Katsuobushi, generally known as Bonito flakes, is an essential part of Japanese cuisine. These fermented fishes made into flakes can bring in a burst of umami flavor into any savory dish in an instant.
The process used in preparing Katsuobushi is pretty difficult and is also time-consuming. That is why you can hardly get your hands on the flakes in most parts of the world.
It is not easy to substitute Katsuobushi as a condiment and get the same taste. Still, there are some excellent Bonito flakes substitutes that you can use, such as kombu, dried shiitake mushroom, dulse flakes and Noli, mackerel powder, etc.
These alternatives guarantee that you will enjoy a very similar taste and texture on your desired food.
What Are Bonito Flakes?
Bonito flakes, or Katsuobushi, are flakes of bonito fish that have been smoked, fermented, and dried.
After it’s cleaned and sliced up, the fish is boiled at low temperature and smoked at intervals of days for about a month before it gets sun-dried.
Aspergillus glaucus, a bacterial mold culture, is then rubbed on it to give it a protective mold, which would further ferment the fish and absorb any remaining moisture.
The mold, after it is made, would be scraped off from time to time and allowed to reform as the fish dries and hardens.
When the drying process is complete and it has become hardened, the fish will look like pieces of hardwood that had been rigidified.
The makers would then shave the fish into bits using a sharp plane set into a wooden box. It is called a katsuobushi kezuriki. Pretty engaging process, don’t you think so?
Where Is Bonito Flakes Used For?
Katsuobushi are essentially umami enhancers. It serves as one of the primary ingredients of dashi, a form of soup that makes up the basic foundation of a wide range of Japanese dishes like ramen and miso soup.
It can also be used in onigiri and sushi rolls for a more solid composition. Japanese people consider it fundamentally wrong to eat okonomiyaki, which is egg and cabbage pancake, and Takoyaki, which is round balls made of grilled octopus without a lavish addition of bonito flakes.
If you’re cooking a Japanese meal, bonito flakes should be among the first ingredients you’ll buy. But on the occasion that you can’t find it, we have the perfect solution for you.
Best Bonito Flakes Substitutes
To get the Bonito flakes flavor without using Bonito, you can substitute them with shellfish, which could be shrimps or even prawns. A vegan option for a healthy substitute could be shiitake mushrooms. They would add umami taste to your dish.
Umami is majorly triggered by the taste of glutamate. To make the best umami-rich dishes, you’ll have to match the flavors of all the ingredients together in one stroke.
That is the singular work of the Bonito flakes.
Let us discuss the substitutes in detail; we have outlined 8 of them for the purpose of variety, so you’ll have many options to select from.
1. Dulse flakes and Nori
The sea doesn’t only provide for your meat and fish cravings; we enjoy it a lot more than those from the sea. Dulse flakes are a kind of sea plant with the right crisp, making it a great substitute.
Nori, on the other hand, is basically a seaweed that is very popular in Japanese cuisine, and it is a major part of the various recipes. It is an excellent option for you if you’re looking for a vegan alternative to the Katsuobushi.
Both combined would do an excellent job!
2. Kombu or Konbu
Don’t get confused.
It is sometimes pronounced as konbu, and other times as kombu. It refers to edible brown algae generally used in making dashi. Kombu is even used along with bonito flakes in some dishes, but it can also be used alone.
It is an excellent Bonito flakes substitute for vegetarians as it has the same properties as Bonito flakes.
Kombu provides the exact advantages of bonito flakes; it increases the umami flavor of a dish. Kombu is the primary source of glutamic acid also called glutamate.
3. Mackerel powder
Mackerel is a kind of fish that has the same texture and taste as the bonito. Its powder is widely popular and used for most Japanese dishes.
Exactly! It is why you can easily find Mackerel powder in stores worldwide.
If you need the Katsuobushi for any dish you are cooking and can’t find it, there is nothing to worry about. Mackerel powder is just about the closest thing to bonito flakes that you can get.
