Dashi is the fundamental stock of Japanese cuisine, made by steeping katsuobushi (sun-dried smoked tuna) and kombu (umami-rich dried kelp) in water. It’s fundamental for adding deep savory flavor to myriad Japanese dishes, such as miso soup, ramen, and chawanmushi (a delicate savory custard).
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Instant dashi, on the other hand, is to dashi what powdered bouillon is to chicken stock. It’s convenient to use and store and easy to adjust in concentration. With only a very subtle seafood flavor, a mellow smokiness, and a huge punch of umami, instant dashi is exceptionally versatile.
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Ajinomoto, the food company whose founder discovered MSG and that is the originator of instant dashi, makes a popular and widely available brand called Hon Dashi. Look for it in well-stocked supermarkets, Asian markets, or online. Making dashi with it is as simple as dissolving 1 teaspoon of dashi powder in 1 cup of water. We used it to add a powerful savory boost to our Okinawan Taco Rice, but the possibilities are limitless.
How to Use Instant Dashi
Once you have instant dashi in your pantry, you’ll find countless ways to use it. Of course, you can use instant dashi in any recipe that calls for dashi, but here are some of our favorite alternatives to get you started.
- Stir it into the pot to add umami to soups, stews, and sauces of all kinds: beef stew, bolognese, barbecue sauce, chicken soup— the world is your oyster.
- Add it in small amounts (as you might with anchovies) to marinades for grilled and roasted meats.
- Dissolve it into pasta cooking water along with a slightly reduced amount of salt.
- Enhance the cooking liquid for rice or polenta.
- Level up your seafood boils or poached fish.
- Use it in its granulated form in seasoning blends for meat, seafood, and snacks like popcorn or chips.
Basically, reach for instant dashi just about any time your dish seems to be lacking that little bit of oomph you’re craving.