Instant Dashi Powder
I have previously posted the recipe and instructions for preparing the traditional Japanese Sea stock known as Dashi . There, I explain how to make the broth from scratch using the base ingredients of Kombu and Katsuobushi.
Nowadays, many people, even in Japan, no longer go to the trouble of preparing this essential stock from scratch, but instead prefer to rely on Instant Dashi Powder as a matter of convenience. The result isn’t always exactly like a freshly made Dashi using proper ingredients, but it is certainly quicker and it is worthwhile having some on hand if you wish to prepare a quick Japanese meal.
The first photograph in this post shows several different brands of Instant Dashi. In the picture immediately above, you can see a closeup of the contents of one packaging so that you can see the granular appearance. Typically, these products look a bit like the packaged Yeast one buys for making bread.
I haven’t bothered to show the contents for all of the packages shown in the first picture as they are largely the same. The only real difference is the size of the granules, which can be sufficiently fine as to look like a powder, or, in the case of some brands, closer to the size of Instant Coffee crystals.
What is Instant Dashi exactly?
Like instant powders or bouillon cubes for Chicken or Beef broth, Dashi Powder does contain some small trace of the basic ingredients for making the real thing, but also includes a lot of things you won’t find in your cupboards or on store shelves easily. There is some variety in in the ingredients used in the commercial products I have shown above, but they are generally similar.
Salt and monosodium glutamate feature heavily, and there is usually a small amount of sugar used (glucose or lactose). Two of the packages I have shown clearly specify that ‘dried bonito powder’ is used, while the third (a little difficult to read as it is in Japanese script only), appears to have ‘fish sauce’ or ‘fish extract’ used, which suggests the same sort of thing.
In addition to MSG, Disodium Inosinate is also used in these products. These chemical names (especially given the unfortunate anti-MSG hype) may sound a bit alarming, but both are essentially synthesized versions of naturally occurring substances. Even if sodium intake is a concern, the fact remains that these are flavoring products only and used in small quantities.
Making Dashi with Instant Dashi Powder
The process of making Instant Dashi is straightforward and simply involves mixing granules with hot water according to the instructions included on the package. There is some variance in the ratios of instant granules to water between the brands, but the differences are not very significant and I worked out a simple rule to the effect that a teaspoon of dashi powder will yield about two cups of decent strength dashi.
As you can see, the result does look very much like Dashi prepared some scratch. There is a bit of variety in color and opacity between brands but not in any pronounced way.
There is one thing I noticed about the instant product that does make it different from the real thing.
While testing each of the brands shown above for comparison purposes, I poured the extra into a single container, and, once it cooled, I saw that some of the solids had precipitated out leaving some sediment at the bottom.
I don’t think anyone needs to be alarmed about this, or anything, but it *is* a difference that might be significant if making a chilled stock for some purpose.
How does Instant Dashi compare with Real Dashi?
The short answer to this is that homemade Dashi prepared from scratch is generally subtle, mildly flavored and complex. The Instant types are, well… not.
This is not necessarily a negative criticism, as I quite like these products. However, it is generally the case that the dominant flavors are considerable stronger to the exclusion of other notes and the impact is much more ‘in-your-face’. In particular the smoky quality of Katsuobushi is markedly stronger here, being rather like the difference between, say, Ribs that have been cooked in a smoker, and those that have been prepared using Liquid Smoke.
In my comparison tastings of the above three commercial products, I worked from left to right. The first package produced a very slightly stronger taste than the other two (I used a carefully measured teaspoon in each case) and the smoky quality was definitely more pronounced in this brand.
The second was a little milder, and otherwise unremarkable, while the third was, in my opinion, just a little bit nicer. It was fairly mild, with a subtle smoky taste, but it also had the same faint marine taste you would get using fresh Kombu.
I suppose, all things considered, I would buy the third brand as a preference but, in truth, the variations between the three are not that significant.
Using Instant Dashi in Recipes
Obviously, a Dashi prepared from Instant granules can largely be used in just about any situation where a traditionally prepared Dashi might be employed.
Above you can see a simple Miso soup I made using the remainder of the Dashi I prepared with the third product I tested. I just re-warmed the stock and added in about 1 teaspoon of light miso per cup, some little cubes of tofu, and a little sliced scallion as garnish.
The result was pretty decent and, overall, I’d have to say that, if tasting real dashi alongside the instant, you could likely notice a greater complexity and depth of flavor in the former. However, for a simple soup or braising medium, the ease and convenience of the instant sort makes it a pretty attractive substitute.