The 7 Best Substitutes For Bonito Flakes

What can I use instead of bonito flakes? Replace bonito flakes with foods with an umami taste. Flavor-wise, mackerel powder is the closest substitute for bonito flakes. Other suitable replacements for bonito flakes include dulse flakes, nori, kombu, shiitake mushrooms, Iriko (baby anchovies), toasted soybeans, and nutritional yeast.

Essential to Japanese cuisine, Bonito flakes (Katsuobushi) add a rich umami flavor to savory dishes. Bonito flakes are smoked, fermented, and sun-dried fish flakes. Unfortunately, Katsuobushi flakes are expensive and hard to find.

However, here are seven alternatives that will guarantee a similar umami flavor:

The Best Bonito Flakes Substitutes

Mackerel Powder

Mackerel powder and bonito flakes are both made from fish and boast a similar fishy, umami taste and crispy texture. This fine powder is the closest substitute for bonito flakes in terms of flavor.

You can use these two ingredients interchangeably in most recipes.

Use mackerel powder to add an unforgettable umami flavor to dashi, ramen noodle soups, udon, or soba. 

Mackerel powder is finer than bonito flakes. So, we recommend adding moderate amounts of mackerel powder to your recipe when replacing bonito flakes.

Then, you can gradually add more to match the preferred taste.

Dulse Flakes & Nori

Dulse and nori are types of seaweed – edible saltwater plants or algae that provide a wealth of fiber, protein, vitamins, and trace minerals.

Both plants have an umami flavor and crisp texture when dried, making them an ideal substitute for bonito flakes.

Use dulse flakes and nori to add an umami flavor to dashi, soups, noodles, salads, and sauces when you can’t find bonito flakes.

Dulse flakes and nori aren’t as intensely flavored as bonito flakes. So, while you can use them separately, we recommend using dulse flakes and nori together to deliver a richer, more complex taste.

Replace 1 cup bonito flakes with ½ cup dulse and ½ cup nori.

Kombu (Konbu)

Kombu is a dried, edible brown type of algae popularly used alongside bonito flakes to make dashi. However, you can use kombu separately to substitute bonito flakes when you run out.

Kombu has a chewy texture and rich, umami flavor that transforms a dish instantaneously.

You can use kombu to add a similar umami flavor to bonito flakes in dashi, soups, broth, noodles, sauces, and salad dressings.

If you aren’t a fan of kombu’s chewy texture, soak the seaweed for two to three hours to soften it slightly before use.

Then, replace 1 cup of bonito flakes with 1 cup of kombu.

Iriko (Baby Anchovies)

Dried iriko, otherwise known as baby anchovies, pack an extra punch of rich, umami flavors, crispy texture, and healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

These tiny sardines or anchovies are an excellent substitute for bonito flakes.

Iriko makes the best dashi, broths, and soups. However, you can add baby anchovies to noodles, hot pots, and soba for a rich, umami flavor.

Iriko has a more concentrated flavor than bonito flakes. So, roughly chop up ½ cup iriko to replace 1 cup bonito flakes.

While you don’t have to prepare dried iriko, we highly suggest removing the heads and guts when using fresh iriko to reduce the bitter flavor.

Dried Shiitake Mushrooms

Dried shiitake mushrooms are an excellent vegetarian and vegan-friendly substitute for bonito flakes. Shiitake mushrooms naturally contain guanylate, a sodium salt that leaches a pleasant umami taste.

Use dried shiitake mushrooms to make vegetarian dashi or add it to soups, noodles, fried rice, and seafood dishes.

You can use fresh shiitake mushrooms, but their dried counterpart has a stronger flavor.

You can use 1 cup of dried shiitake mushrooms for every 1 cup of bonito flakes. However, you’ll need to up the scale when using fresh mushrooms.

Toasted Soybeans

Consider using toasted soybeans to replace bonito flakes for a milder, subtle umami flavor. Soybeans will allow the other ingredients in your dish to shine without an overpowering fishy, umami taste.

You can use toasted soybeans to prepare a delicate and mellow-tasting dashi.

Use 1½ cups toasted soybeans to replace 1 cup bonito flakes.

You can add more soybeans to sharpen the umami flavor of your dish.

Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional yeast isn’t a popular Japanese ingredient. However, it is often used as a flavorsome topping for savory dishes like noodles and tofu.

While nutritional yeast lacks the fishy flavors of bonito flakes, it boasts a naturally strong umami flavor, making it an ideal substitute.

Use nutritional yeast as an umami-flavored topping for noodles, soups, stews, fried rice, salads, and more.

You can start using 3 tablespoons to replace 1 cup of bonito flakes and gradually increase the amount to match your preference.