Chicken to veal stock and along with a mirepoix: caramelized carrot, onion, and celery, is a foundation (“le fond”) in French cooking. The same goes for Japanese cuisine, where fish to kelp produce a vegan or 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 will have you feeling like a line cook/chef de partie.
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 that are vegan, vegetarian, and pescatarian.”This is also the ultimate birds eye perspective on the price/quality range of dashi products.
I had always wanted a resource like this when I was trying to come up with my menu for my restaurant pop-up. So, if you are an avid cook, I hope you also find it useful.
Disclosure: I only recommend products I would use myself and all opinions expressed here are my own. This post may contain affiliate links that at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission.
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 my brain into this article you are reading).
Water and any combination of the ingredients below are how you create a Japanese dashi (soup stock/broth):The easy way for pescatarian stock is Ajinomoto HonDashi (just add water), but you cannot get any easier than Shiro Dashi (ready out of the bottle).
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.
The types of dashi: soup stock/broth
|A single ingredient soup broth made from kelp.|
|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.|
|A stock made up of simmered, smoked, and fermented skipjack tuna/bonito.|
|Dried baby sardines (iriko) are lightly toasted (I think I used sesame oil vs. a neutral oil) to produce this broth.|
|Out of them all, this is the most common/popular dashi which is a a combination of kelp (kombu) and bonito (katsuobushi).|
|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.|
|“White” dashi is made up of kombu, 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).|
The TL;DR (Too Long Didn’t Read)
This section, right up front, is for those who do not want to deal with all the words, aka reading, and I feel you because I often tell salespeople, “choose the best one for me, this is what you do, and I trust you.” If that is also you, I have highlighted a few items in each category where you can click to buy (did you just read this all? or skim through it?).
The 4 Types of Japanese Dashi
and the Best Dashi Brands:
The brands and products I recommend out of each category further below.
To compete with a million other companies doing Japanese ingredients in Japan, you have to be a quality product because, unlike the US’s diverse food culture, the bulk of ingredients and restaurants are ALL Japanese in Japan (surprise, surprise). So it is easy for me to recommend Kayanoya although the type of product is what you need to decide on: 1. kelp sheets which can be used for kobujime (curing fish via Cooking with Dog) and nothing goes to waste in tsukudani (recipe via Just One Cookbook). 2. kelp powder, it is a powder, so the versatility of product is left to your imagination, like ice cream.
Kayanoya is working with some talented individuals, and I am impressed by this company because here is a bit about their philosophy:
“When we nurture a single seedling–treat it with respect and gratitude–we help create a world which rewards us with exquisite taste and natural goodness.”– Kayanoya USA / Kubara Honke USA – The Kayanoya Philosophy
Skipjack Tuna/Bonito (Katsuobushi)
Now, this ingredient has a wide range of products, so it is hard to recommend something when I do not know what you are using it for or the type of person you are which is why I highly recommend you check out the rest of the products below. Although, if you are no stranger to microwavable dinners and stretchy pants, I will recommend one of, if not the most popular product by Ajinomoto called hon-dash (Matt Damon in the movie, the Informant was partially about Ajinomoto and the American company Archer Daniels Midland).
“The results showed that the ingestion of dried-bonito broth lowered SBP. However, the ingestion of dried-bonito broth did not affect the DBP….” and “…Therefore, the SBP lowering action of dried-bonito broth (changed value; −6.4 ± 17.1 mmHg) is suggested to be effective for reducing the risk of cardiovascular system disease.”– NIH: National Library of Medicine: The Effect of the Dried-Bonito Broth on Blood Pressure, 8-Hydroxydeoxyguanosine (8-OHdG), an Oxidative Stress Marker, and Emotional States in Elderly Subjects.
If you want to avoid industrial sized farming that is more about driving price down, the flip-side are Japanese forest-grown shiitake mushrooms that are naturally cultivated outdoors on special sweet sap oak logs. Grown by local farmers on Kyushu, the Southern island of Japan.
Support Immune Health: “Shiitake are rich in polysaccharides like lentinans and other beta-glucans. These compounds protect against cell damage, help your immune system, and boost white blood cell production for fighting off microbes. Polysaccharides also have anti-inflammatory properties.”– WebMD: Shiitake Mushrooms: Health Benefits, Nutrition, and Uses
Sardines (Iriko) / Niboshi
For most Americans seeing the head of any food can discourage people from using the product, so the powder is the way to experience the ingredient. Although, the reason why I am recommending the powder is that it is a BLEND of “dried sardine, anchovy, kelp, shiitake mushroom, and roasted flying fish that create an unforgettable dashi” (“unforgettable,” their words because there are things I do not forget, but would it be a fish stock?).
