About dashi

Standard dashi

Dashi is one of the fundamental flavors of Japanese cooking. It’s traditionally made of dried katsuo (bonito) shavings and konbu seaweed, although some variations use dried anchovies as well or instead of one of those flavor notes.

I know about as many Japanese people who start with katsuo and konbu as I do Americans who start with chicken bones to make stock. That is to say, I’ve seen chefs do it on television in both countries, and I know restaurants that do it from scratch, but I don’t know any Japanese home cook in real life who starts with the fundamental ingredients in order to get to a pot of soup. In America housewives buy chicken or vegetable broth, or bouillon cubes; in Japan housewives buy dashi granules.

Around Champaign-Urbana, you can get them at any Asian market — the orange and blue package of Aji-no-moto is the most commonly used that I know of, and the most commonly available around here too. I believe you can also get them at Schnuck’s or Meijer’s in their Asian sections.

(If you really want to try making dashi from scratch, there are recipes in nearly any Japanese cookbook; see the bibliography for examples. However, most of them take 5-6 hours — slow water heating, slow resting, slow cooling, straining, repeating with the other ingredient — and I’ve never actually done it from scratch myself. I keep meaning to try, but practicality keeps getting in the way!)


To prepare dashi for home use, you mix the granules with warm water and you’re ready to go.

When a recipe calls for "1 cup of dashi," it means 1 cup of warm water with the appropriate amount of granules mixed in, not 1 cup of granules! That’d be incredibly salty.

The proportion of granules to water that you use depends on the purpose you want. Typically, I make stronger dashi when it’s going to be the main flavor ingredient, and weaker dashi when it’s going into something that will have a lot of salt from another source.

  • 1/2 tsp dashi granules to 1 cup water for okonomiyaki (which is basically dashi and flour held together with an egg)
  • 1/4 tsp dashi granules to 1 cup water for shoyu (soy-sauce-based) soup broth or miso soup broth.
  • Tasting is key – if you want it a little stronger, feel free to add a little more. If it’s too salty, add more water. I’m more likely to add more dashi granules to the shoyu-based soup broth than to the miso-based broth, because you can taste the dashi around the shoyu but the miso tends to be plenty salty by itself.

Vegetarian dashi

As mentioned above, the typical dashi is based on katsuo (bonito) flakes, which are made by carefully drying bonito fish and shaving the meat off hard bricks that are almost as tough as wood. A simple and flavorful vegetarian-friendly edition takes a little more work than the dried granules, but not much. It won’t lend the same flavor precisely, but it will be similar enough for government work.

  • Soak dried shiitake mushrooms in a little more warm water than you need for your recipe, since the mushrooms will absorb a fair amount of water. When they’re soft, wring them out into your bowl and save the mushrooms for some other dish.
  • Pour the shiitake-soaking water through a fine sieve or cheesecloth in order to filter out any grit that might have been on the mushrooms.
  • Simmer a piece of konbu in the shiitake-soaking water until it’s soft and pliable. Remove the softened konbu (you can cut it up and use it in stewed dishes like sukiyaki or oden if you like).
  • You now have vegetarian dashi.

A simpler substitute is to use regular vegetable stock; it won’t have as much distinctly Japanese flavor, but you can still get the idea from the rest of the dish.

In many cases the soy sauce or miso nearly drowns out the soup stock anyway; the stock is often
a subtle difference. So if you come home after work and think "I want ramen but I want it faster than an hour of broth-making," go ahead and get out the vegetable stock!