Dashi refers to a group of stocks often used to enhance the umami flavor of many Japanese dishes. It’s made with a few special ingredients that are matured before being soaked in water or heated briefly to extract the ingredients’ exquisite flavors. Dashi is typically made using dried kelp or kombu, dried shiitake mushrooms, and dried bonito flakes.
It serves as a base for miso soup, clear broth soup, and other simmering liquid recipes and is, quite frankly, the backbone of Japanese cuisine. So, if you’ve run out of this staple, these 7 dashi substitutes will tide you over when you’re craving a Japanese dish.
1. White Fish
White fish like catfish, bass, cod, tilefish, etc. are an excellent stand-in for dashi because dashi is usually made from bonito fish shavings. White fish can help you recreate the umami taste of dashi to near perfection. You can prepare the stock by simmering the head and bones of the fish with some chunks of flesh along with a few aromatics (onions, garlic, celery) to keep the flavor profile closer to the original.
When using it as a substitute, keep in mind that using white fish to make the base of your dishes will come at the expense of an intense fish flavor that may overpower your dish. So, if your recipe will not benefit from that fishiness, it’s better to look into other options.
1 cup of dashi = 1 cup of white fish stock. (Alter the quantity per your preferences.)
Shellfish scraps or prawns and shrimp are easy substitutes for dashi. They will help you mimic that distinct seafood flavor without having to use any fish! For best results, use the shells and legs of lobsters for a flavor boost and to enhance the overall taste of your dish.
To use shellfish as a stand-in for dashi, saute some aromatics with shellfish scraps until brown, then add garlic and water, and let it simmer for about an hour to build layers of flavor. You can also add other ingredients like tomato paste, thyme, white wine, black pepper, etc. for added flavor, then extract the broth and use it as a base in various dishes.
1 cup of dashi = 1 cup of shellfish stock.
3. Dried Shiitake Mushrooms
This vegan alternative to dashi will produce an enriched umami flavor that will give you the perfect stock you need to make a flavorful dish. Keep in mind that the stock made from these mushrooms will have a unique shiitake mushroom flavor, so it won’t work too well in miso soups.
To use it as a substitute for dashi, soak dried shiitake mushrooms in water for 10-30 minutes until the mushrooms are soft. You can also simmer them with dried seaweed or other vegetables to enhance the flavor. Once done, strain the broth and add some salt and pepper to your veggie stock for a flavor boost.
1 cup of dashi = 1 cup of dried shiitake mushroom stock.
Pro tip: Refrigerate the broth for at least 6 hours before using it for a more robust flavor. You can also use the soaked mushrooms in a range of recipes to minimize waste.
4. Chicken Broth
Chicken broth can serve as an incredible soup base for a range of recipes. Keep in mind that it won’t give you the seafood-like taste of dashi, but it will have the same umami flavor, making it a perfect stand-in.
If you want to use chicken broth as a stand-in for dashi, you may buy it at your local store or create your own with celery stalks, carrots, garlic, fresh thyme, parsley, and other kitchen staples. You can even use chicken stock powder made with stewed chicken bones and veggies as a stand-in for dashi in a pinch. Keep in mind that this powder will have a higher salt content, so use it in moderation.
1 cup of dashi = 1 cup of chicken broth.
5. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is manufactured by separating glutamate from the type of seaweed used for making kombu dashi along with fermented starch, molasses, and sugar beets. MSG boosts the umami flavor of dishes and may easily be substituted for dashi in a variety of Japanese-inspired dishes since it serves the same purpose — adding glutamate to the recipe.
One of the most notable benefits of using MSG as a stand-in is that it is readily available compared to other dashi substitutes. You can find it in any Asian grocery store and even your local supermarket.
1 tablespoon of dashi = 2 teaspoons of Monosodium Glutamate (MSG).
6. Shio Kombu (Salted Kelp)
Shio Kombu (salted kelp) is a processed kombu product prepared by stewing seaweed and then salting it. It has a fairly salty flavor that can add a savory flavor to a wide range of recipes. But, remember, it can make soups and stews salty, so adjust the amount of seasonings you use in your recipes to ensure the shio kombu doesn’t overpower your dish.
Salted kelp is one of the most affordable stand-ins for dashi and is also super easy to integrate into dishes. While you can add shio kombu into hot water to use it in soups and stews, shio kombu is best sprinkled dry on cold tofu, salads, steamed rice, and more for a flavor boost.
If using dry:
1 cup dashi = 1 teaspoon shio kombu (Sprinkle it on your dishes, and add more if needed.)
If using to make dashi stock:
1 cup dashi = 1 cup shio kombu mixed with hot water.
7. Dried Bonito Shavings (Katsuobushi)
Katsuobushi, or dried bonito shavings or bonito flakes, is one of the key ingredients used to make dashi, which is why it is one of the best and most convenient substitutes for dashi. Dried bonito shavings are essentially shredded bonito fish flakes that have a flavorsome umami taste.
Dried bonito flakes are easily available in most Asian stores and are simple to substitute. While you can easily make dashi using dried bonito flakes, if you’re short on time or simply do not want to make the stock, you can simply sprinkle 1-3 teaspoons of dried bonito flakes on various dishes like stews, tofu, salads, and miso soup.
1 cup dashi = 1-3 teaspoons dried bonito flakes.