Secret Weapon Ingredient #3: Dried Dashi Stock

The Japanese were the first to describe and isolate “umami,” the fifth taste (“savory”). When professor Kikunae Ikeda of Tokyo Imperial University identified umami in 1908, he did so working from the ingredients in Japanese “dashi” soup stock, made from bonito fish and kombu seaweed. The key components, it turned out, were ribonucleotides and glutamates.

From there, the Japanese got industrious and distilled those ingredients into their purest form — monosodium glutamate. MSG. Which, if you’re like most people, you avoid like the plague. But which winds up in nearly anything processed you eat in less conspicuous forms (most often as “natural ingredients”).

When I want to give my food an extra bolt of umami, I go back to the source. Dashi. I have found that powdered dashi stock will give nearly anything you’re cooking, from fried chicken to Italian pasta, a savory lift. I use it in my crave-inducing popcorn creation, umamicorn. Try serving that to your date at your next movie night.

In a truly ironic twist, most of the powdered dashi at the market these days lists “MSG” as either the first or second ingredient. But it is possible to find MSG-free powdered dashi.

If you’re lucky enough to live near a city with an outpost of the Nijiya Japanese market chain (several in the L.A. and San Francisco Bay areas, two in Honolulu, one in San Diego and one in New York), their “All Natural Wafu Dashi” is the gold standard — perfect for sprinkling, no MSG. Unfortunately they don’t seem to sell it yet on their website (, but maybe if you hit the “Contact Us” button and let them know you want some, they’ll help. I found some at the Pacific Mercantile Company, although it comes in a 1 lb. bag which is rather pricey and would last you a quarter century. They had another in smaller amount, but it came in “teabags,” which does you no good unless you want to make soup.

Good luck! And in case you can’t remember the first two secret weapon ingredients, here they are:

Secret Weapon Ingredient #1
Secret Weapon Ingredient #2

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. di
    Feb 12, 2014 @ 05:24:42

    I use the wafu powder dashi, but it does not have directions? Any guidelines on ohw much to use for soup stocks?


    • scolgin
      Feb 12, 2014 @ 15:31:36

      Depends on how much you are making. For a single serving, maybe a teaspoon? But you could also just do it to taste, as much as tasted good in whatever you’re doing.


  2. Trackback: Matsutake Memories | skinny girls & mayonnaise

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