What is dashi?

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What is Dashi Soup?

Dashi soup is Japanese soup stock. It’s said that dashi soup is the basis of Japanese cuisine. When you eat artfully cooked Japanese food, one major component is the unique smell and taste of dashi soup. Dashi powder package produced by a good restaurant is considered a fine gift in Japan. I feel absolutely appreciated when I get that kind of a gift.

It’s arguably bothersome to cook dashi soup from scratch every day for daily meals. We have useful dashi powder and Ajinomoto powder, but it’s a little difficult to know when and how to use them.
Amazon.com : Shimaya - Dashinomoto (soup stock) 1.75 Oz. : Dashi Soup Stock Msg : Grocery & Gourmet Food
Amazon.com : Shimaya - Dashinomoto (soup stock) 1.75 Oz. : Dashi Soup Stock Msg : Grocery & Gourmet Food
Amazon.com : Ajinomoto Ajipanda bottle 70g : Grocery & Gourmet Food
Amazon.com : Ajinomoto Ajipanda bottle 70g : Grocery & Gourmet Food

We say dashi soup is the basis of Japanese cuisine, but dashi seems like a mystery though. So I´ll tell what I have researched, thought about and tried out.

Think about the way of cooking dashi soup

Cooking dashi soup is very simple. It differs from other cuisine stocks, lets first take a glance at two other very common soup stocks and what their basic idea is.

Chinese and French “dashi”

In Chinese cuisine a transparent soup called shangtang is used. It´s flavour comes from ham and chicken, and baitang, which is a white soup made from fish and pork bone. From French cuisine I think its necessary to mention two famous ones: bouillon which is used for soups, and fond which is used for sauces.

The same principles of making apply: many kinds of ingredients are used and the taste is richened in the process of long boiling time.

Japanese “dashi”

When it comes to making Japanese dashi soup there is no long boiling time. The kombu seaweed is taken out of water before it starts boiling. Then we turn off the heat immediately and put bonito flakes in. All and all it takes less than 30 minutes. It´s common to find Japanese recipes that require making fresh dashi soup as recipe material, but rarely find a recipe in which it´s necessary to make fresh shangtang or bouillon.

The difference of the cooking process is because of the components.

Think about dashi soup components

Here is data provided by Umami Information Center(in Japanese). The data shows apparent differences between Japanese dashi soup and other cuisines’ soup stock.
Japanese dashi soup, for example kombu seaweed based, is mostly of composed of glutamic acid, which is a known umami molecule. In the stock we can also find aspartic acid, which has slight umami taste.
French chicken bouillons’ main component is glutamic acid, same as Japanese dashi soup, but it also has various amino acids.
One major difference seems to be in the concentration of amino acids. Japanese dashi soup has simple taste with a few amino acids, Chinese and French soup stocks on the other hand have a complex taste with many kinds of amino acids.

Dashi soup? dashi powder? ajinomoto?

Do you cook dashi? Why not?

Soup stock powder for French and Chinese chicken bouillon is definitely used in Japan but I feel that we hesitate to use dashi powder because it’s not considered polite to cut corners in such a traditional building block. (Writers notion: Just my gut feeling, of course in reality things go different.) I do admit, cooking fresh dashi soup for every meal of the day can be very bothersome and time consuming.
In addition, it’s quite difficult and expensive to get good ingredients for dashi soup abroad. If we consider cutting some corners, dashi powder is just a bag of powder which travels all round the world even in you pocket or via mail in an envelope. Ajinomoto powder is more common abroad and can be found in the Asian markets quite cheap.

Dashi soup vs dashi powder vs ajinomoto

So, what’s the difference between dashi soup, dashi powder and ajinomoto?

I prepared dashi soup, dashi powder in hot water and ajinomoto in hot powder and compared them.

Dashi soup made with original ingredients was made with this recipe.
Dashi soup from dashi powder was according to the instructions found on the package.
For stock made from ,ajinomoto I calculated from the components of dashi powder.

Dashi soup Dashi powder ajinomoto
color Transparent gold Transparent slightly brown Transparent non color
smell strongest 2nd strongest None
Taste (my opinion) Most delicious
I felt that dashi powder in hot water was the most delicious one, which I found interesting. It’s because dashi powder includes a balanced combination of salt and sugar, so the taste is already completed.

How to use dashi powder and ajinomoto

As a result of the experiment, I suggest to use dashi soup, dashi powder and ajinomoto in different occasions. I strongly advice to do some testing of your own to get a sense for a basis so you can improvise.

If you need a strong dashi smell: use dashi soup

For Japanese simple soup with dashi, egg roll with dashi soup, Japanese egg pudding

You need some dashi smell, but you have other seasoning you want to underline: use dashi soup or dashi powder

For miso soup, Japanese pork and potato stew

You don’t necessarily need or want dashi smell, but you want the umami: ajinomoto

For Japanese pickled vegetable, fried rice, other cuisines

Think well and choose smart

I’m going to explain in another post how ajinomoto is the seasoning for adding umami. Ajinomoto should not be considered as a replacement for dashi soup, rather like a balanced salt and sugar component.

To say that dashi powder and ajinomoto are not healthy because they are chemicals or chemically produced seasonings is a little misleading and to be honest, inherently illogical. Ajinomoto is made from sugar cane juice which is then fermented and refined; basically chemicals in a chemical process. Quite a few other things in this world are chemicals or chemically made as well. Many are not considered unhealthy or bad for you, quite the opposite actually. Like vitamins for example. I am not making a claim for the opposite though, just a little thought to get you thinking when you counter an argument based on the critic of process or construction.

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