Katsuobushi, also called Bonito flakes, is a crucial ingredient in Japanese cuisine that can enhance the umami flavor of any savory dish.
The process of preparing Katsuobushi is challenging and time-consuming, making it hard to find in many parts of the world. However, there are excellent substitutes for Bonito flakes, including kombu, dried shiitake mushroom, dulse flakes and Noli, mackerel powder, among others.
These alternatives offer a comparable taste and texture to Katsuobushi and can be used to enhance the flavor of various dishes.
What Are Bonito Flakes?
Bonito flakes are a type of ingredient commonly used in Japanese cuisine that offers a distinctive umami flavor. They are made from bonito fish that has undergone a specific process.
To make bonito flakes, the fish is first boiled and smoked before being sun-dried. Once dry, a bacterial mold culture is applied to the fish to protect it from moisture. After the mold is removed, the fish is shaved into thin flakes.
The resulting flakes are then added to dishes for their unique flavor. They are a key ingredient in dashi, a traditional Japanese soup stock. While not as widely used in other cuisines, bonito flakes can add a depth of flavor to various dishes.
Where Is Bonito Flakes Used For?
Bonito flakes, also known as katsuobushi, are widely used in Japanese cuisine as an umami enhancer. It is a primary ingredient in dashi, a soup that forms the foundation of many Japanese dishes, including ramen and miso soup.
Aside from being used in soup, bonito flakes are also added to onigiri and sushi rolls to provide a firmer texture. Japanese people consider it essential to include bonito flakes when making okonomiyaki, an egg and cabbage pancake, and Takoyaki, a grilled octopus dish.
If you are cooking a Japanese meal, bonito flakes are a must-have ingredient. However, if you cannot find them, there are substitutes available that can still provide the umami flavor that bonito flakes offer.
Best Substitutes For Bonito Flakes
If you’re looking for a substitute for bonito flakes, you need an ingredient that can provide the same umami flavor, whether it’s a seafood item or not. We’ve compiled some of the best options to use when you’ve run out of bonito flakes.
Mackerel powder is made from fish, just like bonito flakes. The texture and taste of mackerel fish are similar to bonito fish, but the powder is much finer than the flakes. Despite this difference, the flavor is similar, with a strong umami taste that can be used in various recipes and dishes.
If you’re looking to replicate the flavor of bonito flakes, mackerel powder is probably the closest substitute you’ll find. Since it’s a powder, you might want to add a bit less than you would with bonito flakes. The best course of action is to start with a small amount and then taste the dish before adding more, as it can be challenging to fix the flavor once you’ve added too much.
Dried Shiitake Mushrooms
Dried shiitake mushrooms are an excellent alternative to bonito flakes because they offer a rich source of umami flavor and are easy to obtain. They are often used to make vegetarian dashi because they provide a pleasant umami flavor without using any fish products.
Apart from dashi, dried shiitake mushrooms can be used in soups, noodle dishes, fried rice, and seafood dishes. While fresh shiitake mushrooms can be used, dried mushrooms have a more robust umami flavor and are more readily available (and have a longer shelf life).
You can use about the same amount of dried shiitake mushrooms as you would with bonito flakes, but it’s best to start with less and gradually add more, depending on your taste preference.
Kombu or Konbu
Edible brown algae, called kombu or konbu, is commonly used in making dashi and can be pronounced either way. It is often used alongside bonito flakes in some dishes, but it can also be used alone. Kombu is an excellent substitute for bonito flakes, particularly for vegetarians, as it provides the same umami flavor that increases the taste of a dish. Kombu is a primary source of glutamic acid or glutamate, which has the same properties as bonito flakes.
Toasted Soy Beans
Toasted soybeans are often used by Buddhist monks to make dashi, and it works very well as a substitute for bonito flakes. Soybean dashi has a mellow taste and is delicate in a way that it does not overpower the flavors of other ingredients in your dish. It is an excellent alternative for those who cannot eat fish or mushrooms. The key to making the soybean dashi taste best is to toast the beans with great care and patience.
Iriko or Baby Anchovies
For those who enjoy the salty, fishy flavor that bonito flakes bring to the broth, using baby anchovies as a substitute is worth trying. Baby anchovies are also known as niboshi or small dried fish and can be found in many stores. Iriko dashi is a common alternative to bonito flakes dashi when making miso soup or udon noodle soup. It complements the flavor of kombu dashi very well. Boiling the niboshi while manufacturing increases its inosinate concentration, causing a boost in the umami taste.
Nori is a type of seaweed that has a dark color and is commonly used to wrap rice and seafood in sushi rolls. It has a salty, fishy taste due to its origin in the ocean, which gives it an umami flavor. Nori is available in dried paper form and can also be purchased in flaked form. Its texture is similar to that of bonito flakes.
If you find the taste of bonito flakes too strong or unappealing, toasted soybeans can be an excellent substitute. Unlike miso dashi, soybeans are not fermented and have a delightful nutty flavor.
Toasting soybeans enhances their nuttiness and smokiness while also giving them a satisfying crunch. They can be used to add flavor and texture to salads, noodles, and rice.
Bonito flakes are widely used in Japanese cuisine to enhance the umami flavor of a dish, and they are also an essential component of dashi, a basic soup base for many Japanese dishes.
However, finding bonito flakes outside of specialty Japanese stores can be challenging. Luckily, there are several substitutes available that can be used in place of bonito flakes, each offering a distinct flavor and texture.
The list above covers all the different options you can consider to replace bonito flakes, making it easy for you to find a suitable substitute that meets your taste preferences.