Want to make a flavorful bowl of your favorite ramen? If that’s so, then what’s better than prepping up some unique and savory dashi for your soup base? Probably not many.
Dashi is a savory broth and a staple soup base for Japanese dishes. It’s known for its complex, umami, subtle bitterness, and “taste-of-the-sea” flavor that complements and enriches the dish’s elements.
What’s more frustrating is when you live in the Western region and no Asian stores are within the vicinity. Luckily, here are some alternatives you can consider.
- Chicken Broth
- White Fish
- Powdered or Cubed Broth
- Shiitake Mushrooms
- Mentsuyu Broth
- MSG (Monosodium Glutamate)
There are dashi substitutes that you can use if ever you run out of kombu and bonito flakes. You can buy these ingredients fresh, dried, bottled, or powdered. A vegan alternative is also available.
But before that, let’s understand a bit more about how they are being made and their health benefits
12 Best Substitute For Dashi
Dashi comes from simmering two of these ingredients: kombu (dried kelp) and katsuobushi (also called bonito flakes).
It’s popularly used in noodle dishes and sauces such as clear soups, udon, soba, hot pots, and various ramen recipes. Not to mention, it’s also incorporated into more Japanese cuisines such as the cooking water for sushi rice, takoyaki batters, and yakitori glazes.
The list below captures the savory taste everyone expects from the traditional dashi. But to be honest, they may not completely copy the traditional, complex, and savory broth.
Nonetheless, with minor seasoning adjustments, these dashi substitutes will surely work well with your favorite Japanese dishes.
Chicken broth is a good and easy emergency alternative for dashi broth. It may not give out the distinct “taste of the sea” flavor, but it can work well, especially with dishes with chicken meat.
Usually, the Western chicken broths are saltier and more succulent. But if you’re aiming for a Japanese-style broth, then properly skim the chicken fat and keep the stock unseasoned and unsalted. This way, it retains the natural chicken taste.
You can add other seasonings later while cooking the dish with the broth.
Moreover, we advise you not to use beef stock. As you may know, beef stock has a strong flavor, and would pass a gravy-like taste with enough seasoning. It can overpower the dish instead of further enhancing it.
Bonito flakes, dashi’s main ingredient, are considered a white fish so it would make sense to use a similar ingredient as a dashi alternative. With its savory and earthy taste, it’s a passable substitute.
Moreover, white fish is less oily and greasy than red meat because it contains lesser chromoproteins in the muscles and blood.
That said, don’t use redfish meats such as mackerel and tuna as a dashi broth. They are great main courses but would overpower the dish. Instead, you can use white fishes such as snapper, catfish, halibut, bass, cod, haddock, and tilefish.
Powdered or Cubed Broth
If you want an easy go-to ingredient for an umami broth, try using a powdered or cubed broth. They usually come in various flavors such as shrimp, pork, chicken or even vegetable broth.
It’s easy to prepare as you only need to sprinkle the powder onto the dish or dilute the cube. They’re very handy and easily found in stores.
Usually, the western cubed broth seems to be saltier than the Japanese version. That said, dilute the cubes first and monitor the water concentration.
Be careful not to put in too much water. We don’t want to compromise the original meaty taste and compensate with salt, do we?
If you run out of kombu and bonito flakes, then you can resort to a much cheaper substitute – shellfish scraps! For shrimp and crab shell pieces, cut them into smaller ones – small enough to let the water seep the flavors out, but big enough for easy sieving.
It takes a longer time to extract the flavor from shellfishes. But to achieve a flavorful broth, you can simmer the shell scraps for around an hour. Don’t stir the shells or else, it ends up as a cloudy stock. Also, skim the foam every after a few minutes.
You can also chop aromatics such as onions, herbs, and celery, and add them into the pot once the foam stops surfacing. Simmer for 10-20 more minutes. Lastly, sieve the broth to leave out a clear broth.
Replace the bonito flakes with some quality shiitake mushrooms, along with kombu (dried kelp or seaweed). Shiitake mushrooms, native to East Asia, are known not only for their health benefits but also for their meaty and savory taste. That said, it becomes a healthy alternative for all the vegans out there!
Soak the kombu and shiitake in different pots for 30 minutes and allow the taste to spill into the water.
The kombu would develop a tea-like taste. Once the kombu changes into a slippery texture, turn on the stove and allow it to boil. Simmer for 10 minutes.
Shiitake mushrooms, on the other hand, don’t need to be heated. Instead, you can lightly squeeze the mushroom to release its umami flavor.
