Known as katsuobushi in Japan, bonito flakes are an essential part of Asian cuisine. In Japanese cuisine, you can’t imagine a traditional dish without adding at least a few bonito flakes.
So, what are these bonito flakes, and what is the best bonito flakes substitute? First, here I am talking about dried bonito flakes or katsuobushi because in that state they are best for use in various dishes.
One could say that, at first glance, these pieces of dried fish do not look the most attractive. But I can assure you that only someone who has never tried a Japanese dish seasoned with bonito flakes can say that.
Anyone who has tried delicious noodles or noodle soup together with bonito flakes will surely want to always have this Japanese food on hand. Of course, this is not always the case, especially if you don’t live in Japan or another Asian country.
In the grocery stores in the US, it is somewhat harder to find these flakes. But don’t worry. It is for this reason that I am here to help you find the best substitute for bonito flakes.
Discovering The Best Bonito Flakes Substitute
If you are into Japanese cooking but don’t have one of the main ingredients of Japanese cuisine, you’ve come to the right place because right now I am going to reveal some good substitutes for bonito flakes. So, let’s move on!
1. Kombu: Japanese Seaweed Product
Kombu or konbu is also one of the most popular ingredients when we are talking about Japanese cuisine. It can be pickled, shredded, and dried.
It has a slightly different umami flavor to bonito flakes due to the glutamate or glutamic acid that it possesses compared to inosinic acid in bonito flakes, but actually, that is only a slight difference.
As with kelp, kombu has a high level of iodine and that means it can provide some health benefits. But, it can be toxic if taken in large quantities, which should be kept in mind.
You can use kombu as an ingredient in dishes like dashi and ramen, or in some sauces and marinades.
2. Iriko: Baby Anchovies
That well-known salty, fishy flavor is the main reason why iriko or baby anchovies represent a great bonito flake substitute.
If you are making noodle soup or miso soup, iriko dashi can be a great alternative to bonito flakes dashi because of the similar kombu flavor.
If you are trying to find iriko in your local grocery store, there’s a good chance you’ll find it under the name of niboshi, so you should keep that in mind.
3. White Fish: Non-Oily One
Bonito flakes are traditionally made of skipjack tuna because it has a very mild taste, which allows other flavors to come to the fore.
This is exactly the reason why white fish is acceptable as a good bonito flakes substitute. I am saying this because white fish is also mild-flavored as skipjack tuna and it also doesn’t possess excessive oils in the tissue. It also has flaky flesh which makes an excellent alternative for bonito flakes.
Some of the types of white fish are bream, cod, haddock, hake, halibut, monkfish, mullet, plaice, sea bass, etc. Almost all of these types of white fish are full of omega 3 and vitamins A, D, and E.
4. Shellfish: Another Fishy Option
If you want that strong fishy taste of bonito flakes, then shellfish is a great option for you. What will be missing is the specific smoky flavor that bonito flakes provide.
Shellfish includes prawns, scallops, oysters, and shrimp. Apart from their original form, you can use them as shellfish powder that is made from mussels, oysters, scallops, and clams. It is a good alternative for garnishing, topping, and pasta sauces.
If you are planning to make condiments, soups, or stews, shellfish stock is a better option. And there is also a broth made from shellfish which can serve as a good bonito flakes alternative.
5. Shiro Dashi: Or Tsuyu
Shiro dashi or white soup stock is a light brown or amber-like liquid. Just like bonito flakes, it is an essential part of Japanese cuisine.
It is commonly made from soy sauce as a base ingredient, from condiments that include sake, salt, and mirin. This mix is then simmered with dashi ingredients such as dried bonito flakes, kombu dashi, and shiitake mushrooms.
If you want an enhancer of that umami taste from bonito flakes then there is no better option than Shiro dashi. If you want a slightly stronger taste, then just serve tsuyu, considering that it is the same as Shiro dashi but with dark soy for a stronger flavor.
