I’ve personally tried and tested a range of different dashi substitutes to find the best one.
Whatever your reason for avoiding dashi is and whatever dish you’re cooking.
Here’s the quick answer.
The best substitute for ready-made dashi is a homemade version. You can also use anchovy stock or if you want a vegan friendly dashi, use dried mushrooms. If you’re in a rush and can’t get to the store, fish, chicken or vegetable broth will work. Avoid beef stock.
Ready? Let’s jump right in.
I made a classic miso soup to give lots of different dashi substitutes a try.
Dashi is a staple ingredient in Japanese cuisine that brings a sweet-savory, umami kick to any dish.
You can buy dashi in liquid or granule form, but if you can’t find it in your local shop, don’t fret. There are other options you can use that’ll give your dish that much-needed umami boost.
Here’s what I tested and the verdicts:
|Substitute||Sub 1 cup of dashi for?||Verdict|
|Homemade dashi||replace in a 1:1 rato||10/10|
|Mushroom ‘dashi’||replace in a 1:1 rato||10/10|
|Anchovy stock||1 cup water + ⅛ cup dried anchovies||10/10|
|Fish or shellfish broth||replace in a 1:1 ratio||9/10|
|Chicken broth||replace in a 1:1 ratio (look for low sodium version)||8/10|
|Vegetable broth||replace in a 1:1 ratio (look for low sodium version)||8/10|
|Water + MSG||1 cup water + 2 teaspoon MSG||6/10|
The best substitute for ready-made dashi is the homemade version! It may not be common practice (Chopstick Chronicles says even the Japanese don’t normally make dashi from scratch), but it couldn’t be any easier.
Serious Eats explains the most common kind of dashi (awase dashi) is made with three ingredients: water, dried kelp, and bonito flakes.
If you can only find one of kelp or bonito flakes, that’s okay. You can still make your dashi.
Homemade dashi will be more subtle flavored than the ready-made stuff. But it’ll taste better because you made it!
Psst… can’t find bonito flakes? I have a great article on bonito flake substitutes too.
How to substitute: 1 cup dashi = 1 cup homemade dashi
Can’t get hold of kelp to make the classic homemade dashi? Or want a vegan friendly dashi?
The liquid from rehydrated dried mushrooms works great as a substitute.
Dried mushrooms are full umami, making the liquid oh-so-flavorful. Shiitake are the best mushrooms to use, but porcini will work too. Or you can use a mixture.
Pro tip: after straining the impurities from the liquid, Sugimoto recommends heating it to further intensify its umami goodness.
Or follow this recipe to make an actual vegan dashi with dried mushrooms.
How to substitute: 1 cup dashi = 1 cup liquid from dried mushrooms
Another alternative to dashi is anchovy stock, which is made by simmering dried anchovies in water.
According to Just One Cook Book, anchovy stock is a popular choice for miso soup because it’s more affordable than dried kelp and bonito but still gives you a robust, umami taste.
I tried making this substitute with small and large anchovies – the stock made with the large ones was tastier.
How to substitute: 1 cup dashi = 1 cup water + ⅛ cup dried anchovies
Fish or shellfish broth
At its heart, dashi is a fish stock.
So it makes sense that you can replace it with a more standard fish stock.
You can make your own broth at home with white fish like cod, halibut, or pollok. Just avoid oily fish like tuna or mackerel as these will be too strong.
Or you can use shrimp shells (which is what I did).
And if you’re in a rush, a powdered fish stock will do (you’ll need to hold back on adding extra salt – store bought broths tend to be salt heavy).
How to substitute: 1 cup dashi = 1 cup fish broth
Chicken stock is a decent option that could save you a trip to the shop.
It tastes nothing like dashi, and my miso soup was far from authentic. But it added lots of savory goodness to my dish and helped enhance the other flavors.
Like with fish stock, if you go for a store bought option you’ll need to watch the salt content. Go for a low-sodium option if you can.
Or consider diluting the stock slightly with water before using it in your food.
How to substitute: 1 cup dashi = ½ cup chicken stock + ½ cup water
Another plant-based option you can use to replace dashi is vegetable broth.
It has a different flavor profile to dashi, but like chicken broth it’ll add that extra flavor and umami boost that your dish needs.
And if you want to replicate the “ocean taste,” of dashi, add some seaweed to your broth! Here’s a great recipe.
How to substitute: 1 cup dashi = 1 cup vegetable broth
Water + MSG
If all else fails, you can just use water mixed with some MSG for that umami hit.
This is a last resort option because even if MSG is chock-full of umami, it doesn’t have a distinct flavor like dashi.
This is fine when you’re using the dashi in dishes with other bold flavors like miso, but if the dashi is meant to be the star of the show I’d avoid this sub option.
How to substitute: 1 cup dashi = 1 cup water + 1 teaspoon MSG
Other options to consider
Dashi isn’t the only way to add that umami kick to your Japanese dishes. Here are other options you can consider, depending on what you’re making:
- Mentsuyu – is a Japanese soup base you can make from scratch or buy in bottles. Its ingredients list includes dried kelp and bonito, just like dashi. But this also has soy sauce, sake, and mirin which all lend a subtle but noticeable acidity.
- Nori – despite being a kind of seaweed, nori can’t replace dried kelp in making dashi. But you can use it as a topping for your dishes to bring the taste of the ocean. It’s also pretty easy to find.
Substitutes to avoid
Here are some not-so-great substitute options that I’ve seen mentioned for dashi. I tried them in my experiment, but wasn’t impressed with the results.
- Beef broth – beef broth is not a good replacement for dashi. Dashi has a delicate, understated flavor. While beef broth is much more in your face and won’t meld well with the other flavors in your dish. I didn’t like my beef-broth based miso soup.
- Fish sauce – fish sauce and dashi are both made with fermented fish and both contain umami, but that’s where the similarities end. Fish sauce is a lot more salty and briney, so like beef broth will likely overpower your dish. You can use a drop or two as a flavor booster, but don’t use it as a replacement for dashi.
9 BEST Dashi Substitutes [+ 2 To Avoid]
- 1 cup homemade dashi
- 1 cup mushroom dashi
- 1 cup anchovy stock
- 1 cup fish broth
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 1 cup vegetable broth
- 1 tsp MSG + water
- Cook your meal according to the recipe.
- Add your chosen dashi substitute at the appropriate cooking time.
- Mix until thoroughly combined and continue with the recipe.