The Best 7 Dashi Substitutes
Dashi is a Japanese stock known for its rich, complex, salty flavor, and because it is packed with umami!
Umami is known as our fifth flavor (along with salty, sweet, sour, and bitter) and actually translates roughly as “deliciousness”! Dashi derives its umami flavor from two signature ingredients: kombu (kelp seaweed) and bonito flakes.
The simplest dashi is actually vegan and is made by soaking kombu in cold water for 15 minutes. More robust versions are created by adding bonito flakes, also called katsuobushi, and sometimes dried sardines, shiitake mushrooms (dried or fresh), shrimp, scallops, adzuki beans, ginger, garlic, scallions, and toasted soybeans.
Like most seaweed-based foods, dashi is very high in plant-based iron, vitamin b12, sodium, and fiber. It is an excellent food choice for a myriad of reasons, but primarily because it tastes great! Kombu is a very popular and readily available resource! Adding seaweed to any diet is a great idea because it has so many of the benefits of meat but none of the downsides. It is also especially important for anyone following a plant-based diet to get all of these vitamins and minerals from their food! Enter, dashi!
Dashi is often made from scratch because it is as simple as making tea and can be made in less than 15 minutes by adding kombu and bonito to boiling water and straining. Being so simple to make, it is the backbone of many Japanese dishes. You have likely eaten dashi before—some miso soups are made with dashi, and it is the foundation for many Japanese soups and sauces.
To make your own, simply rinse a piece of kombu (it can be quite salty as they are harvested directly from the salty ocean!) and pour boiling water on top. Add some bonito flakes and let sit for 10-15 minutes.
You can source store-bought dashi, or the ingredients to make it at home, at any Asian supermarket. However, if dashi isn’t your thing or you cannot find it, here are a few alternatives for your next Japanese feast!
1. Beef, Chicken, Fish, or Vegetable Stock
In some recipes, you may want to consider substituting dashi with vegetable stock to ensure any vegetarian or vegan guests can enjoy your recipe! (You can also make vegan dashi by using only kombu!).
If this is not a concern, and you only have beef or chicken stock available, feel free to use it as a good alternative for dashi in any recipe.
Beef stock is darker in color and also contains plenty of umami, although any of the stocks listed here can be used 1:1 in any recipe that requires dashi. You might also use a stock concentrate, which you will water down by following directions on the packaging otherwise your final dish may be overly salty.
Fish stock will of course work exceptionally well, as it will contain some of that umami bonito flavor that dashi is famous for!
2. Dashi Powder or Bouillon Powder
These are great alternatives to dashi because you can keep them on the shelf with no need to refrigerate! They are also lightweight making them a great choice if you are traveling or camping and need your dashi fix!
They are also very affordable, making them great for anyone on a budget. All you need to do is dissolve the powder in warm water, stir, and you will have instant dashi.
The downside is that these powders are higher in salt, so remember to read the package to see how much water you need to use to dilute. You can always add more or less water depending on your preference.
3. Instant Soup Packet
Instant noodle soups are known in the Western world as a cheap dinner for budgeters. But in Japan, these noodle packs are a staple!!
The low-end variety contains a lot of salt so make sure to dilute a package in several cups of fresh water. The higher-end options (found in higher-end grocery stores or specialty Japanese stores) will have ingredients such as dried mushrooms, dried onion, dried shrimp, and more!
The soup packet with the flavoring may contain ingredients similar to dashi, such as bonito, soy sauce, and seaweed. This is an option you may need to play around with and you may find you need to add seasoning to it, but if you’re in a pinch and need dashi, feel free to check your pantry to see if any instant noodle soup packets are lying around!
4. Dried Mushrooms
By rehydrating dried mushrooms (especially shiitakes but any type will do!) with boiling water, you can easily make a delicious, healthy stock that will rival any meat stock or seafood stock. This stock will be savory, deep in color and flavor, and full of umami! It will also be vegetarian, which is a bonus!
If you’re not looking to add liquid to a dish, you can also pulverize dried mushrooms into a dust, and use this to season meat for a particularly umami-like flavor!
Miso is a fermented paste made from beans or legumes that is known for its high umami content. It is savory and salty and can be thinned out with hot water to make a stock that is even quicker than dashi!
Miso is likely more readily available than dashi, and there is a good chance you already have it in your pantry, so consider this a great alternative for dashi if you’re in a pinch and are craving some of that deep umami flavor!
6. Soy Sauce
Soy sauce is less savory than miso or some of the other options on this list, but it will certainly lend a nice color and saltiness to anything you are cooking! I
f you need to make a soup base but don’t have dashi or other stock, and all you have is water, you can instantly add more flavor by adding a few spoons of soy sauce! This is better than water, but not as good as dashi… but can be used to save a dish from boredom, in a pinch!
This is another well-known Japanese condiment that you can find in any Asian supermarket. It actually contains dashi but also contains soy sauce (salty,) mirin (sweet), and other seasonings.
Mentsuyu is typically used as a base for noodle soups such as udon, soba, or somen, and it is ready to eat—so if you cannot find dashi, but see a jar of Mentsuyu on the shelf, go for it! It is important to note that Mentsuyu can sometimes contain starch to make it thicker, so it may not be gluten free, so be sure to check the label if this is a concern.
Japanese food is such a wonderful and complex cuisine! The way they balance flavors and focus on simple ingredients is nothing short of genius. Seaweed is such a popular ingredient in Japanese cuisine and is believed to contribute positively to their long lives and good health, so there is good reason to incorporate more dashi into your life!
You can also make a quick dashi-like stock by simmering some other seaweeds! There are plenty to choose from including kelp, nori, or hijiki. If you’re feeling unsure, take a walk down the Japanese food aisle and let your heart lead the way! No matter which ingredients you try from this list, you are guaranteed to make something delicious if you are using Japanese food as your inspiration!
Related: 9 Popular Japanese Street Foods