I’ve personally tried and tested a range of different bonito flakes substitutes to find the best one.
Whatever your reason for avoiding bonito flakes is and whatever dish you’re cooking.
Here’s the quick answer.
The best substitutes for bonito flakes are seaweed (kombu), dried shiitake mushrooms, and dried anchovies. You can also try dried mackerel powder. Salmon flakes are a solid substitute if you’re using bonito flakes as a topping or filling. Other options include whole katsuobushi, furikake, and dried shrimp.
Ready? Let’s jump right in.
I made dashi and white rice to test several bonito flakes substitutes.
Bonito flakes are paper-thin shavings made from dried, smoked, and fermented skipjack tuna (katsuobushi). These flakes have a prominent smokiness with a subtle fishy kick and are mainly used to add umami to dishes.
Here’s what I tested and the verdicts:
|Substitutes||How to Substitute||Verdict|
|Seaweed||Replace bonito flakes in a 1:1 ratio with kombu||10/10|
|Dried Shiitake Mushrooms||Replace bonito flakes in a 1:1 ratio with rehydrated dried shiitake mushrooms||10/10|
|Dried Anchovies||Replace bonito flakes in a 1:1 ratio||10/10|
|Dried Mackerel Powder||Use half the amount of bonito flakes called for||9/10|
|Salmon Flakes||Replace bonito flakes in a 1:1 ratio when used as a topping or filling||8/10|
|MSG Powder||Use a pinch to replace bonito flakes and add more to taste||7/10|
Common uses for bonito flakes and the best substitutes
Here are some common use cases for bonito flakes and the best substitutes for those situations:
- For making dashi and other broths – seaweed (kombu), dried shiitake mushrooms, dried anchovies
- For toppings/seasoning – seaweed (nori), dried anchovies, salmon flakes
- For fillings – salmon flakes, rehydrated shiitake mushrooms
Seaweed is my top substitute for bonito flakes. It also comes from the sea, so it has a similar subtle briny flavor.
Here are some seaweed products on the market you can choose from:
- Kombu – this is the most similar to bonito flakes and it’s an easy sub. It’s naturally rich in umami and boasts a hint of sweetness that’ll add complexity to your dishes. Kombu is already an ingredient in dashi, so you can simply add more to replace bonito flakes.
- Smoked dulce flakes – these have a rich, salty, umami flavor that people often compare with bacon. You can also use these flakes to make dashi or even add them to rice, stir-fries, and soups as a flavor enhancer.
- Nori – this is a popular dried edible seaweed. It’s a great vegan substitute for bonito flakes for toppings but not for making dashi. It was delicious studded throughout my rice.
How to substitute: replace bonito flakes in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio with kombu.
Dried shiitake mushrooms
Dried shiitake mushrooms are a great vegan substitute for bonito flakes.
These umami-rich fungi are easy to find in most grocery stores and pack even more flavor than their fresh counterparts.
You can use them to make vegan dashi alongside kombu (here’s a great recipe). Or you can rehydrate them and use them as you would normal mushrooms.
Psst… don’t toss the soaking liquid – it’s chock-full of umami goodness and can be added to your dish for extra depth.
Missing that briny hint? Just add a splash of vegan fish sauce!
How to substitute: replace bonito flakes in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio with dried shiitake mushrooms.
Dried anchovies are an excellent choice if you’re looking for a seafood alternative to bonito flakes.
These tiny fish boast a bold, salty flavor and are loaded with umami, just like bonito flakes.
You’ll find two kinds: tazukuri and iriko/niboshi.
Iriko are the most common type, and the ones you should use to replace bonito flakes in your dashi (here’s a recipe for anchovy dashi)
But if you want a fun rice topper, try tazukuri! You can even fry them with soy sauce, mirin (or one of these mirin substitutes), and honey to make them tastier.
How to substitute: replace bonito flakes in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio with dried anchovies.
Dried mackerel powder
Dried mackerel powder offers a delicious smoky and savory flavor profile that’ll remind you of bonito flakes.
But I found the taste to be more intense, so I recommend starting with half the amount and then adding more to taste.
It works well for making dashi and ramen broth, adding depth and complexity. You can also use it to season rice dishes, stir-fries, or even salad dressings.
Psst… this substitute wasn’t easy to find in normal grocery stores, but I found some in a speciality Asian stores. Or you can order it online.
How to substitute: use half the amount of mackerel powder to replace bonito flakes.
Salmon flakes aren’t a great substitute for bonito flakes when making dashi, but they’re an excellent option for a topping or filling.
With their rich, fishy flavor, salmon flakes added a salty burst of the ocean to my rice.
You can find pre-made salmon flakes in grocery stores, but I like making them from scratch. Check out this easy recipe from Just One Cookbook.
It only takes 20 minutes!
Try using salmon flakes to add a unique twist to dishes like sushi rolls, onigiri, or even salads.
How to substitute: replace bonito flakes in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio with salmon flakes when used as a topping or filling.
If you’re simply looking to add a boost of umami to your dish, MSG powder can work in a pinch.
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a widely used flavor enhancer that brings out the umami taste in foods. While it won’t provide the same fishy flavor or texture as bonito flakes, it can still elevate the overall savory flavors of your dish.
Just remember to use MSG sparingly, as a little goes a long way.
And for an even tastier umami punch, you can combine MSG with other substitutes (like dried mushrooms or anchovies.
How to substitute: replace bonito flakes in your recipe with a pinch of msg.
Other substitutes to consider
The options above are my top substitutes for bonito flakes, but here are some more alternatives you can consider using if you have them on hand.
They’re moving further away from the essence of bonito flakes. But can work in some situations.
- Whole katsuobushi – If you can find one of these fish, then you can make your own bonito flakes (buy you’ll have to be very lucky). You’ll also need a specialized tool to achieve those paper-thin flakes. In a pinch, you can use a vegetable peeler or microplane.
- Furikake – this is a seasoning mix made of sesame seeds, seaweeds, and sometimes bonito flakes. It has a nutty, salty flavor, making it a tasty rice topper in place of bonito flakes.
- Dried shrimp – this is not meant as a dashi substitute, but dried shrimp is packed with umami goodness and has a subtle fishy flavor like bonito flakes. Rehydrate a handful and add them to your soups, stews, and stir-fries.
- Nutritional yeast – this is not a common ingredient in Japanese cuisine, and it’s not meant as a dashi substitute, but it’s a great way to add umami to your dishes. It has a savory flavor reminiscent of cheese, so try using it as a topping to replace bonito flakes.
Substitutes to avoid
I frequently encountered these substitutes during my research, so I had to test them. But they failed to impress, so I wouldn’t recommend using them as a substitute:
- White fish and shellfish – these may come from the ocean, but whitefish or shellfish alone won’t give you an umami boost like bonito flakes. You can combine them with MSG or kombu to get a similar effect though.
- Toasted soybeans – these are great for snacking, but they don’t have a briny flavor and umami unless you season them.
Best Bonito Flakes Substitutes
- 1 piece seaweed or 1 tbsp ground seaweed
- 1 tbsp dried shiitake mushrooms
- 1 tbsp dried anchovies
- ½ tbsp dried mackerel powder
- 1 tbsp salmon flakes
- ¼ tbsp MSG powder
- Cook your meal according to the recipe.
- Add your chosen bonito flakes substitute at the appropriate cooking time.
- Mix until thoroughly combined and continue with the recipe.