If you’re wondering why Japanese food is so full of flavor and umami, the reason why is dashi!
Dashi is a key component to much of Japanese cuisine. Instead of water as a component to cooking, dashi adds flavor and complexity.
What is dashi?
Dashi is a Japanese soup stock that is the base of many Japanese dishes. It’s the base of miso soup and is an key ingredient for noodle soup dishes, simmered dishes, ramen broth, and sauces. and it’s one of the backbones of Japanese cuisine.
There are three main kinds of dashi. The most common is awase, a simple broth made from kombu (dried kelp) and shaved katsuobushi (dried bonito/skipjack tuna). To make it, kombu and flakes of bonito soak in near-boiling water. The strained liquid is salty, sweet, and full of umami.
Five main kinds
- Kombu – kelp stock. This is the simplest version there is. It’s kombu (kelp, a type of seaweed) soaked in almost boiling water, then strained. Kombu dashi is vegan and used in many vegetarian and vegan dishes.
- Katsuo – bonito stock. This is a simple broth made from soaking katsuobushi in almost boiling water. It’s simple, pure flavor.
- Niboshi – sardine stock. Tiny dried sardines (with the heads and insides removed) are soak in almost boiling water. Niboshi stock is an umami forward, bombastic dashi that adds so much flavor.
- Shiitake – mushroom stock. Dried shiitakes have huge umami flavor. Shiitakes soak in almost boiling water, and the strained liquid is equals shiitake dashi. Like kombu, it’s vegan.
- Awase – meaning a combination, this is the most delicious! My favorite is kombu and katsuo, probably the most common combination that you’ll find used in most Japanese dishes. I find it the most delicious of all the different versions. Awase dashi can also be a mix of any of the other versions described above.
You can make all of these kinds of dashi from scratch using konbu, katsuobushi, niboshi, or shiitake.
How to make dashi
- Simmer. Place a piece of kombu in a pot with water and gently bring to a simmer until the water just about reaches a boil. Remove the kombu and set aside.
- Steep. Add katsuobushi to the pot and bring to a simmer for 30 seconds, then remove the pot from the stove and let steep.
- Strain. After 10 minutes the katsuobushi should gently sink to the bottom. Strain the stock using a fine mesh sieve.
- Enjoy. You have dashi! You can enjoy it as is or use it in your favorite recipe.
We like to use kombu and katsuobushi for our most standard, basic version.
Kombu – kombu, or dried kelp, is a variety of seaweed. It has all the umami salty flavor of the sea. It comes in large pieces with a slightly white powdery substance on it. The white stuff is umami. Sometimes people tell you to wash kombu but if you do, you’re really washing off flavor. Your kombu shouldn’t be dirty but if it is, you can wipe it down with a damp cloth. Since kombu comes in large pieces, simply use a pair of scissors to cut it into a manageable square piece, about 4 inches by 4 inches. You can find kombu at Asian grocery stores and online. There are so many different brands and qualities available. We usually buy kombu that’s sourced from Japan.
Katsuobushi – also known as bonito flakes, kastsuobushi are the shavings of a bonito fish (slapjack tuna) that’s been dried and shaved. They smell like smoked fish and are delicious! If you’ve ever had high end kasuobushi freshly shaved on a fluffy bowl of rice, you know what I’m talking about. That being said, the quality of katsuobushi quality can really vary. Try to look for large, fresh, supple shavings imported from Japan. If your kasuobushi is dry and crumbly, it won’t have as much flavor. You can find kasuobushi at Asian grocery stores and online.
What are dashi granules?
Even though dashi is incredibly easy to make, there’s an even easier way to make it: with instant granules. Most Asian grocery stores will sell instant dashi packets containing granules that instantly dissolve. They’re handily packaged in single serving sizes. These are readily available in Asian grocery stores and online, in all of the flavors.
How to use dashi granules
To make dashi using granules, bring water up to a boil, then remove from the heat. Measure out 1 cup of hot water into a heatproof liquid measuring cup and stir in 1 teaspoon of the granules. Usually granules are sold in pre-measured packs that make 1 cup each. The ratio tends to be 1 teaspoon of granules for 1 cup of hot water, but always check the package to be sure.
A very popular Japanese brand for granules in Shimaya Dashi-no-Moto. They make instant katsuo, kombu, shiitake, niboshi, and awase.
What are dashi packs?
If you want a mix of ease and the feeling of making something from scratch, you’ll want to use dashi packs. These are ready-to-steep packages of pre-measured ingredients (kombu, bonito flakes, shiitake mushrooms, niboshi) that are sealed in a large bag that resembles a tea bag. You steep the bag in almost boiling water and simply pull the bag out when done, meaning there’s no straining. Dashi packs are delicious! They’re readily available at Asian grocery stores and online.
How to use dashi packs
To use a dashi pack, add 2 cups of water to a saucepan over medium heat. Once it boils, turn the heat down, add the little tea bag, and let everything simmer for 3-5 minutes. Of course, different brands have different instructions, so make sure you read the package.
Our favorite brand of dashi packs has got to Kayanoya. Kayanoya has been around since 1893 and they’ve become something of a luxury brand. Japanese people even buy it as omiyage (an edible gift) for people when they visit the island of Kyushu, the birthplace of Kayanoya. Their dashi is absolutely delicious.
Recipes that use dashi
For us, we utilize all of these cooking methods, and there’s not one that’s better than another, depending on what we’re doing. For something like yakiudon, granules add a huge hit of umami. If we’re making a complex ramen, Mike will make something from scratch, carefully tweaking the proportions of kombu and katsuo.
And, the best, if we’re making oden, a dashi pack is a fast and easy way to make a flavorful base. Dashi is truly a unique and amazing ingredient that adds so much flavor to everything. You can use it anywhere you use water to add a bit more flavor. Or, you can substitute it in recipes that call for chicken stock to add a bit more umami. I hope you give dashi a try, it’s really delicious!
- 1 piece kombu ~4″ x 4″
- 1 cup katsuobushi ~10g
If needed, you can store the dashi in a tightly covered container for 3-5 days in the fridge.
Amount Per Serving
% Daily Value*
Saturated Fat 0.01g0%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.