6. Nutritional Yeast: Yellow Flakes
It may be a little strange that nutritional yeast is on this list, considering it is mainly used as an alternative to many well-known kinds of cheese. For example, it is a good substitute for ricotta cheese and many other popular kinds of cheese.
But, as you can see it found its place on the list of bonito flakes substitutes. And it can serve as an excellent alternative, especially if you want to improve the texture with something similar to bonito flakes.
Also, when it comes to the flavor profile, nutritional yeast provides a strong umami flavor which is definitely something desirable when you are making dashi. Nutritional yeast is a good topping for a wide range of dishes like tofu, noodles, etc.
7. Mackerel Powder: Extra Fishy Aroma
If you are looking for an alternative that will be the closest to bonito flakes in terms of texture and taste, then you cannot find anything better than mackerel powder.
What could potentially put some people off this powder is its strong fishy aroma.
But still, with the great availability of this powder in stores around the world, as well as the similarity with bonito flakes in terms of taste and texture, mackerel powder holds a high place as a bonito flakes substitute.
8. Shredded Nori: Easy To Find
It’s no wonder that shredded nori is at the bottom of this list considering that it is not exactly the best option when it comes to bonito flakes substitute.
What kept it on this substitute list is its very wide availability. Shredded nori can be used in combination with some other ingredients like dulse flakes, for example.
There are some other ingredients like beef broth, liquid smoke, or MSG for extra flavor. You can use shredded nori in salads, wraps, noodles, soups, and vegetable plates as a good alternative for bonito flakes.
Best Substitutes For Vegans And Vegetarians
Of course thinking of some of you who are on a vegan or vegetarian diet, I have singled out some vegan alternatives that can serve as a good substitute for bonito flakes.
1. Roasted Soybeans
An excellent alternative to bonito flakes for people who are allergic to fish and for vegans, although they do not possess that savory flavor for which bonito flakes are known.
With a hint of some liquid smoke, they can serve as a worthy substitute for bonito flakes, especially if you follow a vegan diet.
2. Dried Shiitake Mushrooms
These are a favorite of vegans and, of course, those who like mushrooms. And who doesn’t like mushrooms? They possess a recognizable earthy flavor and they can be accommodated into any dish.
Some dishes that are suitable for shiitake mushrooms are dashi stock, stews, rice dishes, broth, and veggie meals. By adding some kombu, you will get that original bonito flakes flavor.
3. Dulse Seaweed
This is an ordinary ingredient in Japanese cuisine and it is a very good replacement for bonito flakes. It possesses a grindable consistency, flakey texture, and smokey flavor.
If you want to get the best out of this alternative to bonito flakes, you can double the dulse flakes and add some flaxseed oil for the missing fat from the fish. Also, don’t overdo it with salt and you will get the best results.
Is Dashi The Same As Bonito Flakes?
No, dashi is not the same as bonito flakes. Bonito flakes are dried, fermented, smoked, and shaved skipjack tuna. It is obtained by boiling fish at a low temperature, shaving off tar and fat, and by smoking it every day for a month before it gets sun-dried.
On the other hand, dashi is the combination of those same dried bonito flakes, or katsuobushi, and of dried seaweed or kombu. Other ingredients may include mushrooms and niboshi or small dried fish.
What Can You Substitute For Dashi?
Good dashi substitutes include white fish, shellfish, shiitake mushrooms, and dried seaweed, chicken broth, powdered or cubed broth.
Maybe the best substitute for dashi is white fish because of the very similar flavor. But, there are a large number of white fish, so choosing the right one is an essential step for getting the right alternative for dashi.
You should choose mild, non-oily, white-meat fish as the preferred one. Some of the white fish with those characteristics include catfish, snapper, tilefish, halibut, haddock, and cod.
The Bottom Line
So, if you dive into Japanese cuisine, but you don’t have bonito flakes on hand, knowing that it is an indispensable part of every Japanese dish, don’t worry.
By reading this article, you will find the best bonito flakes substitute, whether you are preparing your favorite fish soup or a fish marinade. With these incredible alternatives you certainly won’t go wrong.