Finally, you just have to combine these two liquids and it becomes a healthy and savory substitute for dashi.
Mentsuyu is a popular Japanese brand that oozes with authentic bonito flakes aroma. What’s more interesting is it already contains the basic dashi elements – kombu, dried bonito flakes, sake, mirin (rice wine), and soy sauce. These are sold in glass bottles and available in Asian or Japanese stores.
If you ever go to Japanese restaurants, you’d probably find this ingredient as a soup base for udon, somen, and soba. Moreover, when diluted, it works well as a dip for fried foods such as tempura and cold noodles.
But although it’s a great substitute for dashi, you can limit it to soy sauce-based dishes and not miso. Furthermore, Mentsuyu is flavor-rich, so you can cut back on additional seasonings.
MSG (Monosodium Glutamate)
Extracting and reproducing the umami taste probably is one of the best gifts Kikunae Ikeda, a Japanese professor, brought to the food industry.
He discovered monosodium glutamate as he extracted the savory taste from kombu in 1908.
MSG or Monosodium Glutamate has been popular not only in Japan but also worldwide as a food enhancer. It has a synthetic amino acid enough to enrich dishes and improve the salty and savory taste.
That said, it is a fast and trusty alternative if you can’t spend much time preparing a dashi broth. However, remember that MSG must be used in moderation.
Shiro Dashi is like Mentsuyu, but of a lighter color. Shiro Dashi uses a light-colored soy sauce, while Mentsuyu has a darker tint.
In the same way, it also carries an aromatic, salty, umami flavor made from dried bonito, kombu, mirin, and sugar. It also complements as a base soup and works well on udon, vegetables, and pasta.
Overall, you can opt for Shiro Dashi if you prefer a lighter-colored broth.
However, you can’t expect the similar “taste of the sea” you get from the traditional dashi. But no worries because it works fine with some adjustments to the seasoning.
You go for granules, instead? Hondashi, made primarily from dried bonito powder, is popular in Japan for its sweet and smokey flavor. This pack of granules carries glutamic acids, and contains monosodium glutamate.
Like the commercial products mentioned above, Hondashi may not carry traditional dashi’s special flavor. However, it exudes a formidable umami taste that goes well together with stock recipes like miso soups, noodle soups, and hot pots.
Since it’s granulated, you can effortlessly stock it on your shelves, too.
Salted Kelp (Shio Kombu)
Okay, so you run out of kombu and found Shio kombu (salted kelp) shreds in your pantry instead. Can you use it? You bet, you can.
Not only is Shio kombu cheaper and more manageable in size, but it also oozes with the umami taste you need for dashi. However, Shio kombu is significantly saltier than the normal kombu. With this, you have to monitor the taste and avoid over-seasoning the broth.
Ahh, yes. Soy sauce. When all ingredients have run out, your lovely home still has soy sauce to fill in the gaps. However, although it’s an easy substitute, we know a dash of it can’t completely replicate the traditional dashi taste.
But with additional seasonings and vegetables like garlic and onions, this simple condiment can compensate for the umami taste. Also, you just have to ignore its dark color, too.
Anchovies stock, a Korean staple, is saltier and fishier than its Japanese counterpart, dashi. But you can’t argue how its clean and mild savory taste made its way to popular Korean stews.
Anchovies may be quite limited outside Korea, so you’d have to carefully check for their quality. To ensure quality, aim for dried anchovies that have a bluish silver and clean fish skin.
To make the stock, soak anchovies and kombu in water for at least 20 minutes. Next, let them simmer, not boil, as it may develop an unpleasant taste and slimy broth. Finally, sieve the broth and let it cool down.
Dashi Substitute Related FAQs
How long does dashi last?
Depending on the ingredients used, dashi stock lasts up to 3-7 days when refrigerated. But to maximize its shelf-life, store your dashi in zip locks and freeze them. This way, it could last for 1-3 months, while preserving the taste. Defrost when you’re ready to use it.
What color should dashi be?
Dashi that simmered from kombu and bonito flakes should appear in light brown color. It must not be thick and murky, but rather keeps a thin and clear texture.
How do you make dashi?
Prepare a pot of water and let a chunk of kombu simmer for around 10 minutes. Don’t overcook it to avoid a slimy and cloudy broth.
After simmering, remove the kombu and let the broth cool down before putting in the bonito flakes. Simmer the broth again for another 10 minutes. Lastly, sieve the ingredients to leave a clear, light brown broth.