Chicken to veal stock, along with a mirepoix (caramelized carrot, onion, and celery) is a foundation (“le fond”) in French cooking. The same also goes for Japanese cuisine where fish to kelp are used to produce a vegan to a pescatarian stock.
Knowing the base ingredients for any ethnic cuisine will allow you to experiment and devise new recipes. Although for people new to Japanese cuisine, learning about the popular brands and range of dashi will have you feeling semi-pro.
Just One Cookbook may have the Ultimate Guide for cooking with dashi, Japanese soup stock, but this will be the ultimate guide on “where to buy Japanese dashi brands and ingredients (vegan, vegetarian, and pescatarian).”This is also the ultimate birds eye perspective on the price/quality range of dashi products.
Breaking it All Down (English Translation of Japanese Dashi Ingredients)
If you look at the questions most people are asking via Google, it will be a lot of basic issues around language, so I will break everything down into easy to understand words (so that you can understand the words that are coming out of any article you are reading).
Water and one or a combination of ingredients:The easy way for pescatarian stock is HonDashi, and the easiest way, Shiro Dashi.
1. Kelp (kombu)
2. Dried and fermented skipjack tuna/bonito (katsuobushi)
3. Mushroom (shiitake)
4. Baby sardines (iriko), and you have a Japanese soup stock/broth.
- Dashi: soup stock/broth.
- Kombu (vegan): a single ingredient soup broth made from kelp.
- Katsuobushi (pescatarian): a stock made up of smoked and fermented skipjack tuna/bonito.
- Shiitake (vegan): dried shiitake (mushroom) and often times maitake are also used (if you want to know the difference, this great (yes, great) article will elaborate between the two.
- Niboshi (pescatarian): dried baby sardines (iriko) are lightly toasted (I think I used sesame oil vs. a neutral oil) to produce this broth.
- Awase (pescatarian): out of them all, this is the most common/popular dashi which is a a combination of kelp (kombu) and bonito (katsuobushi).
- HonDashi: probably the most popular and easiest way to produce a bonito (fish) based soup broth. The name itself translates to “true” dashi, but it is an instant dashi product by Ajinomoto which I consider to be granules, not necessarily a powder.
- Shiro dashi: “white” dashi is made up of konbu, bonito, sake, mirin, and a 1. usukuchi (a saltier and lighter colored soy sauce) or a 2. shiro (80% wheat vs. a typical 50/50 ratio of wheat and soybean) shoyu (soy sauce).
How to Use Dashi
If you ever want to produce a Japanese dish, these are the 4 basic ingredients you will need:Add sugar to this list, and you can produce an Americanized teriyaki sauce.
2. Soy sauce
If you want to make your own miso soup, noodle broths, to a number of hot pot and Japanese dishes, you will need to learn the popular brands and how to make dashi (Japanese soup stock/broth).
- Soup broths: miso soup is the most popular and easiest to produce although for you vegans, kenchinjiru (kombu and shiitake) is just for you.
- Sauce for dishes: there are all too many but agedashi (deep-fried tofu), agebitashi (deep-fried eggplant), and ohitashi (blanched spinach infused with dashi) are some of my favorites. In fact, when I first started to cook, agedashi was my go to dish.
- Noodle broths (tsuyu/mentsuyu): this is the main use that I use it in from soba (wheat and buckwheat noodle dish), udon (thick wheat noodle), to somen (thin wheat noodles). Equally as critical are the types of soy sauce you use, and I have all five types listed here.
- Ramen tare: is the flavoring for ramen, without it, you just have the base stock of either chicken or pork. So when you hear “tonkotsu shio” or “tonkotsu shoyu,” those are the cited tare for a pork stock.
- Infused into batters or blended ingredients: tamagoyaki (egg omelette), oyakodon (chicken and egg dish), to takoyaki batter (wheat-flour balls with a bit of octopus, not octopus testicles – I did Google to see if they have them, and here is your answer).
- Hot pot base: there are all too many again, but my favorites would be motsunabe (offal or intestine and cabbage), shabu shabu (my date night go to dish), oden (“fish cake” stew sounds odd, but think of it as a fish based like hot dog. Ok, that probably doesn’t sound any better), and nabeyaki (a mix of vegetables, meat, and wheat noodle) udon. These are dishes all produced/cooked all in one pot (a donabe).
