, you might not want to. Or if you don’t have time to get the proper ingredients, you might not be able to.
In this video, I look at the best substitutes you can use. It’s definitely worth the time to watch it, as you’ll also get a lot of visuals on the types of things you could use. Or you can read on if you just want to get down into some of your favorites!
In this post we'll cover:
- 1 What makes a good dashi substitute?
- 2 What is dashi?
- 3 Traditional dashi stock recipe
- 4 What is “umami” in dashi?
- 5 The 6 best dashi substitutes
- 6 Dashi substitutes for some of your favorite Japanese dishes
- 7 FAQs about dashi
- 8 Enjoy Japanese dishes, even if you’ve run out of dashi stock
What makes a good dashi substitute?
Here’s the thing: dashi is a key ingredient in many Japanese dishes because it’s such a Japanese food staple. So, when looking for substitutes you need things with that bonito flakes and kombu dashi flavors in them
Dashi delivers umami and is made from kombu (seaweed) and katsuobushi (fermented fish), so you want a substitute that can deliver umami too.
Chicken or white fish broths can, but a great vegan alternative would be to substitute the katsuobushi for shiitake mushrooms, another umami-rich Japanese ingredient, and keep the kombu.
You can find most substitutes at Asian grocery stores but if not, making dashi from scratch is actually pretty straightforward.
I know some people don’t like powder dashi and similar substitutes which may contain a lot of preservatives and unhealthy ingredients.
Let’s get more into what dashi is and how you can use these substitutes in your dishes.
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”.
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:
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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:
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.
But, there is a great dashi stock recipe if you want to make dashi at home.
After all, kombu dashi is the original one and it gives that dried kelp umami flavor Japanese cooks always prefer.
Traditional dashi stock recipe
- medium pot
- 1 piece dried kombu kelp
- 1 cup katsuobushi dried bonito flakes
- 4 cups water
- Prepare all your ingredients. Don't wash off the kombu, even if there is a white powdery substance on it because this gives it that intense umami flavor.
- Using kitchen shears, cut the kombu in half, and then for each piece, cut some slits into the kombu until you reach the middle. About 3 slits per piece is enough to release more flavor into the broth.
- In a medium pot, add the water and the kombu.
- Heat the water on low to medium heat for approximately 10 minutes until it is almost at a boil.
- Use a skimmer or spoon to remove any bubbly foam from the top of the dashi.
- As the mixture starts to boil, remove the kombu pieces and throw them away.
- Add all the katsuobushi and bring the mixture to a boil.
- As soon as the dashi boils, turn down the heat and simmer for about 30-40 seconds. Turn off the heat.
- Using a fine-mesh sieve, strain the dashi into a clean bowl or jar. The dashi stock is ready for use.
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:
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.
The 6 best dashi substitutes
Alright, we now know what dashi is, and how to make it yourself. But what if you don’t have time to make dashi stock, or don’t have access to the ingredients?
When you don’t live in Japan or in Asia, it can be a bit irritating to know that there aren’t a lot of Asian (or more precisely, Japanese) stores that sell instant dashi, or kelp, or shavings of fermented skipjack tuna for that matter.
Although you can actually order instant dashi online, it may take a few days before it arrives.
Still, it’s a good way to store as much dashi as possible in the cupboard for all your future Japanese delicacies because you can use it in a lot of them!
Don’t fret in the meantime, because there are actually alternatives to dashi broth and you running out of it is the perfect time to try out dashi variants and replacements!
It may not be to your liking when trying out these alternatives for the very first time, especially since you’re accustomed to the taste of regular dashi. But in time, you’ll find that the varying flavors are also good in and of themselves.
Even though the substitutes may not be picked up by the taste receptors that are specifically tuned to umami (glutamic acids), they can still be the next best thing and you might even prefer to use one of these substitutes when you’re trying to stick to a vegan diet.
Here are the 6 best alternatives to dashi!
1. White meat fishes in dashi
Going by Japanese tradition, the washoku (和食) or Japanese cooking, they’d originally intended for dashi to be made from fish or seafood broth.
If you’re going to make a dashi replacement, then you’ll need mild, non-oily, white meat fish, such as the tilefish, bass, halibut, snapper, and cod.
Don’t use tuna or mackerel, as these types of fish have a stronger fish flavor and might dominate the overall flavor of the dish that you’re preparing.
Take note that dashi is just a flavor agent and while it gives the perfect taste to the meal, it doesn’t overtake the main flavor in any way.
