Kombu is a Japanese seaweed vegetable that is popularly used as a flavoring to the famous Dashi soup or broth, which is also used as the base for Miso soup, noodle soups, and a variety of hot pot dishes.
Kombu has been traditionally used in Japanese cooking because of its unique flavor and outstanding health benefits. Aside from making food, Kombu is known to aid in the digestion of foods, particularly beans. To put it another way, the amino acids in this vegetable can break down harmful carbohydrates.
There are two ways how you can eat Kombu. One is by boiling it to make broth and the other one is for side dishes. Indeed, Kombu is commonly searched for in the preparation of foods. The umami flavor of this seaweed surely contributes to the food’s deliciousness.
However, since Kombu is in demand for such special dishes, they may be hard to find sometimes. But don’t be concerned because we have a list of alternatives for you.
Sometimes, when Kombu is not available, the best thing to do is to look for similar items. You may not have Kombu in your pantry, but Kombu granules can help do the trick.
Kombu granules almost have the same taste as Kombu, but are elevated in flavor. Aside from Kombu as the main ingredient, Kombu granules are also mixed with dried bonito flakes, dried mushrooms, and dried fish.
Just like Kombu, the granules are also most commonly used to make delicious soups and stocks. You can even mix it with rice together with Dashi.
In general, Kombu granules are a great substitute for Kombu, not only because they are delicious but also because they are a convenient option to use. They come in packs and they are mostly available in Asian grocery stores.
Kombu Tea is another substitute item that has the Kombu ingredient in it. It is made by drying the sea kelp, and then grinding it into fine powder.
Kombu tea is a great item to have on hand because it lasts a long time. However, since it has already been processed as a tea, there may be other ingredients and flavors present in it, which could affect the taste of your cooking. Thus, opt for plain Kombu tea.
When added to dishes, especially in broths, you won’t notice that the component used is tea because it will have the same taste and color as kelp.
Ajinomoto is a popular seasoning used in Japan. You might have been confused with this, but Ajinomoto is not an ingredient itself, but it actually pertains to a famous seasoning brand.
Ajinomoto is Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) that is used traditionally as salt by the Chinese. While it does not have any health benefits, you can use it occasionally to season your dishes.
A pinch of Ajinomoto will make a big difference to your dish in terms of taste as it is extremely salty. However, you should keep in mind that MSG can cause a variety of health problems, particularly hypertension when ingested in large amounts. So, if you are trying to cut down on salt in your diet, this may not be the best option.
Mentsuyu is a traditional Japanese soup base or condiment that is commonly used to season noodles. It has a salty and sweet taste, which is acquired from the mixture of dashi, soy sauce, salt, and sugar.
Mentsuyu is a convenient alternative that you can use mainly in soups and broths. It can be quite salty and pungent, which is why it is not advisable to add on salty foods like miso soup.
Bonito flakes, or also known as Katsuobushi, are dried and smoked skipjack tuna that is shaved into flakes. They are often used in Japanese and other Asian cuisines to convey savory and salty flavors.
The high inosinic acid level of bonito flakes gives it a characteristic umami flavor. As a result, it is best used in recipes that call for Kombu.
However, the only drawback of using bonito flakes is its distinct fishy aftertaste that varies based on the length and style of smoking. This can potentially affect the flavor profile of the food if used in significant quantities.
Dried Shiitake Mushrooms
Most edible mushrooms, such as shiitake mushrooms, are commonly utilized as a source of umami in different cultures, and can be fantastic alternatives for Kombu, especially in soups and broths where their relative flavor profile is easily absorbed.
While this is true in terms of flavor, dried shiitake mushrooms can vary in color, size, and consistency, which can have an impact on the dishes in which they are used.
To avoid this, chop the mushrooms after soaking and boiling them. You can also strain them to obtain a clear broth. But if ever you can’t get your hands on the real mushrooms, you can always opt for mushroom powder instead. It may not be the best option, but it can suffice and it is a little cheaper too.
