While you may not know it, dashi is the reason you love Japanese food. This broth is particularly important because of its umami power, which can be extremely difficult to imitate. Still, having or making dashi can be difficult, so knowing other options to use is important.
What Is Dashi?
Dashi refers to a group of stocks that have a very rich umami flavor.
Traditionally, dashi comes from bonito flakes, dried kombu or sea kelp, dried shiitake mushrooms, and dried whole sardines. This stock is the base for many Japanese meals, including miso soup, ramen, udon, and more.
Preparing dashi takes time, as the ingredients need to be soaked for a long period. You may hear or see some of the following varieties:
- Kombu dashi: comes from dry kelp and has the most subtle flavor. It is part of clear soups and broths.
- Katsuo dashi: comes from bonito flakes, and it is common in ramen and soups.
- Awase dashi: combines both kelp and bonito, and it is part of ramen, soups, and noodles.
- Iriko dashi: comes from dry sardines or anchovies, and is commonly part of soups, rice, noodles, and more.
Dashi tastes rich and savory, creating a distinct umami effect for your meals. Most of this power is due to the dry ingredients combining with the glutamic acid in your stock. You can buy it in some organic supermarkets or Asian food markets, but making it may be easier.
What Can I Replace Dashi With?
Since it is hard to make and time-consuming, you may need to change dashi in your recipe. These dashi substitutes will come in very handy:
For Cooking, Miso Soup, and Tamagoyaki
#1. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
This option first appeared in the market when a Japanese scientist found a way to isolate glutamate from the seaweed used in dashi. MSG can now be made from a variety of ingredients, including soybeans, but it still has the same purpose of creating umami.
You can find MSG more easily than dashi in some countries, as it is more widely commercially available.
Add a couple of teaspoons of MSG for every one tablespoon of dashi, as it is stronger and could change the flavors too much. You can use MSG when cooking miso soup, tamagoyaki, noodles, and more.
#2. White Fish Broth
While this option is a bit more labor-intensive, it can be healthier and resemble dashi better. You will need to buy white meat fish, which includes cod, snapper, halibut, or bass, among some.
Use the flesh, head, and bones and mix them with vegetables, including leeks, celery, garlic, and tarragon, in about two quarts of simmering water.
Allow the fish to soak for a couple of hours so that the flavors are released better. After you are done, strain all the meat out and use the liquid that remains as a dashi substitute.
You can add or switch any of the ingredients according to your taste and use this when preparing soups, sauces, and tamagoyaki.
#3. Shellfish Broth
In the same way that you would make a fish stock, you can also use shellfish.
Use the head, tails, and shells of the shrimp or prawn. Saute some spices and vegetables of your choice, which could be garlic, onions, carrots, celery, or mushrooms. Mix water, tomato paste, and white wine, and the shellfish and vegetables, then simmer for about one hour.
You should carefully press and strain all the solids out once the time is done, and use the remaining red liquid as a dashi substitute. Add this option when cooking ramen, noodles, tamagoyaki, and soups.
For Tempura Sauce, Katsudon, and Gyudon
#4. Seaweed and Mushroom Broth
Since some of the dashi variations contain kelp and shiitake mushrooms, it makes a lot of sense to prepare your broth using these two ingredients.
Buy prepackaged seaweed and shiitake mushrooms, or any that you find, and soak them in about four cups of water for half an hour. Once the time is done, begin to boil the mixture, and then simmer for an additional 10 minutes.
You can add aromatics and seasoning to your water for more flavor as it cooks. Strain all the vegetables out of the liquid and save it as your dashi alternative. Use this option when preparing katsudon, gyudon, tempura, or any other sauces.
See More: Mushrooms Shelf Life
#5. Chicken Broth
This option may be the easiest one, as chicken broth is available in any grocery or convenience store.
You can make your own and pick what vegetables and seasoning to include, or simply buy boxed or powdered chicken broth. Make sure you dissolve it in hot water before you use, and taste it, as you may need to use about half more of what the dish indicates.
We recommend you stick to commercial chicken broth and not fish or beef, as these two have a very strong flavor that could alter your dish too much. Use chicken broth when cooking katsudon, gyudon, soups, and broth.
See More: Does Chicken Broth Go Bad?
#6. Soy Sauce
Even though this option isn’t ideal for everyone, adding a bit of soy sauce can create umami that resembles a dashi.
You can find soy sauce in any grocery or convenience store, but you may want to go with the low-sodium kind. Use only a couple of teaspoons of soy sauce for every one tablespoon of dashi.
You should also keep in mind that soy sauce is stronger and has a dark color, so it may alter the final look of your dish. You can dilute it a bit with water if necessary, or adjust for salt in your dish. Use soy sauce when you prepare tempura sauce, katsudon, gyudon, and noodles.
See More: Soy Sauce Substitutes
In a pinch, you can use fish sauce instead of dashi when preparing certain dishes. Make sure you use only a small amount, as fish sauce is much more concentrated and could overpower the dish. Also, keep in mind that fish sauce has more salt in it.
While not ideal, if you have no choice, you could use vegetable stock to replace dashi. Keep in mind that these stocks have more salt and added seasoning, so the flavor may not be the same.
In some grocery stores, you can find dashi powder or granules for instant dashi broth. These work in the same way that bouillon cubes do. These are not easy to come by, though, so your best bet may be an Asian food store or making your own.
Dashi is a delicate broth that not many of us know how to make, but that we certainly have tasted before. If your recipe calls for some dashi, you shouldn’t skip it. Instead, add any of these 6 alternatives that can create similar umami flavors.
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