Best Bonito Flakes Substitutes

7 Best Bonito Flakes Substitutes

Known as Katsuobushi, bonito flakes are an indispensable part of Japanese cuisine since they enhance savory dishes with an intense umami flavor. You will need a substitute if you cannot find bonito flakes, or if you have run out. Among the best bonito flake substitutes are mackerel powder, dried shiitake mushrooms, kombu, dulse flakes, nori, and more. Keep in mind that the right replacement depends on what you are cooking. Listed below are the characteristics of bonito flakes, their best substitutes, and how to use them instead!

What Are Bonito Flakes?

If you know what bonito flakes are, you will be able to find a suitable substitute for them. Although they are rarely found in other cuisines, their great umami flavor makes them a favorite in Japanese cooking. A bonito flakes is a product made by smoking, fermenting, and drying bonito fish. To give the fish a protective mold and absorb any moisture, a specific bacterial mold culture is rubbed on it after boiling and smoking the fish.

The mold is then scraped off, and once it is dried, the fish is shaved into flakes. A traditional ingredient for making dashi, the flakes provide a strong umami flavor that really cannot be matched.

The Best Substitutes For Bonito Flakes

It is possible to substitute bonito flakes with another ingredient that gives umami flavor, regardless of whether it is a seafood product. If you are out of bonito flakes, here are some of the best options you can try!

1. Mackerel Powder

Both mackerel powder and bonito flakes are made from fish, and they have a similar taste and texture. There is a distinction between mackerel powder and bonito flakes-mackerel powder is finer, whereas bonito flakes are larger-but they both have a fishy umami flavor. The flavor of bonito flakes is closest to that of mackerel powder, so if you are only concerned with copying the flavor, this would be the best substitute.

You could start by adding slightly less than you would bonito flakes, but the best option is to start small and taste as you go. More can always be added, but once too much has been added, it’s difficult to fix.

2. Dried Shiitake Mushrooms

Since dried shiitake mushrooms are readily available and offer good umami flavor, they work well as an alternative to bonito flakes. As a result of their umami flavor, these dried mushrooms are often used in vegetarian dashi. Dried shiitake mushrooms can also be added to fried rice and seafood dishes, as well as soups and noodle dishes.

Fresh shiitake mushrooms can also be used, but dried mushrooms have a more intense umami flavor, and they last longer. The amount of dried shiitake mushroom could be similar to the amount of bonito flakes, but you might want to start out with less and work your way up to the amount you like.

3. Kombu

In addition to bonito flakes, kombu is an edible brown algae that has been dried down, commonly used to make dashi. A dish can be enhanced with umami flavor by using kombu alone instead of bonito flakes. The texture of Kombu is fairly chewy – some people love it, and others hate it. If you don’t like it, you can soak it briefly to soften it. When you are looking for a vegetarian alternative to bonito flakes, this is a great choice, since it can be used to make a variety of dishes.

4. Dulse Flakes/Nori

Nori and dulse flakes are two different ingredients, but they are similar enough to be substituted for bonito flakes. There is a great crisp to dulse flakes when dried, as well as to nori when dried, which is also a seaweed. Nori and dulse flakes are both excellent vegan or vegetarian substitutes for bonito flakes, although they don’t have as strong an umami flavor. The combination of dulse flakes and nori can enhance the umami flavor of different meals, but each can be used on its own as well.

5. Baby Anchovies

In soups and broths, baby anchovies are a great substitute for bonito flakes since they have a salty and fishy flavor. It’s best to use dried baby anchovies, as they have a stronger flavor and have a similar texture to bonito flakes. The baby anchovies are also prepared before they are used in a dish, so you don’t have to worry about that. It is beneficial to the umami flavor of baby anchovies to boil them before drying them.

Use dried anchovies instead of bonito flakes by chopping them up into pieces roughly equal to the amount of bonito flakes you would need. Cooking with them might require adjusting for their saltiness.

6. Toasted Soybeans

Dashi can be made with toasted soybeans instead of bonito flakes, but the umami flavor is milder and more subtle. Soybeans provide a natural background for the other ingredients in dashi and other dishes, allowing them to shine without being overshadowed. It is true that toasted soybeans have a deeper flavor than regular soybeans, so you do get some flavor from them, and the toasting process also improves their flavor.

When it comes to vegetarian meals, soybeans are perfect for those who prefer a milder, more delicate flavor than fish or mushrooms. Due to the milder flavor of toasted soybeans, you may be able to use slightly more than bonito flakes. Be sure to taste it as you cook.

7. Nutritional Yeast

Bonito flakes can be easily substituted with nutritional yeast, even though nutritional yeast isn’t a very popular Japanese ingredient. As with bonito flakes, it is often used as a topping for noodles, tofu, and other savory dishes. As a substitute for bonito flakes, nutritional yeast has a naturally strong umami flavor, which is what you would be looking for.

There is no fishy flavor to it, which might actually appeal to some people. Furthermore, nutritional yeast does not change the texture of your food too much, as it is a powder that blends in well with other ingredients and does not stand out.

Final Thoughts

Japanese cooking uses bonito flakes to add umami flavor to a variety of dishes, as well as to make dashi. You might need to find different substitutes if you cannot find bonito flakes in a specialty Japanese store near you. Listed above are all the different bonito flakes substitutes (all with slightly different flavors and textures), so you are sure to find the one that suits you best!

Related Questions

Having learned all about bonito flakes and their top substitutes, here are some additional questions we thought you might have.

What do bonito flakes actually taste like?

There is a savory, smoky flavor to bonito flakes, with fishy notes as well. They are used for the umami flavor they bring to meals.

What can I use in place of dashi?

Dashi can be substituted with soy sauce, chicken broth, and instant dashi powder.

Are bonito flakes vegetarian?

Since bonito flakes are made from bonito fish, they cannot be included in a vegetarian diet.

Do bonito flakes need to be kept in the fridge?

Even after opening the packaging, bonito flakes don’t need to be kept in the fridge.

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