4. Dried Shiitake Mushroom
Another excellent source of umami flavor is the shiitake mushroom. They are used along with kombu to make vegetarian dashi.
Although the shiitake mushroom dashi is not widely used in traditional Japanese cooking because of the intensity of its flavor profile, it can work in some dishes and may even be better suited for a Western palate.
Fresh shiitake mushroom works, but we recommend using the dried version to replace bonito flakes. Shiitake mushrooms have guanylate, a natural sodium salt that elicits an umami taste response.
5. Toasted Soy Beans
Buddhist monks often use toasted soybeans to make dashi, and it always does the job perfectly. Soybean dashi is mellow in taste, and it is delicate in a way that it won’t overpower the flavor of the other ingredients in your dish.
Those who can stand neither fish nor mushrooms should give it a try. The key to making it taste best is to toast the beans with utmost care and patience.
6. Iriko or Baby Anchovies
If you like fish and want that hint of salty, fishy flavor that bonito flakes give in the broth, you should definitely try using baby anchovies.
You may find their label as “niboshi” or small dried fish in many stores out there.
The iriko dashi is a common alternative to bonito flakes dashi when you’re making miso soup or udon noodle soup. It also complements the flavor of kombu dashi exceptionally well.
Boiling the niboshi while manufacturing increases its inosinate concentration, causing a boost in the umami taste.
7. White Fish
A lot of people wonder if they can use canned tuna as a substitute for bonito flakes. The answer is no.
There is a reason why bonito flakes are made of skipjack tuna.
Its mellow taste allows the other ingredients to be prominent. But in the case of canned tuna or even mackerel, the reverse is the case.
Their intense fishy taste can easily overpower other ingredients.
Instead, you should consider white fishes that are not oily and have subtle tastes like the sea bass, cod, halibut, catfish, and snapper.
This is another excellent option to explore.
Shellfishes like shrimp, prawns, scallops, or oysters can easily emulate the fishy, mouthful nature and richness of the bonito flakes.
This eliminates the shellfish’s smoky taste, though, but you’ll just got to make do.
9. Nutritional Yeast
If you’d want to cook with something similar to bonito flakes, the nutritional yeast is a great option.
Although it is not widely known and accepted by the Japanese because it is not a Japanese condiment, nor do they commonly use it to make dashi, it doesn’t dispute the fact that it provides a strong umami flavor.
It’s an excellent topping for a wide array of dishes.
It can be used as a topping for tofu, noodles, and various other savory dishes that the bonito flakes are used with.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I make Bonito flakes?
Bonito flakes are byproducts of dried bonito fish. The fish is grated into flakes, but it isn’t that simple. You have to go through tedious processes that cannot all be discussed in this article. We’ll just list them. The processes are cutting, kagodate (placing in a basket), boiling, removing bones, smoking, shaving the surface, drying, final shaving.
Is dashi the same thing as bonito flakes?
Dashi and bonito flakes are not the same thing. Bonito flakes are one of the ingredients that are used to make dashi.
Can you make dashi without Bonito flakes?
Absolutely! Just cover your kombu with water and let it settle in. Without the bonito flakes, dashi on its own is surprisingly rich in umami; this is because kombu contains some glutamates that appear in bonito flakes.
Why are my Bonito flakes moving?
Do not fear; your bonito flakes are not alive! The katsuobushi move due to their thin, almost weightless mass upon the hot food they are served.
Can I eat raw Bonito flakes?
Sure, you can eat raw bonito flakes. Just note that the fish spoils really easily, so it is best to eat it all up when it’s still fresh.
Conclusion: Katsuobushi Substitutes
Bonito flakes are tough to replace in Japanese cuisines. The flavor it gives is quite distinct, and it plays a major role in making Japanese foods that omitting it can ruin a dish entirely.
Owing to the fact that Skipjack tuna is Japanese, it is challenging to get it in other parts of the world. This makes Katsuobushi a very rare find, and you would need to have a special vendor or a specific place to buy from.
You do not have to worry if you read through this article and noted the various Bonito flakes substitute that we have discussed above.