Dashi is a foundational ingredient in Japanese cuisine, often used to create delicious broths and flavor bases for numerous dishes. This umami-rich stock, typically made from kombu (dried kelp) and bonito flakes (dried fish), adds depth and complexity to various recipes. However, there might be instances when you’re looking for substitutes, whether due to dietary preferences, unavailability of ingredients, or simply to experiment with new flavors.
It can often be difficult to find an alternative ingredient for Dashi. In fact, many experts in Japanese food or Japanese cuisine will say that it simply cannot be done, and it will be much better for the sake of your sanity if you didn’t even bother trying. This is a fact to some degree. In any Japanese recipe or Japanese cooking, dashi is a necessity.
Dashi refers to a specific group of broths that are made from steeping ingredients in either warm or cold water. The easiest dashi is actually vegan, and it’s made from cold-brewed kombu. Stronger dashi versions are made by squeezing delicious flavor from katsuobushi (bonito flakes), dried shiitake mushrooms, dried sardines, dried scallops, dried shrimp, toasted soybeans, and adzuki beans.
Dashi is loaded with wonderful umami flavor, and umami is the Japanese word for deliciousness. Umami is a savory, rich flavor that makes some foods so delicious they’re irresistible. Umami was discovered by Dr. Kikunae Ikeda in 1908, and the world has never been the same.
The particular flavor of dashi can be challenging to replicate. With that being said though, you can get similar though not identical results from other ingredients. These can be somewhat decent options if you don’t have any dashi available. With that in mind, here are some of the greatest dashi substitutes.
The Number One Choice: Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
Wow, that name is a real mouthful – as is the flavor! This particular ingredient works by enhancing the umami flavor in a dish. This component was designed back in the early 1900s by a Japanese scientist. He figured out how you can take the glutamate and isolate it from the kind of seaweed that is used in order to make kombu dashi.
Now, you will usually find that MSG is created by combining a few different ingredients such as soybeans. You will still get that particular flavor that you are looking for, however. In essence though, both dashi and MSG will add the glutamate to the dish, so it’s a win-win situation.
It can be really helpful to use MSG as a substitute as you can find it much more easily than some of the other main substitutes you would use for dashi. For instance, it can sometimes be difficult to find Kombu in Western countries.
You may also struggle to find bonito. If you visit a Western style of grocery store then you will probably find MSG relatively easy. It’s perfect if you need to immediately get an alternative to dashi.
Number 2: Soy Sauce
Soy sauce is an easy ingredient to find. Even better? It’s a spectacular ingredient to give you the umami flavor that you need for a lot of Asian dishes. You’ll just need to ignore the brown color. You may find that the flavor isn’t quite perfect with soy sauce in comparison to dashi. It can be good for many dishes though.
Dashi and soy sauce are usually used in tandem in a lot of Asian dishes, so in many cases it may just be a case of doubling the amount of soy sauce that you use in order to get the desired effect.
You may think that you can just whip up some DIY dashi in no time, but it’s a lot harder than it looks. In fact, it can require some experience to make dashi.
With that being said though, if you spend a little bit of time on perfecting the technique and finding the proper ingredients that you need, you could make some suitable dashi for the dish.
You are going to need to steep and filter with some kombu and bonito flakes, and this will allow you to create a broth.
What’s great for many Westerners is that a lot of stocks and broths are often similar, meaning that they can be used instead of dashi in a lot of dishes. It’s best to get a light stock or broth flavor, as this will most closely resemble dashi.
That brine-like flavor won’t be present with chicken stock, but you can still get that umami profile from it. It’s better to make a stock by hand rather than getting it ready made, but a powder broth can sometimes work okay.
Likewise, you can also use dried shiitake mushrooms to get the umami profile. In fact, a lot of Japanese chefs sometimes use the mushrooms in order to make the dashi. You’ll need to use a soaking liquid to make the broth, or you can put them right into a savory dish. This will help to give that more distinctive umami profile.
When looking for a dashi substitute for miso soup or miso paste in your Japanese dish, homemade dashi might be the easiest option. Grab some fish sauce or dried anchovy to make the Japanese dashi stock. You can also use chicken broth with a dashi packet to make a dashi broth for a nice miso soup recipe.
Best Dashi Substitutes
- Monosodium Glutamate MSG
- Soy Sauce
- DIY Dashi
- dried bonito flakes
- dried shiitake mushroom
- Try a dashi substitute tested in our kitchen.
Use in or with your favorite recipe.