Every culture has some sort of ingredient that is an integral part of their cuisine.
Japan is no exception to this simple fact, and one ingredient that is in a lot of their food is a soup stock known as dashi.
But what is the exact origin of dashi? Did someone invent it one fateful day? Or was it something that just developed over time?
Dashi in Ancient Japan
While there were early references to the ingredients of dashi back in 700 AD, dashi did not appear in a physical cookbook until sometime during the Edo period of Japan (1603 AD – 1868 AD). It was during the 1800s, near the end of the Edo period, that dashi gradually became more commonplace and was used as a stock in many different kinds of soup.
There is no clear indication that any individual invented dashi as an ingredient. Rather, it appears that dashi gradually developed as people experimented with ingredients while making meals.
A lot of soups, especially miso soup, relied upon dashi as a base ingredient. It is also used in ramen and udon soups as well. Advancements with dashi mainly occurred in the Kansai region of Japan. All the main ingredients of dashi, kelp, and fish flakes (often tuna or sardines) passed through this area of Japan from other regions. As a result, with all of these ingredients in one place dashi began to develop more and more.
Also read: are ramen noodles Chinese or Japanese?
Has dashi changed over the years?
Dashi as a soup stock has not changed much over the years. The same ingredients are used, but the methods and techniques for making it have certainly evolved as technology allowed for all kinds of innovations. Making dashi is a time-consuming effort, but nowadays it is possible to buy instant dashi stock in a grocery store. This instant dashi is comparable to bouillon cubes that are often used to save time when making anything that needs stock.
Obviously, people in the 1800s or earlier would not have had access to instant dashi, so they would need to make it themselves.
Dashi, the historical and versatile backbone of Japanese cuisine
Though there is no specific point in history that dashi was invented in Japan, it is at the core of many Japanese recipes and the culture itself. When dashi became commonplace, it allowed the Japanese cuisine culture to grow and develop into what it is today.