In order to get started, you’re going to need to get the parts of the fish that people don’t normally eat, like the head and bones (you may also need a few pounds of meat).
These meat scraps are actually free in the fish market, so you don’t necessarily need to spend money on this trip.
Once you’ve acquired the parts you need, then wash them thoroughly and make sure no traces of blood remain on them, as they’ll turn the broth into a bitter juice.
Fumet is what you call fish stock. At the most basic level, it’s comparable to dashi, as the seafood taste is rooted deep within it.
Here’s a dashi stock substitute recipe with white meat fish:
- 8 quarts water
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 tsp tarragon
- 1/2 tbsp parsley
- 1 tsp fennel
- 1/2 cup celery finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1/4 cup leek
- 1 large white onion
- 4 bay leaves
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 3 1/2 ounce white meat fish like halibut or bass
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp mirin
- Preheat the vegetable oil in a skillet and saute the aromatics, which are tarragon, parsley, fennel, celery, garlic, leeks, and onions. Cut the vegetables into very thin slices and tie the bay leaves in a string.
- Add the white meat fish scraps to the mix and mix it around.
- Turn on the stove and pour 7 – 8 quarts of water in it, then boil it on high heat.
- Add 1/2 cup of white wine to the aromatics. Make sure that the wine or water fills the skillet so that it almost covers the fish scraps and cook for 1 – 3 minutes.
- Once done, pour the aromatics and fish scraps into the 8 quarts of water that you’ve boiled earlier and add 1 – 2 tbsp. of soy sauce, 1 tbsp of sugar, and 1 tsp of mirin. Let it simmer for 1 hour.
- After you’ve let it simmer for an hour, the fish broth substitute for dashi should be ready.
- Strain the mix, put it in a glass container, and refrigerate it. You can store it in the freezer for up to a month before you use it.
2. Shellfish dashi replacement
For this dashi substitute recipe, you’ll need to use shellfish scraps instead of fish. But prawns and shrimp create a better taste for this type of dashi than shellfish, so you may want to put more emphasis on shrimp.
How to make the shellfish stock:
- Dice your aromatics into small cubes and the garlic should be minced. These include the 2 cloves of garlic, 3 stalks of celery, 2 cups of carrots, and 2 cups of onions.
- Turn on the stove and preheat 2 tbsp of olive oil in a large frying pan. Saute the aromatics (except the garlic) together with the 1 lb of raw large shrimp scraps. Cook for 15 minutes or until they turn brown in color.
- Now toss in the garlic and stir-fry the whole mix for another 2 minutes.
- Then add the 1 and 1/2 quarts of water, 1/2 cup of white wine, 1/3 cup of tomato paste, 1 and ½ tsp of black pepper (freshly grounded), 1 tbsp of kosher salt, and 10 sprigs of fresh thyme (stems not removed).
- Allow the recipe to boil and simmer for an hour.
- Once cooked, then turn off the stove and pour the recipe into a medium-sized bowl as you let everything pass through a sieve. Extract only the juice/broth that’s made from it and discard the rest.
- You now have made a perfect shellfish/shrimp dashi broth. Store it in your fridge and use it sparingly for any dish that requires dashi in the future.
3. Vegetable vegan dashi recipe
If you’re a vegetarian or you plan to cook for people who are on a vegan diet, then the vegetable seaweed and mushrooms (kombu and shiitake) dashi alternative would be a great option to try.
How to make a vegan dashi broth:
- Use dried mushrooms and seaweed for this recipe and follow the instructions on the kombu pack.
- Get a clean empty pot, pour 4 cups of water into it, and then let the seaweed sit for about 30 minutes (don’t turn on the stove yet).
- Check the taste of the water by using a spoon (the seaweed should turn the water into some kind of tea) and check the seaweed to see if it feels somewhat slippery.
- Once you’ve soaked the kombu for 30 minutes, then it’s time to turn on the stove and boil it on high heat. Boil for 25 minutes.
- Since you’ve only put 4 cups of water into the mix, you may want to also check if the water evaporates too quickly and replenish it to get the desired amount of broth.
- As for the mushroom stock, you just do what was done with the seaweed and also soak it in 4 cups of water for about 30 minutes.
- This time, you don’t need to boil the mushrooms. Simply pinch them to get that strong umami flavor (if you feel the mushrooms are soft enough, then that’s the time they’ll be ready).