Let Us Get This Out of the Way
If you like a pizza with tomatoes, mushrooms, cured ham, anchovies, and parmesan cheese, to a 30 day dry-aged steak, you are a fan of savory and glutamates. That savoriness comes naturally from glutamates which many of us experience in the form of a “tasty salt,” aka monosodium glutamate (MSG). Also, if you are wondering, “the glutamate in MSG is chemically indistinguishable from glutamate present in food proteins .”
“Today, instead of extracting and crystallizing MSG from seaweed broth, MSG is produced by the fermentation of starch, sugar beets, sugar cane or molasses.”– FDA.gov
If you think you have an issue with MSG, you more than likely have a problem with your salt intake. That is the half of “monosodium” glutamate you should be watching. Although, if you disagree, then cut out eating Italian food, eating grapes, cheese, and almost all processed and fast food from your diet which are all-natural producers of glutamates or contain MSG.
Where to Buy Dashi Ingredients
I have a comprehensive listing of vendors here, but I am listing all the major players for dashi here (this was very time consuming and tedious for me to produce):
- Amazon.com, globally (online)
- JapaneseTaste.com, Amagasaki, Japan (online)
- Kayanoya (producer), SoCal, USA (direct/online)
- Mitsuwa, 11 locations (brick and mortar)
- Nihon Ichiban, Kanagawa, Japan (online)
- Nishiki Pacific, Arlington Heights, IL (online)
- On the Umami (producer), Japan (direct/online)
- Seiwa, Los Angeles/Orange County (brick and mortar)
- TheJapanStore.jp, Tokyo, Japan (online)
- Tokyo Central, California (brick and mortar)
- Umami-Insider.store, SF Bay Area (online)
The Most Popular Brands and Types of Japanese Dashi
The objective of this post/section is to give you a big picture perspective of all the major brands and vendors available. That way, you are able to make a better informed decision on the product/price that best suits you.I know this because I wish I had this resource available when researching and experimenting with niboshi.
The bulk of kombu is sold in long big sheets, and they range in quality based on the region of the world they are from Japan, Russia, China, Tasmanian Islands, Australia, South Africa, the Scandinavian Peninsula, to Canada.
Japan has one of, if not the highest life expectancy in the world, along with a low obesity rate. That can possibly be partially attributed to the diet, like kelp which is used in miso soup to tsukudani (so good with a hot bowl of rice, so I am throwing in the recipe via Just One Cookbook).Kelp naturally contains glutamates and Kelp Benefits: A Health Booster from the Sea via Healthline.com
- Hidaka/Mitsuishi-kombu (Southern Hokkaido), great for everyday use.
- Rishiri-kombu (far North Hokkaido), high-quality used in restaurants.
- Rausu-kombu (Eastern Hokkaido), high-quality.
- Ma-kombu (Southern Hokkaido), high-quality.
Katsuobushi is produced as a fillet of bonito and is considered one of the hardest foods on the planet because of the simmering, smoking, and fermenting process. The resulting product needs to be shaved with a wood plane like device (kezuriki) into shavings. The only other option, is a more recent and an extremely popular product by Ajinomoto called HonDashi which was released in 1970 in instant granule form (just add water).
Out of all the dashi products, Kayanoya offers the most expansive and flexible product line. Their line of powdered dashi are single ingredient (fish or vegetable) to blends (fish, seafood consommé, vegetable, mushroom, kelp) to specialty (reduced sodium).On top of all that, they have the best customer service by providing extensive information via their customer service, website, and social media (yes, they are a standout).
- HonDashi: a very popular instant dashi (granules) by Ajinomoto.
- Arabushi: is smoked dried skipjack tuna (what the bulk of shavings are from).
- Hadakabushi (hadaka-bushi): arabushi is sun-dried for a couple days more with the surface fat removed and shaped.
- Karebushi (kare-bushi): is the full process, along with the latter half of the process which involves the fat being shaved off the surface of arabushi (hadakabushi) and the sun-drying and mold application being repeated twice.
- Honkarebushi (honkare-bushi): “true dried fillet” is the finest of all karebsuhi because the latter half of the process of sun-drying and mold application is cycled through multiple times.
The bulk of shiitake you will find is from China, although Sugimoto shiitake are JAS organic certified and grown in a more natural environment than their competitors from China. By the way, all Japanese words can be broken down in to “shi-ta-ke” (she-tah-keh) which is how your pronounce shiitake.
When it comes to producing a dashi, dried, not fresh are the goto product for shiitake, but I never knew why. Although to back up my habit of only using dried, I am citing “we can only use dried shiitake mushrooms because fresh shiitake mushrooms do not have the same deep and intense flavors as dried ones.” via Just One Cookbook.Who am I to argue with that, but I need to look into the science of why that is.
