Dashi: The Original Source Of Umami

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Dashi could be considered the foundation on which much of Japanese cooking rests. Dashi is a broth commonly made with dried kombu (seaweed) and that may or may not also contain other ingredients such as bonito flakes. Bonito is a type of fish in the tuna family that may be dried and smoked then shaved into flakes. Bonito flakes are called katsuobushi in Japan. Kombu dashi is more commonly used in Western Japan; the bonito dashi in Eastern Japan. There are several other types of dashi that consist of water plus one or two other ingredients. Dashi is used to give food a meaty flavor.

Historians believe that while dashi was around before the 7th century, it was mainly a byproduct of cooking other foods. In the 7th century, people began making it deliberately. Dashi developed over time and the number of ingredients used to make it expanded.

By the Edo period, dashi was well-documented in many texts. Writers commented extensively about dashi and listed techniques for making it and the different ingredients that could be used. The role of dashi in Japanese cuisine would grow from that point onward until it became what it is today. Dashi evolved regionally so that different parts of Japan make it using their local techniques and ingredients.

Dashi

Dashi made with both kombu and bonito — called awase dashi — showed up in the middle of the Edo period, which stretched from 1603 to 1868. Japan’s first cookbook explained dashi and led to its increased popularity.

The word dashi appears to have meant sweet water or base back when it was first used.

Dashi flavor profile

Dashi gets its flavor from the compound glutamate, which is responsible for the same savory flavor profile in stocks as well as in parmesan cheese. Dashi’s flavor is distinctly meaty and savory. The glutamic acid in dashi gave rise to the seasoning monosodium glutamate, better known by the abbreviation MSG. The inventor of MSG made it by dehydrating kombu dashi.

Health benefits of dashi

Dashi can help to support good health because it contains compounds like:

  • Amino acids: For proteins to be formed, you need amino acids. Your body needs proteins to form tissues. Both the kombu and bonito flake types of dashi are rich in amino acids. Some of the amino acids in kombu can help to break down starches that your body might have trouble digesting.
  • Iodine: Kombu contains iodine, which your body needs for thyroid health.

You can use dashi in your diet to treat or prevent health problems like:

  • Poor digestion: Enzymes in kombu can help to improve digestion and prevent flatulence.
  • High blood pressure: At least one study has shown that regular consumption of bonito dashi can significantly lower blood pressure.
  • Poor mental function: Researchers have found that katsuobushi may improve mental function by increasing blood flow and may also relieve mental fatigue.

Common uses

Dashi is the basis of all the famous Japanese soups including the broth for noodle soups and miso soup. You can use it to make dipping sauces for tempura by mixing it with soy sauce and mirin. It is one of the essential ingredients in takikomi gohan, also known as Japanese mixed rice. Vegetables are often steeped in dashi, a method of preparation called ohitashi. Vegetables that can be made like this include spinach and eggplant.


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