- Remove the mushrooms and finally, you can add the 2 liquids together for a strong vegan dashi umami taste.
Unlike the kombu, however, you can reuse the mushrooms up to 10 times before throwing them away! So that means you can make a lot of mushroom dashi substitute.
Place the mushrooms in a plastic bag and put them in the freezer for future use.
Now, you can’t get shiitake mushrooms everywhere. But fortunately, Amazon ships these dried shiitake mushrooms so you can use those in your stock:
Other vegetables that are also good to make dashi from are sundried daikon and sundried carrot peelings. These vegetables contain basal umami (free glutamate), which is a good dashi alternative.
If you wish to experiment further with other vegetables and herbs to make a dashi substitute, then visit the Umami Information Center for more details.
4. Chicken broth dashi substitute
Chicken broth is easier to make, as chicken meat is widely available and all the other ingredients needed to make it are very accessible too!
How to make chicken dashi stock:
- 1 3-lb chicken, or use parts, such as wings and backs
- 4 stalks celery (with leaves), trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
- 4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
- 1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 small bunch fresh parsley, washed
- 6 sprigs fresh thyme, or teaspoon dried
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
- 4 quarts cold water
- Turn on the stove to medium-high heat. Set a large cooking pot over it and put all the aromatic ingredients in it (4 quarts of cold water, salt, thyme, parsley, garlic, onion, carrots, celery, and chicken). Bring to boil for about 30 minutes and then reduce the temperature to medium-low, cover with the lid, and simmer for 2 hours until the chicken falls apart. Skim the foam from the surface as it builds up.
- Strain the broth through a large sieve or colander into a large bowl. Once cooled, take a big sieve and strain the broth into a large bowl. Using a wooden spoon, press the mixture as much as possible to get all of the broth.
- Pour the broth into 4 pint glass jars, cover them with lids, and refrigerate overnight. Now you’ll have lots of chicken dashi stock in the reserves to use for all your future recipes that may require it.
5. Powdered or cubed broth dashi substitute
Cubed and powdered broths are probably the easiest way to make dashi stock and while you may use chicken, fish, or shrimp flavors, you should never use pork or beef cube or powdered broth, as they won’t accentuate the taste of your dish, but instead, overpower it.
Salt, monosodium glutamate, hydrolyzed soy/corn/wheat gluten protein, hydrogenated cottonseed oil, beef fat, and many more are just some of the ingredients in a beef broth cube.
Too much beef fat and MSG (monosodium glutamate) give the broth cube a strong flavor, but even natural beef broth extracted from fresh cow’s meat still has the same effect.
So it’s best to steer clear of those and pork flavored cubes altogether.
6. Mentsuyu broth
If you’re looking for a seasoning that already contains dashi, you can try Mentsuyu (this is the most popular one in Japan). It’s a liquid soup base or seasoning with a lot of flavors.
The reason why it’s a good substitute for dashi is that it actually contains a lot of dashi stock in it. It’s made by combining dashi, mirin, soy sauce, sugar as well as some other types of seasoning in small quantities.
The dashi they use to make mentsuyu also contains kombu and katsuobushi.
Mentsuyu means noodle soup and the name refers to the fact that this is a popular base seasoning for most Japanese noodle soups like soba, udon, somen and some people also use it in ramen soup.
There are other uses too, and you can use it in all types of soups or simmered stews and meaty dishes. In most cases, recipes that require dashi powder or dashi stock work well with mentsuyu too.
But, the overall opinion is that it pairs well with soy-sauce-based soups, and not so much with miso.
When using mentsuyu as your dashi substitute, you don’t need to use many other seasonings with it because it already contains plenty of seasoning flavors and you don’t want the food to have an overpowering mentsuyu taste.
Wondering what else mentsuyu is used for? Try this simple but exciting Zaru soba recipe for a refreshing experience
Dashi substitutes for some of your favorite Japanese dishes
Technically, all the ingredients for homemade dashi are easily accessible in Japanese and most Asian grocery stores.
However, there may be times when they too will run out of stock or the new ones they’ve ordered haven’t arrived yet.
Fortunately for you, the dashi replacements discussed above should come in handy for situations such as these, especially if you can’t wait for the original ingredients used for dashi to become available anytime soon.
Below are some of the delicious recipes you can prepare with any of the dashi stock alternatives mentioned above.