Sardines are an excellent source of vitamin B-12. This vitamin helps your cardiovascular system and gives you energy. In addition, these fish contain a healthy amount of vitamin D. Along with B-12, D is necessary for good bone health throughout your life.– Healthline: Are Sardines Good for You? – Healthline
If you are wondering if there are more options, why yes there are (keep reading).
Miso Paste, Dashi Sauce/Soup, and Naan Bread
With foreign ingredients, us Americans tend to add additional redundant descriptors such as “miso paste” or “naan bread,” which is the equivalent of saying mayonnaise sauce, beef stock sauce, and flatbread bread.
Dashi is not a sauce. It is a stock or a broth (a base ingredient). The Japanese version of stock is either seafood based, such as baby sardines to skipjack tuna, whereas a broth is a vegan/vegetarian option made from shiitake mushroom or kelp.
The Best Dashi by Categories
Classifying anything as “the best” always seems like BS because most “best of lists” do not identify what makes it the best, although I will try and divulge those details.
Best instant dashi granule brand: Ajinomoto HonDashiHopefully these details help justify why these products/brands standout.
An extremely popular product globally, and I bet every Japanese and Japanese American family uses this product out of ease.
Best dashi powder brand: Kayanoya
Unlike other Japanese brands, Kayanoya is committed to servicing the US market, that’s a big deal (most only cater to Japanese expats).
The best pre-made dashi: Yamaki shirodashi
This type of product is not widely available in the US due to shipping costs (a product of Japan), but it is widely used in Japan because it’s like a can of Campbell’s.
How to Use Dashi
If you ever want to produce a Japanese dish, these are the 4 basic ingredients you will need:The 5th would be miso. (combining miso and dashi, and you have miso soup, that’s it).
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 (miso and awase) is the most popular and easiest to produce although for you vegans, kenchinjiru (kombu and shiitake) is just for you.
- Infusing vegetable dishes (one of my favorites): blanching and steeped vegetable dishes in a vegan (kombu) or pescatarian dashi (awase). This dish is called ohitashi and blanched spinach infused with dashi are one of my favorites.
- Sauce for dishes: there are all too many but agedashi (deep-fried tofu), agebitashi (deep-fried eggplant). 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).
Japan was a vegan/vegetarian country for upwards of 1,200 years by law, and the food culture dates back a couple thousand years, just like the native food cultures of Latin America, Africa, the Mediterranean, Europe, and the Middle East.Yet, I am sure our 247 year old American food culture (we are young pups) and the business of “healthy” will tell you they have the magic ingredient or superfood.
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):
The standout companies/brands are: 1. Kayanoya (producer), 2. Nishiki Pacific (retailer), 3. On the Umami (producer), and the 4. Japan Store/Kawashimaya (producer).They standout because they engage the market (content in English and use of social media) unlike most Japanese companies in the US.
|Arlington Heights, IL|
|On the Umami||Producer|
|SF Bay Area|
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
Kelp Product Types
- 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 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 gets shaved with a wood plane-like device (kezuriki). The only other option is a more recent and a popular product by Ajinomoto called HonDashi, released in 1970 in instant granule form, and you just need to 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).
Skipjack/Bonito Product Types
- 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.
Shiitake Mushroom Product Types
- Sugimoto has a forest-grown powdered shiitake with no added ingredients or salt although Kayanoya offers a blend of shiitake and maitake mushrooms.
- Dried Japanese shiitake (primarily from China).
|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, powder from Kyushu, Japan|
Product of Japan
|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||Forest-grown Japanese Organic Dried Shiitake Mushrooms |
Product of Japan
Iriko/Niboshi (Baby Sardines) Brands/Products
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.
Worldwide, sardines are very popular, but they are the most popular in Spain and Portugal. Other large consumers of sardine include Australia, Canada, England, Croatia, France, Greece, India, Italy, Morocco, Norway, Peru, Turkey and even in the United States.
Lost in translation and misnomers is common which is why Americans say “hibachi” vs teppanyaki, buffalo vs. bison, 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).
Baby Sardine Product Types
- There are powders and blends with other fish/seafood.
- Whole baby sardines.
- Products can be eaten straight out of the bag as a snack (some are snack specific and not intended for dashi).
|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 bottled product. From a pre-made dashi (shiro dashi) to a 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 About Dashi
- 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).
- Not a reference but if you love the icons used, this is where they are from Fish icons created by ultimatearm – Flaticon and Mushroom icons created by Freepik – Flaticon