I’ve personally taste-tested a variety of kombu substitutes to find the best one for every cooking occasion.
Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry swap, or want a substitute that fits your diet, I’ve got the answers.
Dulse and other seaweed varieties like wakame, arame, or hijiki are the best substitutes for kombu in salads and stews. But if you’re making dashi, go with bonito flakes, dried anchovies, or dried shiitake mushrooms. You can also use kobucha tea, but check the ingredients list to see if it’s pure kombu!
I made small batches of kombu dashi to try out several different kombu substitutes.
Kombu is an edible seaweed from the kelp family. It has a mildly briny and lightly sweet flavor, but what makes kombu such a prized ingredient is its glutamic acid content (i.e umami flavor). This makes it an excellent base for broths. Kombu is also great in salads too.
Looking for an exact substitute for kombu was challenging, but I did find substitutes that work for specific uses. Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:
|Substitutes||How to Substitute||Verdict|
|Dulse||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||9/10|
|Other seaweeds (wakame, arame, hijiki)||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||8/10|
|Bonito flakes||1 strip kombu = 2 cups bonito flakes, packed||9/10|
|Dried anchovies||1 strip kombu = 1/2 cup boiled and dried anchovies||8/10|
|Dried shiitake mushrooms||1 strip kombu = 3 pcs dried shiitakes||9/10|
|Kobucha||1 strip kombu = 1 tbsp kobucha||8/10|
|Other umami-rich ingredients||Replace with a small amount, adjust to taste||8/10|
Dulse isn’t as popular as kombu, but this leafy lettuce look-alike deserves the same hype!
It embodies the taste of the ocean and has a slightly funky, fishy aroma, much like kombu. But the magic of dulse lies in the flavor transformation as you cook it – its initial strong aroma mellows out and its umami flavor becomes more prominent.
And as well as being full of glutamates, dulse is packed with essential minerals like iodine and potassium.
You can find dried dulse in stores like Whole Foods, and I recommend trying smoked dulse if you come across it.
How to substitute: replace kombu in a 1:1 ratio with dulse.
Dulse and kombu aren’t the only edible seaweeds you can use. Wakame and arame both have a briny, umami flavor similar to kombu, albeit a fair bit milder.
Hijiki is a shredded and dried seaweed that brings an earthy flavor with a less pronounced brininess than kombu. Food 52 dubs it as the “least seaweedy” seaweed, making it a solid choice for picky eaters.
You can use these as substitutes for kombu in making dashi, but they all yielded a very mild stock. I had to add a few drops of fish sauce to intensify the umami notes. They’d work great in salads though!
How to substitute: replace kombu in a 1:1 ratio with other seaweeds like wakame, arame, or hijiki.
Bonito flakes are a fabulous substitute for kombu in dashi if you’re not on a vegan diet. They come from dried, smoked, and fermented skipjack tuna and are a potent source of umami.
They’re actually used alongside kombu in the traditional dashi recipe, but you can also use these flakes on their own. The fishy flavor is stronger than kombu (but don’t worry, it’s not overwhelming), and there’s a unique smokiness that I really like.
You can’t use these as an exact swap for kombu in salads, but you can use them as a garnish to add an umami boost.
How to substitute: replace 1 strip kombu with 2 cups bonito flakes, packed.
Dried anchovies are another non-vegan substitute you can consider as a kombu alternative for dashi. Anchovies are naturally loaded with umami, and this savory flavor gets even more intense after the drying process.
A word of caution though – these little fish come heavily salted. So if you use them as a substitute, you’ll want to hold back on any added salt in the recipe.
You can easily find these dried goodies in Asian grocery stores, where they’ll be labeled as Niboshi or Iriko. And after you’ve made the stock, use the leftover anchovies to make Tazukuri, or candied anchovies. It’s delicious!
How to substitute: replace 1 strip kombu with 1/2 cup boiled and dried anchovies.
Dried shiitake mushrooms
If you’re after a plant-based alternative, dried shiitake mushrooms are a fantastic substitute for kombu. You can use them to make stock and they can also replace kombu in salads!
The mushrooms will bring an earthy flavor to the table and are just as full of umami goodness as kombu. Sadly, you can’t use fresh shiitakes here – the drying process concentrates the shiitakes’ rich umami notes, so the fresh ones are a lot milder.
To use the mushrooms in a salad you’ll need to rehydrate them. Just One Cookbook recommends using cold water and an overnight soak to get the best flavor. But if you’re in a rush, a 15-minute soak in hot water gets the job done.
How to substitute: replace 1 strip kombu with 3 pcs dried shiitakes.
Kobucha tea (no, I didn’t mean kombucha) is a savory beverage made from freeze-dried kombu, making it a solid substitute for the real deal.
Aside from making tea, you can also use it to create soup base like dashi, or even as the base of an umami-loaded salad dressing. The only caveat is that some brands mix their kobucha up with add-ons like dehydrated plums, green tea, or even tiny rice crackers. These will change the taste of the ‘tea’, and not always in a good way.
Always check the ingredients’ list!
How to substitute: replace 1 strip kombu with 1 tbsp kobucha.
Other umami-rich Ingredients
You can’t use these ingredients as a substitute for kombu if you’re making dashi or a side salad.
But if your recipe calls for a small amount of kombu as a flavor enhancer, you can easily swap it out for other umami-rich ingredients. Here are a few of my favorites:
- MSG powder
- Mushroom powder
- Soy sauce
- Parmesan rinds
- Fish sauce
- Yeast extract
Remember, these substitutes won’t mimic the flavor of kombu exactly. But they will add that extra “something” that elevates your dish into an unforgettable one, just like kombu would.
Pssst… I always recommend starting with a small amount when using any of these. You can add more if needed, but you can’t take it out if you end up overseasoning the dish.
How to substitute: replace kombu with a small amount of any of these umami-rich ingredients.
Substitutes to avoid
I came across plenty of suggestions for kombu substitutes, but not all of them were good suggestions.
Nori may seem like a no-brainer substitute because it’s seaweed, but it has a lot less umami flavor than kombu and will be very bland in comparison. You could use it as a garnish, but even then it will be mainly salty rather than savory.
BEST Kombu Substitutes + 1 To Avoid
- 2 ounces dulse
- 2 ounces wakame/arame/hijiki
- 2 cups bonito flakes, packed
- ½ cup boiled and dried anchovies
- 3 pcs dried shiitake mushrooms
- 1 tbsp kobucha
- replace with small amount, adjust to taste
- Cook your meal according to the recipe.
- Add your chosen kombu substitutes at the appropriate cooking time.
- Mix until thoroughly combined and continue with the recipe.