So, you’re looking through Japanese recipes, and you come across an ingredient that you’re not familiar with—dashi. And if you don’t live in Japan, it might not be easy to find dashi in your local supermarket. So, what can you use instead of dashi?
Dashi is a type of stock that is often used as a base for several Japanese dishes such as miso and noodle soups. If you can’t find dashi in your local store, you can use substitutes such as certain types of fish, broths, or soy sauce among other items.
Here are 17 dashi substitutes:
- Shitake mushrooms and dried seaweed
- Chicken broth
- Dried bonito fish shavings
- Kombu tea (Kombucha)
- Shio kombu
- Tororo kombu
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Soy sauce
- Dried sardines or anchovies
- Anchovy paste
When you don’t have dashi and can’t find it in the stores, you can use these substitutes instead. Keep reading to learn how they work.
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1. White Fish
If you have white fish in your fridge, such as haddock, cod, snapper, or sea bass, you can make a decent dashi substitute. Place the fish heads, skin, bones, or other parts of the fish in a pot of boiling water and simmer with other ingredients such as garlic, onion, or celery.
Avoid using stronger flavored fish such as tuna, which could overpower the dish. But if that’s the flavor profile you’re looking for, feel free to use tuna or other strong fish.
This substitution is remarkably similar to the commercially available dashi and can be used in most Japanese recipes that call for dashi.
If you don’t have the patience to cook your own white fish broth, I recommend always having some better than bouillon fish base on hand.
Shellfish, such as shrimp, mussels, prawns, and scallops, can simulate the fishy taste of dashi just as well as white fish. Original dashi is made from dried kelp flakes, bonito fish flakes, and water, so anything that has a fishy flavor should provide a similar umami kick that you find in dashi.
You can make a stock or broth from shellfish just as you do with white fish. Scraps from your shellfish, including the shells, can be cooked down into stock and strained.
The broth from this can then be used in your Japanese soup recipes, such as Udon.
3. Shitake Mushrooms and Dried Seaweed
Shitake mushrooms have that rich, earthy flavor that mimics fish. They have a very savory flavor and can add richness to your Japanese recipes. Seaweed, however, gives your recipe a fishy flavor and mimics the kelp found in the original dashi recipe.
You can buy both ingredients dried and then grind them into a powder to add to your recipes. Or you can add them as is and have a nice textural component in your dish.
This is a great dashi substitute for vegetarians.
4. Chicken Broth
While chicken broth does not have the same fishy flavor as dashi, it still imparts a savory flavor to your dishes. It will give your soups or main dishes a rich umami taste. If you go this route, don’t use a dark broth but use a light chicken broth instead.
You can use this substitute if you don’t need a fishy flavor for your dish, but only the rich, umami flavor.
While you can buy chicken broth in the store, it might be easier and cheaper to make your own. Bone broth is a very popular item and it’s easy to make at home.
The next time you’re making a roast chicken, don’t throw out the bones. Instead, place them in a large stockpot, cover them with water, and add aromatics such as onion, garlic, carrots, and celery. Add spices and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for a few hours, or until the bones have fallen apart.
Strain and throw out the bones and other items. Once cooled, store the broth in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Bone broth can be a delicious substitute for dashi due to its meaty, umami flavor. My favorite is roasted chicken Better Than Boullion.
Bouillon is a powdered or cubed broth, which comes in several flavors, including fish and chicken. But you don’t want to use heavier flavors, such as beef or pork, because they would make your dish too heavy. However, you can use those flavors if you want to and if it makes sense for your recipe.
Since dashi is light and rather fishy, you want to have lighter flavors in your dishes, such as the poultry and fish flavors.
These powders are concentrated and should be diluted with water before using them. If the flavor is too heavy or salty, try adding a little more water.
Commonly found in many Japanese recipes, mentsuyu is a commercially available product that consists of:
- Soy sauce
Since it contains dashi, it is a perfect substitute in your soups and main dishes. Mentsuyu is usually used as a base for Japanese soups like Udon and soba. You can also use it in your fried Japanese dishes for a unique flavor.
If you’re making a lighter-colored dish, you might want to look for ingredients that won’t add color or darken up your dish. Shiro-dashi contains the same basic ingredients as mentsuyu, but the soy sauce used is a light-yellow color.
When people make dishes like the rolled dashi egg, they typically use Shiro-dashi.
Shiro-dashi refers to broth made from kombu, white soy sauce, and other ingredients. It can be used in place of Dashi in many dishes, including pasta, vegetables, and eggs.
Kombu is dried kelp seaweed, while tsyuyu is a sauce that contains dashi, mirin, and soy sauce. If you put these ingredients together, you will have the perfect substitute for dashi in your recipes. Tsyuyu is a dark broth made with dark soy sauce, but when combined with kombu, it can create a remarkably similar flavor profile to dashi.
Since it comes in a liquid format, you can quickly add a dash of flavor to anything you’re cooking, such as omelets, fried rice, soups, stews, and other Asian dishes.
