What can I use instead of kombu? The best substitutes for kombu in dashi are shiitake mushrooms, seaweed, and katsuobushi. Use hondashi, mentsuyu, MSG, or soy sauce for quick umami flavor. Other practical substitutes are chicken stock and marmite.
Kombu is a kelp-like seaweed known for providing the characteristic umami flavor beloved of Japanese cuisine. This flavor is created by glutamic acid and is essential to dashi, the stock that forms the basis of miso and tofu soup and noodle broth. Kombu comes both as hydrated leaves, as well in granular form. Although kombu is a unique ingredient, here are the nine best substitutes for kombu.
The best substitute for kombu in terms of flavor and texture is shiitake mushrooms.
Shiitake mushrooms are a variety of Asian mushrooms with a distinctive umbrella shape, earthy flavor, and dark color. Fresh shiitake mushrooms are a delicacy and very costly.
These mushrooms contain a massive boost of vitamins B and D, copper, and fiber and are similarly low fat to kombu.
You will often find dried shiitake mushrooms, which you need to hydrate before use. Soak them overnight, adding a quarter cup of water per mushroom so that they rehydrate.
Use shiitake mushrooms as a substitute for kombu if you want to make a deeply umami or savory flavored dashi-like stock. Dashi with shiitake mushrooms, basil, parsley, and oregano still has authentically Asian flavors.
Also, replace kombu with shiitake mushrooms in noodle broth, soups, and salads, as they have a similar flavor and texture.
Because kombu is a seaweed, you can substitute it with another form of seaweed.
All seaweed is highly nutritious, containing iodine, iron, calcium, vitamin B12, antioxidants, fiber, and omega-3 fats.
Three seaweed varieties that could substitute kombu are hijiki, wakame, and dulse. A dense, black seaweed with a mild flavor, hijiki is often used in soups, stews, and stir-fry.
Wakame is a thin, green sea vegetable with a sweetness prized in soups, cold salads, and garnish. Dulse has a beautiful reddish-purple color and a savory flavor enjoyed in noodles and stews.
Like kombu, these seaweeds are dried and hydrated before use.
Hijiki, wakame, and dulse do not impart the same level of umami flavor, so they can’t produce dashi.
Use one of these seaweeds as a substitute for kombu in salads, smoothies, vegetable soups, stews, or sushi for a salty flavor and soft texture.
Another practical substitute for kombu is katsuobushi, or dried, smoked, and fermented tuna.
Also known as bonito, katsuobushi is usually sold in the form of thin shavings or flakes and is a typical Japanese ingredient and seasoning.
Like kombu, katsuobushi is enjoyed for the umami flavor it imparts in stock, as a topping or garnishes for rice, noodles, vegetables, and eggs.
The primary use of bonito is in dashi, along with kombu. To use katsuobushi for dashi, this dried fish needs to steep in boiling water which you then strain after a few minutes. The brief soaking releases the umami flavors and the fish’s deep smokiness into the stock.
If you don’t have any kombu, make dashi for noodle broth, stews, or soups by using only katsuobushi. For additional Japanese flavor, add mirin, soy sauce, and greens.
The ideal substitute for kombu if you use kombu granules is hondashi.
Hondashi is an instant dashi stock, like the regular chicken or vegetable bouillon cubes in American kitchens.
Containing a mixture of MSG, salt, sugar, yeast extract, and dried-bonito powder, hondashi mimics the umami flavors provided by kombu and katsuobushi in dashi.
Many busy Japanese cooks don’t always make dashi from scratch: instead, they add a teaspoon of hondashi to a cup of warm water to add a savory, smoky punch to soba noodle bowls, pancakes, vegetables, or miso soup.
Substitute hondashi for kombu to make dashi or add a sprinkling of the seasoning for instant umami flavor.
A substitute for kombu granules is mentsuyu, a Japanese condiment.
Used as a seasoning to pep up noodles, mentsuyu contains sugar, salt, soy sauce, and a large proportion of dashi. (Check the ingredients to see that the dashi is kombu-based.)
Mentsuyu is a helpful substitute for kombu if you want to add umami flavor to a sauce, stew, or broth.
However, because mentsuyu is very spicy and salty, it doesn’t form a good base for dashi or miso soup. It also won’t impart the same texture and vegetable flavors as kombu.
Another popular Asian seasoning, MSG, can also substitute for kombu granules as a flavoring.
MSG or monosodium glutamate is made by fermenting sugarcane to produce glutamic acid, the element that creates the umami flavor.
Contrary to media critics, MSG is not a synthetic chemical substance but a naturally fermented flavor enhancer like miso.
Widely used in China as a seasoning under the brand name “Ajinomoto salt,” MSG brings out the flavors of other foods, both sweet and savory.
Substitute MSG for kombu to add an umami layer to a sauce, soup, stew, or stir-fry. However, it can’t replace kombu in dashi or as a vegetable.
Grab the soy sauce for a quick and accessible substitute for kombu’s flavor.
Soy sauce is probably the best-known Asian condiment, a piquant sauce made from a paste of fermented soybeans, grain, salt, and water.
However, it would help if you used soy sauce sparingly. Soy sauce can easily dominate a dish and drown out other flavors with its powerfully salty, umami flavor.
It will also discolor anything you add it to, making it dark and somewhat unappealing.
Choose from light, dark, and sweet soy sauce depending on your flavor needs.
Use a splash of soy sauce to substitute kombu’s umami flavor in noodles, stir-fries, soups, stews, and sauces.
If you can’t find Asian ingredients, chicken stock makes a practical substitute for kombu granules.
There are many health benefits to chicken stock: it is high in protein, heart-healthy fats, selenium, antioxidants, and vitamins.
Chicken stock comes in cubes and dried granules, but for the same nutritional boost and umami-creating glutamic acid as kombu, you need to make your own chicken stock or broth.
Simmer a chicken carcass with water, chopped mushrooms, onion, carrot, celery, and herbs for about three hours to make chicken stock. The longer the stock simmers, the more nutritious it will be. Strain the stock before use.
Use chicken stock as a substitute for hydrated kombu granules in soups, stews, and broth for noodles for an umami undertone. You can even make authentic dashi using chicken stock and soy sauce.
This vegetarian sandwich spread beloved by the English is an unusual but adequate substitute for kombu.
If you’re unfamiliar with marmite, it looks like shiny, black molasses but has a potent, seriously savory flavor with an umami punch. The brand’s tagline is that you either love it or hate it.
Made from the yeast that is a side-product of brewing, marmite is incredibly nutritious, full of folic acid, vitamin B, magnesium, calcium, potassium, iron, and selenium. It is excellent for pregnant women, children, and older adults.
Marmite is commonly eaten thinly spread on toast or crackers but is also helpful for adding depth of flavor to savory gravies and casseroles.
Use a teaspoon of marmite to replace kombu’s umami flavor in sauces, soups, and stews.