- 1/2 cup dried wakame (a type of seaweed)
- 1/4 cup shiro miso (white fermented-soybean paste)
- 6 cups dashi
- 1/2 pound soft tofu, drained and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1/4 cup thinly sliced scallion greens
- Get a large bowl and pour cold water into it. Make sure the water covers 1 inch from the bottom of the bowl and put the wakame in it, then soak for 15 minutes. Afterward, drain the water using a sieve.
- Stir together miso and 1/2 cup dashi in a bowl until smooth.
- Turn on the stove and set to medium-high heat. Pour in the dashi in when hot.
- Toss the tofu in as well as the wakame broth and simmer for 1 minute, stirring occasionally.
- Turn off the stove and pour the miso mixture into the tofu, wakame, and dashi. Stir thoroughly and then add the scallions and serve.
Katsudon (with rice)
- 2 center-cut, boneless pork chops (pounded down to a centimeter thick)
- 2 eggs, beaten and divided)
- Flour (for dusting)
- 1 cup panko
- Oil (for frying)
- 1 onion, thinly sliced
- 1 and 1/4 cup dashi soup stock
- 1/3 cup soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons mirin
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 4 cups Japanese steamed rice
- Drizzle the pork chops that’s been pounded with salt and pepper.
- Dust with a light, even coat of flour.
- Get a small bowl and beat 1 egg in it, then put the panko in another small bowl.
- Preheat the skillet over medium heat and pour the cooking oil in it until it gets hot.
- Dip the pork into the egg to coat.
- Coat the pork well with panko breadcrumbs in order to prepare it for frying.
- Slowly drop each pork chop into the hot oil in the skillet and saute them for 5 – 6 minutes on each side until they become golden brown.
- Prepare a large plate and put some paper towels on top of it. Then place the fried pork chops over them to drain the oil off of the meat.
- Now slice the tonkatsu (the fried pork chops) into tiny bits.
- Get another frying pan, pour the dashi in, then cook over medium heat.
- Add sugar, mirin, and soy sauce to the dashi soup and wait until it boils, then turn off the stove.
- In order to prepare 1 serving of katsudon, do the following: turn on the stove and preheat the small skillet over medium heat, then pour 1/4 cup dashi soup plus 1/4 onion slices into the skillet and allow to simmer for 1 – 3 minutes.
- Then add 1 serving of tonkatsu pieces to the dashi soup mix in the skillet and simmer again for 1 – 3 minutes.
- Wait until the dashi soup boils, then pour the beaten egg that you’ve set aside earlier over the tonkatsu (here’s how to make it SUPER crispy!) and onion.
- Set temperature to low and cover skillet with a lid. After 1 minute, turn off the stove.
- Put 1 tonkatsu on top of a large rice bowl with steamed rice and serve.
Want to really get your katsudon and oyakodon right? Check out my review of the best oyakodon katsudon pan options for traditional cooking
- 1/4cup (60ml) dashi
- 1/2 tablespoon sugar
- 1/2 tablespoon sake
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1/2 tablespoon mirin
- 1/4 onion, thinly sliced
- 1 chicken thigh, cut into bite-size pieces
- 1 egg
- 1/2 green onion, thinly sliced
- Steamed rice
- Turn on the stove, put the frying pan on top, and set to high heat. Add mirin, soy sauce, sake, sugar, and dashi, then bring to a boil.
- Toss in the onion and stir-fry for 1 minute on medium heat.
- Add the sliced chicken and cook for 5 – 6 minutes or until they turn golden brown.
- Get a small bowl and beat the egg into it. Pour the scrambled egg over the chicken and onion mix in the frying pan, cover with a lid, and cook for another minute.
- Transfer the oyakodon into a rice bowl, add sauce, sprinkle with green onions, then serve.
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.
What can I substitute for bonito flakes?
To get the bonito flavor, you can substitute them with some shellfish, preferably shrimp or prawns. A vegan option could be shiitake mushrooms to add umami to your dish.
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:
Enjoy Japanese dishes, even if you’ve run out of dashi stock
It’s true that Japanese cooking uses a lot of dashi stock. But just because you’ve run out of it doesn’t mean you have to go without it!
With these handy substitutes, you’ll be able to whip up some Japanese food, all without losing too much of the dishes’ authenticity.
Just remember the flavors you want to imitate: dried kelp (kombu), katsuobushi (bonito flakes), and for vegans, you want the mushroom flavor of shiitake dashi.
Read more: traditional Japanese Robata grilling
Ever had trouble finding Japanese recipes that were easy to make?