- Powdered although it is a blend of shiitake and maitake mushrooms.
- Dried Japanese shiitake.
|Whole Shiitake Mushrooms|
Product of China
|Kayanoya||Kayanoya Original Mushroom Stock Powder (a blend of shiitake and maitake mushrooms)|
Product of Japan
(6 g packet x 5)
(6 g packet x 20)
|Marusho||Dried Shiitake Mushrooms|
Product of China
3.5 oz (100 g)
Dried Shiitake Mushrooms
Product of China
8.0 oz (227 g)
|Sugimoto||Forest grown, organic, Japanese Dried Shiitake DONKO (25-42mm)|
Product of Japan
|Sugimoto||Forest grown, organic, Japanese Dried Shiitake KOSHIN (42-75mm)|
Product of Japan
|Sugimoto||Sugimoto Japanese Organic Dried Shiitake Mushrooms |
Product of Japan
Baby sardines are popular in ramen recipes which is why I had experimented with them (yea, I even spent the time to pull the guts and pop off the heads, which was not as hard as I thought it was, just time consuming for a commercial operation). Except the dominant choice for fish for a dashi is katsuobushi, although both Koreans and the Japanese use niboshi. That makes the finding the product a whole lot easier.
Lost in translation and misnomers is common which is why Americans say “hibachi” vs teppanyaki or Koreans and Japanese label restaurants as barbecue when it is grilling. Well, iriko/niboshi are baby sardines, not anchovies although it is common to unfortunately see others regurgitating it as anchovy.BTW, a hibachi is a room heater and has nothing to do with food. Also here are the differences between a sardine and an anchovy (via Patagonia Provisions and why it is good to eat lower on the food chain).
- There are powders and blends with other fish/seafood.
- Whole baby sardines.
- Products can be eaten straight out of the bag as a snack.
|Fujiichi||Nagasaki production dried sardine.|
|Seto Inland Sea Ibukijima for no antioxidant, no additive, for business use Japan Import|
|Kayanoya||Niboshi Dashi Sardine Stock Powder : Dried Fish (Anchovy, Flying Fish), Dried Sardine Extract Powder, Dried Round Herring, Kelp, Shiitake Mushroom|
8g x 30 Packets
|Shirakiku||Iriko Niboshi (Large)|
12 oz (Pack of 1)
Pre-Made Dashi and Ramen Tare
For those that don’t cook, your solution can be found in a bottle. From pre-made dashi (shiro dashi) or ramen tare (flavoring).So many good solutions can be found in a bottle and at the bottom of a bottle.
- Shiro dashi is very popular product in Japan (like a Yamaki Kappo Shirodashi). The cost of shipping a dashi product to the U.S. is not advantageous (costly, so soy sauce to Kirin beer is brewed locally in the US) so it is not widely available. Although here are a few places where you can purchase it from: Amazon, JapaneseTaste, Nishiki Pacific, or Umami-Insider.
- Nishiki Pacific out of Arlington Heights, IL offer several ramen bases which are products of Japan. Their current line up is spicy crab miso, scallop & white miso, pork shank, and matsutake mushroom and shoyu ramen base. For restaurants/commercial use, their Tsuki tonkotsu premium ramen base and miso premium soup base in large 64flo oz/1.89L sizes will be what you need.
Commonly Asked Questions
- How to prepare kombu: place in a pot with water on medium heat and take out kombu seaweed right before water boils.
- Difference between dashi and HonDashi: “dashi” just means soup stock/broth in Japanese and HonDashi is a brand name for a product by Ajinomoto.
- What is HonDashi made of? Ingredients: salt, monosodium glutamate, lactose, sugar, dried bonito powder, disodium inosinate, bonito extract, yeast extract, disodium succinate.
- The difference between a shiro dashi and dashi. A shiro dashi is typically a soup broth/stock base (bonito, kombu, shiro shoyu (white soy sauce)/usukuchi, and mirin, sugar), so all you have to do is add it to a dish or add varying ratios of water for concentrated versions.
- Glutamate.org: just a good site to challenge your knowledge and beliefs on what you think you know (that may be hard for some when they are in the US marketing bubble of what healthy ingredients are).
-  Kurakonusa: Characteristics of Different Kombu Seaweed and Its History.
-  FDA.gov: Questions and Answers on Monosodium glutamate (MSG).