I tried making dashi for the first time today, but I think it wasn't very successful... I didn't have kombu so that might be a problem. I ended up adding a lot more bonito than recipes say to use. Still it tasted like water. So I fixed it up quickly with some nice soy sauce and squid sauce (I didn't want to use salt).

Any ideas on what would cause dashi to be tasteless, or is it just how it is? I've never had any in a japanese restaurant so it's hard for me to tell.

  • 3
    What did you use instead of kombu? The very foundation of dashi is the kombu, I'm not even sure you could say you were making dashi if you didn't use it.
    – Stefano
    Commented Jun 16, 2012 at 7:25

2 Answers 2


Dashi is almost never used without adding additional seasoning, generally some combination of mirin and/or sake, salt, and soy sauce or miso, and often a small amount of sugar. If your flavor isn't strong enough, most likely your culprit is inadequate salt.

I never make dashi without using konbu, but I'm vegetarian, so mine is typically based on konbu and dried porcini, or just konbu alone for certain applications. I'd probably only consider skipping konbu if I was making a dashi based on niboshi, also called iriko (dried sardines), as is common in Kyushu and some other regions. Iriko are pretty aromatic and apparently contain enough glutamates that at least some people skip konbu.

It's not unheard of to leave out konbu in katsuodashi, but unless you're using thick or freshly shaved katsuobushi, you'll end up with a basically bitter, uncomplex version that's mostly suitable for use in dishes with lots of ingredients. I might use a konbu-less dashi in a dish that has cabbage in it, because cabbage provides its own source of glutamate proteins.

Dashi is the analog of stock, not the analog of broth. Stock typically contains minimal to no salt, and therefore the primary contribution is aroma, which is only perceived as flavor once you add something salty to it. Once you add seasonings, dashi becomes "kakejiru" if it's at the right saltiness level for noodles. If you make it saltier it's a "tsuyu" or dipping sauce.

If you're going to cook Japanese food, you'll need to get over any issues you have with salt. Actually, if you're going to be making any kind of soups, I'd say the same thing regardless of cuisine. But Japanese food uses salt, or salty ingredients like miso and soy sauce, in relatively large quantities.

Usually, your main dish won't be incredibly salty (except sometimes at breakfast), but most of the sides and soups are fairly high in salt content. The source of the salt varies, as there are two common salty ingredients (miso and soy sauce), and regional things like shottsuru (Akita's fish sauce); wet sea salt is used to adjust seasoning, even when fermented salty ingredients are present in a dish. Most meals include some fairly salty pickled vegetables; the rice balances out the rest of the salt.

One of my Japanese friends lamented that her husband's salt-sensitive hypertension was a big problem for her because she can cook low fat, or low salt, but not both, and low-salt was a much bigger problem for Japanese cuisine, as even high-fat dishes tend to have a fair amount of salt.

  • "primary contribution is aroma". Isn't. The function of that stock is primarily umami (MSG and similar compounds), and kombu naturally has loads of that. Commented Jan 31, 2016 at 14:10
  • On that, I'd strongly disagree. If you add straight MSG to water, you will get almost no flavor benefit (even after adding salt), because aroma is the most important aspect of flavor perception. Without the glutamates and salt, you won't get a complete sense of flavor, but there are only a few distinct flavors the tongue is responsible for detecting, whereas the nose can detect thousands/millions of flavors. Kombu has a very complex aroma.
    – JasonTrue
    Commented Jan 31, 2016 at 18:45

You need to use kombu else it isn't dashi. It is important to then steep your ingredients at the right temperature (not too hot) for a long time to allow the infusion to take place. There are lots of different methods for making dashi, some even using cold infusion.

Look here: http://www.cookingissues.com/2011/01/11/umami-nation-2-kelp-a-go-go-plus-bonus-demo-with-chef-suzuki/#more-5024

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