Don’t have dashi stock? Use these 6 secret substitutes instead!

                by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  October 30, 2021

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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!

Don't have dashi stock? Use these 6 secret substitutes instead!

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”).

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!

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:

Katsuobushi Kombu
Marutomo bonito flakes Well Pac dashi kombu
(view more images) (view more images)

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). 

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Favorite Asian Recipes

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.

But, there is a great dashi stock recipe if you want to make dashi at home. 

For this recipe, we’re using all the traditional dashi stock ingredients like kombu and katsuobushi.

After all, kombu dashi is the original one and it gives that dried kelp umami flavor Japanese cooks always prefer. 

Traditional_dashi_stock_recipe

Traditional dashi stock recipe

Joost Nusselder
The classic dashi stock recipe with kombu and katsuobushi
No ratings yet
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 15 mins
Total Time 20 mins
Cuisine Japanese
Servings 3.5 cups
Calories 225 kcal

Equipment

  • medium pot

Ingredients
 
 

  • 1 piece dried kombu kelp
  • 1 cup katsuobushi dried bonito flakes
  • 4 cups water

Instructions
 

  • 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.

Nutrition

Calories: 225kcalCarbohydrates: 1gProtein: 45gFat: 1gSaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 45mgSodium: 196mgPotassium: 587mgFiber: 1gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 1IUVitamin C: 1mgCalcium: 9mgIron: 1mg
Keyword Dashi
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

 

Also read our post on making a healthy vegan stir fry sauce

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.

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.

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.

If you’re a fan of Japanese foods like miso soup, katsu don, sukiyaki, or oyakodon, then it might put you off because you won’t be able to cook your favorite Japanese meals.

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!

5 Best Alternative 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:

Ingredients:

Instructions:

Find out more about fish stock and fish stock substitutes here

2. Shellfish dashi replacement

Homemade Shellfish Dashi stock

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:

3. Vegetable vegan dashi recipe

Homemade Vegan Dashi broth 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:

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:

Dried shiitake mushrooms

(view more images)

How to make vegan vegetable dashi stock recipe

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:

Ingredients:

Cooking instructions:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

Don't have dashi stock? Use these 6 secret substitutes instead! mentsuyu

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.

Miso soup

Miso Soup ingredients and cooking instructions

Ingredients:

Cooking instructions

Prepare wakame:

soup ingredients: wakami, miso paste, and tofu

Make soup:

Katsudon (with rice)

Ingredients:

Cooking instructions:

  1. Drizzle the pork chops that’s been pounded with salt and pepper.
  2. Dust with a light, even coat of flour.
  3. Get a small bowl and beat 1 egg in it, then put the panko in another small bowl.
  4. Preheat the skillet over medium heat and pour the cooking oil in it until it gets hot.
  5. Dip the pork into the egg to coat.
  6. Coat the pork well with panko breadcrumbs in order to prepare it for frying.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Now slice the tonkatsu (the fried pork chops) into tiny bits.
  10. Get another frying pan, pour the dashi in, then cook over medium heat.
  11. Add sugar, mirin, and soy sauce to the dashi soup and wait until it boils, then turn off the stove.
  12. 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.
  13. Then add 1 serving of tonkatsu pieces to the dashi soup mix in the skillet and simmer again for 1 – 3 minutes.
  14. 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.
  15. Set temperature to low and cover skillet with a lid. After 1 minute, turn off the stove.
  16. 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

Oyakodon

Ingredients:

Cooking instructions:

  1. 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.
  2. Toss in the onion and stir-fry for 1 minute on medium heat.
  3. Add the sliced chicken and cook for 5 – 6 minutes or until they turn golden brown.
  4. 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.
  5. Transfer the oyakodon into a rice bowl, add sauce, sprinkle with green onions, then serve.

Also read: Japanese foods like sushi and gyoza are more popular then ever

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:

This is Ajinomoto hondashi

(view more images)

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?

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.