Wakame is an edible seaweed that has been grown in Japan and Korea for thousands of years. Besides bringing a unique flavor and texture to soups and salads, Wakame is also low in calories and high in several nutrients.
Compared to Kombu, Wakame has a pungent flavor and rubbery consistency. It also has a mildly sweet aftertaste, which is notable when added to certain dishes. However, this sweetness may not apply to every dish since it may alter the overall taste.
The perfect measurement to substitute Wakame for Kombu is 1:1 or 1:1 ½ for cubes and dry flakes.
If you are looking for the best substitute to use in place of Kombu, white fish is the way to go. Whitefish is not only widely available in the market, but it also has a significant umami flavor that can mimic the flavors of Kombu.
Whitefish are simple to prepare. All you need to do is clean it, wash it, and boil it in the same way as you would in any type of fish or seafood. However, to maximize its flavors, you may need to add salt or other spices to it.
The good thing about using white fish as a substitute is that it maintains a clear color even after you have cooked it. Thus, it is ideal to use in clear broths, soups, rice, pasta, and even tofu, where a rich color is not looked-for.
Soy sauce is a popular seasoning in Asian cuisines. It is salty, savory, and pungent, which can also be too intense at times.
Although soy sauce is primarily made from soy, its flavors are generally derived from monosodium glutamate, or MSG, which is considered an almost pure umami flavor source. Hence, it provides a more intense savory taste than Kombu.
However, you should keep in mind that soy sauce is dark in color so it may not work in clear broths and soups. Soy sauce is also extremely salty so you may only need a few teaspoons to a tablespoon of it when seasoning your dishes.
Fish sauce is another ingredient that you can use when Kombu is not available. Just like the other ingredients listed above, fish sauce has a particularly strong umami taste that can be intense but savory.
It is fishy, salty, and may have a slightly strange aroma but in a good way. It is frequently used with lime juice and other substances to help balance its flavor.
When substituting fish sauce for Kombu, however, extreme care is advised because too much may impart fishy undertones that may not be suited for specific recipes and, as a result, might potentially ruin the whole dish.
Chicken broth or chicken soup is one of the simplest substitutes on this list. If you are thinking about cooking Dashi, chicken broth will surely bring out more flavors in your soup. It is also easy to make, as well as easy to buy in stores.
Chicken is basically boiled down with salt until the meat is tender. However, if you wish to make it more flavorful, you can season it with herbs and spices.
Chicken broth is a great soup base since its taste is not too overwhelming. It is tasty, but not too salty. It is also clear and not difficult to adjust. You can add several spices to it without destroying the taste.
Other types of vegetable seaweed
For vegans and vegetarians, vegetable seaweed is the best Kombu substitute. Surely, there are people out there who do not want to consume any type of meat or seafood. Thus, this one’s the best solution for all our vegan friends.
Sometimes, Kombu is not easily available. Therefore, looking for other vegetable seaweeds is not a bad idea, as replacements are similarly good and helpful.
There are several types of edible seaweeds in the ocean that you can choose from. So don’t be afraid to try and discover new ones. Some of them may include Nori Algae, Ogonori, Umibudo, Hijiki, and many more.
Aside from being used in soups and broths, vegetable seaweeds are also perfect in salads and side dishes. They are not only flavorful, but they are also a good source of vitamins, minerals, fibers, nutrients, and antioxidants.
You might wonder why tomatoes are included in the list. But surprisingly, they make a great substitute for Kombu, especially in certain dishes.
Tomatoes are a common vegetable in Japan, but they are rarely utilized in conventional Japanese cooking. And although you cannot use them to make clear dashi broth, they will be perfect to add to sauces and stews.
Significantly, the acids of tomatoes are comparable to Kombu. Though their colors are different from each other. Nonetheless, you may opt for sundried tomatoes for more concentrated flavors.
To replace Kombu with fresh tomatoes, dice them finely and strain them. For an even better flavor and texture match, soak sundried tomatoes in boiling water overnight.