In East Asia, Hondashi is a popular ingredient used in soups and other dishes in place of dashi. Basically, it’s a brand name for powdered dashi stock. The U.S. equivalent would be like comparing powdered broth with bouillon. Instead of making dashi from scratch, many people use the powdered form for their dishes and soups.
Hondashi is bonito soup stock and can be a great substitute for dashi in soups and fried dishes. It also has a smoky flavor that sets it apart from dashi, so if your recipe would be better served with a smoky flavor, you may want to use this instead. It would also go well in your tempura batter.
10. Dried Bonito Fish Shavings
Dried bonito shavings are dried and fermented fish filets.
If you, for some reason, have dried bonito shavings on hand and you are making a soup or stock, you could substitute them for dashi. Original dashi contains dried bonito fish flakes, so if you use one part of the original dashi recipe, your dish will still have that fish flavor you want.
Of course, if you have dried kelp as well, you could make dashi quite easily. Just combine dried kelp, dried bonito shavings, and water and simmer for a few minutes. The resulting liquid would be like fresh dashi.
11. Kombu Tea or Kombucha
Have you ever thought about making tea from seaweed? Well that’s the basis for kombu tea, or kombucha as it is more widely called. Kombu is dried kelp seaweed, which is then ground into a powder or pellet form. Many people pour hot water over this powdered seaweed and drink it like tea.
It can sometimes be flavored, but if you’re making a recipe that calls for dashi, you’ll want to use the unflavored variety. Since it dissolves rather quickly, this is a good ingredient to add to your soups or fried dishes.
12. Shio Kombu
If you are looking for a great dashi substitute, shio kombu is excellent. What is it, you ask? Shio kombu is kelp pounded into thin sheets, marinated in soy sauce, mirin, and sugar, and cut into small pieces.
While regular kombu has that fishy, ocean flavor, shio kombu is sweeter and gives your dishes that extra “kick” in flavor. Adding it to your rice dishes will lend a caramel-like sweetness that regular kombu doesn’t give.
As a substitute for dashi, this ingredient gives your foods the same sweetness and umami flavor you’re used to with dashi.
13. Tororo Kombu
Tororo kombu is simply shredded kelp. Dashi is made from dried kelp and bonito flakes, so if you have any Tororo kombu on hand, this will make a great substitute.
Kelp, or Kombu, is a very popular ingredient in many Asian recipes, so several preparations are available. As you’ve seen throughout this article, seaweed is an important flavoring agent, and if you have any seaweed in your kitchen, you can use that instead of dashi.
This particular type of kombu is marinated in vinegar and shaved into small strips. They can be placed in soups, stir-fries, and other items.
14. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
Monosodium glutamate, or MSG, is not technically a salt, but it acts like it when used in recipes. It is derived from seaweed and adds a meaty, umami flavor. It was developed in the early 20th century when a Japanese scientist isolated it from seaweed.
Glutamate is a prominent ingredient in dashi. Since MSG is used from the same type of kombu seaweed that is used in dashi, it can be used as a substitute in your recipes.
However, you should use MSG sparingly, as it has a powerful flavor and taste, and a little goes a long way. You should also make sure that the people eating the dish are not allergic to MSG as it is one of the known ingredients that can trigger migraines in some people. And, according to the Mayo Clinic, it can cause chest pain, nausea, muscle weakness, and heart palpitations in some people.
15. Soy Sauce
Soy sauce is the main ingredient in many Asian dishes and many other base ingredients. Many of these substitutes are made with soy sauce. So, if you don’t have anything else on hand, you could add in a dash of soy sauce in your dish to replicate the dashi flavor.
There are two varieties of soy sauce, light and dark, and dashi is made with the light variety.
If you have soy sauce in your refrigerator, you can add a dash of soy sauce to your recipes. But if you, or any of your family members, are allergic to soy, you can use coconut aminos instead.
While coconut aminos is not as salty as soy sauce, it does add a nice meaty flavor to your dishes.
16. Dried Sardines or Anchovies
If you’re looking for a fishy flavor in your dish, you could use either dried sardines or anchovies. Dashi is made from dried fish and kelp, so using dried fish of any kind can mimic that dashi flavor.
When you consider that dried sardines or anchovies are consistently used interchangeably with bonito fish flakes in commercial dashi, it makes sense that they can be used in your recipes. Soup is an especially good choice if you have dried sardines or anchovies.
The reason for this is that you can start by adding your fish to a stockpot filled with water. After you simmer it for a while, the water takes on the flavor of the fish. If you want the dashi flavor, throw in a little kombu while simmering.
17. Anchovy Paste
Anchovy paste is found in many dishes, including Caesar salad and butter-roasted tomato sauce. While you might not think that anchovy paste would be a good substitute for dashi or any other ingredients for that matter, it is used in many dishes that require a deep, rich umami flavor.
It will give you that fishy flavor that dashi gives you. Plus, since it is a paste, it can dissolve better in whatever you’re making. For example, if you’re making a soup, you can stir in anchovy paste without the particles that you would get if you used dried anchovies.
You can also use it to flavor vegetables, pasta, or meats.
Dashi is a great flavor additive. The good news is that if you can’t find it in your store, there are plenty of substitutes that you can use to replicate its unique, rich and salty flavor!