When it comes to classic Japanese dishes, one flavor profile is particularly prominent: dashi.
A stock used for soups, sauces, and more, dashi packs an umami punch that’s hard to beat.
It can be made using kombu seaweed or bonito fish flakes, or a combination of both.
However, some object to the use of dashi for reasons such as dislike of fish and want an animal-free diet or who don’t enjoy cooking at home and would rather buy dashi powder or cubes instead.
The good news is that it’s possible to substitute dashi with common ingredients found in most kitchens.
A few key ingredients can be used as substitutes for dashi, and they have their unique flavors, which means you’ll have to experiment with them.
These ingredients are not necessarily an exact match for dashi, but they will work fine in making classic dishes such as miso soup, noodle broth, or teriyaki sauce.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the five best substitutes for dashi.
What is Dashi?
First, let’s start with what dashi is not: it’s not broth, and it’s not stock.
Dashi is a traditional Japanese ingredient used in many recipes with unique umami-rich flavor and fragrance.
Dashi is often the first taste you’ll experience in a Japanese meal.
Dashi is made from kombu (a type of seaweed) and water.
The liquid dashi can be used as a base for soup or as a cooking liquid for other ingredients.
It’s also added to dishes, such as marinated grilled fish, to add umami richness to the ingredients.
Dashi is best when made with high-quality kombu seaweed, which delivers a delicate flavor enhancing Japanese dishes.
The most common place to buy dashi in Japan is grocery stores, but you might find some specialty varieties if you have access to a Japanese market.
The 5 Best Substitutes for Dashi
When you’re in a pinch and want to make delicious Japanese food at home, you can’t always find dashi at the local grocery store.
If you don’t have time or access to get dashi, try these five alternatives:
1 – Shiitake Mushrooms and Dried Seaweed
If you don’t have access to kombu, dried shiitake mushrooms are a great substitute.
Additionally, seaweed is another fantastic substitute for dashi that will give your dish umami flavor.
The shiitake mushrooms can be added to white or brown rice for taste.
Alternatively, you could grill the mushroom then use it as a side or garnish.
The dried seaweed is typically sold in thin sheets and is called nori.
These are great for making sushi rolls at home and work well with various sauces, such as the classic Japanese dipping sauce for shrimp tempura.
When you buy them, keep in mind that you’ll typically find both dark and light-colored nori.
The dark is smoked while the light is not.
2 – Soy Sauce
Soy sauce is also an excellent substitute for dashi; it has a rich flavor.
Additionally, it’s important to note that there are many different varieties of soy sauce.
When cooking Japanese food, you can use a light or dark soy sauce to substitute for dashi.
Although it’s important to note that soy sauce from China is not the same as Japan, Chinese soy sauce tends to be much saltier and less fragrant than Japanese soy sauce.
In addition, Chinese soy sauce is made from soybeans, while Japanese soy sauce is made from wheat.
In what dishes can you use soy sauce as a substitute for dashi? Well, it’s worth mentioning that soy sauce is an ingredient in many different sauces and marinades.
Its original purpose was to add saltiness and umami flavor to other dishes.
3 – Instant Dashi Powder
Instant dashi powder is a type of soup mix sold in Japan.
Like other varieties, it typically comes as a small packet with instructions for preparing the substitute for dashi.
The best part about using instant dashi powder is adjusting the flavor to your tastes by adding more or less to your dishes.
Interestingly enough, this powder is typically made from bonito flakes mixed with seaweed and dried skipjack tuna.
The powder can be used as a soup base and for seasoning and adding umami flavor to many different dishes.
4 – Chicken Broth
Although it may not be the first thing you think of, chicken broth is another excellent substitute for dashi.
The most common variety in Japan is called tori dashi, made from both chicken and pork bones.
You can add this broth too many dishes, including soups and other recipes.
In addition, I recommend adding other ingredients such as dried wakame seaweed and soy sauce.
The flavor that results from using these ingredients is rich and umami-packed.
It’s also important to note that the broth should be simmered at a very low temperature, typically for several hours.
You can also use it to make other types of soup.
5 – Powdered or Cubed Broth
Powdered and cubed broths are also great substitutes for dashi.
The powdered broth typically comes as a powder, similar to how instant dashi is packaged.
However, you should note that the consistency and taste of these broths vary significantly by brand.
On the other hand, cubes can be made from chicken and pork.
To prepare them, place them in boiling water.
The broth cubes can also be used in many recipes, including stir-fries and soups.
Depending on the brand, the flavor may vary.
Some have a strong taste of their own, which is why they shouldn’t be used for cooking delicate dishes.
Dashi is an essential part of Japanese cooking and dishes throughout the country.
However, for those who choose not to eat certain foods or don’t have access to traditional dashi, plenty of substitutes are available.
These include soy sauce, instant dashi powder, chicken broth, powdered broth cubes, and cubed broth.
In each case, it’s important to note that the taste will vary by brand.
When cooking dishes, try adding different ingredients to see which substitute tastes best.