Here's What You Can Substitute For Dashi

If you've ever wondered what secret ingredient made the soup from the Soup Nazi episode of Seinfeld taste so delicious, we think there's a pretty good chance it was dashi. Chopstick Chronicles describes dashi as a type of broth that consists primarily of dried shiitake mushrooms, bonito flakes, niboshi, and kombu. A cornerstone of Japanese cuisine, dashi is an extremely versatile and dynamic ingredient. In addition to acting as a soup base, dashi can be found across a variety of dishes — from oyakodon to tamagoyaki to shabu shabu.

What makes dashi so unique is that the specific combination of its ingredients produces umami, which (as Vox explains) is almost better described as an experience. Umami is essentially a fifth flavor — the others being sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. Not all foods can produce umami, but it's the one that you'll crave once you taste it. Fortunately, Recipe Marker tells us that, even if you don't have its traditional ingredients on hand, it's still possible to get that coveted umami flavor out of your dashi.

You might already have these substitutes in your kitchen

Bonito flakes are one of the easiest dashi substitutes. Recipe Marker recommends using either shellfish scraps (such as shrimp shells) or the head and bones of any white fish (like catfish, haddock, bass, cod, or snapper). Niboshi, dashi's other fish ingredient, is made from dried sardines, according to Chopstick Chronicles. If you can't find the dried variety at the store, the outlet says you can easily order it online or simply use dried anchovies instead.

Kombu really only has one viable substitution — dried seaweed. Recipe Marker says this seaweed is packed and fried, and after a simple hot water soak, it will have the same fundamental components and umami qualities of dashi's kombu.

The truth is, it'll be hard to replicate the distinct flavor of dashi's dried shiitake mushrooms (which can also serve as a substitute for dashi all on their own if they're the only ingredient you do have), but if you're missing the crucial ingredient, chicken stock will have to do. Shiitake mushrooms are known for having a meaty and smoky taste, so even though chicken stock won't give you the seafood flavor dashi imparts, Recipe Marker says it can bring some of the umami.

Whether you're trying your hand at Japanese cuisine, or just in the mood for a tasty homemade soup, dashi is definitely a great way to experiment with umami. Play with these flavors and substitutions, and who knows, maybe you'll accidentally discover the secret recipe for your very own Seinfeld soup.