Top 7 Best Substitutes for Bonito Flakes

Best Substitutes for Bonito Flakes

Are your recipes lacking that satisfying umami boost? Then you’ll definitely want to know…

When a dish calls for bonito flakes but your pantry is sadly lacking, I know how it feels—like that extra layer of savory goodness is just out of reach. But never fear, because I’m about to let you in on some secret substitutes that will have your mouth watering all over again!

You see, as much as I love the irresistible flavor bonito flakes lend to dishes, I don’t always have a reliable source for them. Being somewhat of a bonito flake bounty hunter, I’ve tried countless alternatives to see what comes closest. And while none are perfect recreations, some, I’ll admit, come pretty darn close—so close that your dish still gets that incredible oomph it deserves.

In this article, I’m exposing all my experimentation secrets so you don’t have to waste time guessing substitutions that may or may not hit the spot. By the time you’re done, you’ll feel like a bonito flake pro with options you never knew could step in as suitable stand-ins. So read on if you want to up your homemade cooking game without ever missing that crucial umami balance again!

Best Substitutes for Bonito Flakes

1. Mackerel Powder

Alright, let’s jump right into the first—and believe it or not, almost scarily similar—substitute: mackerel powder.

Now I know what you’re thinking—mackerel? Really? But hear me out on this one. While it may not look exactly like those delicate bonito flakes we adore, mackerel powder has a taste and texture that’s nearly indistinguishable. Thanks to its richness in inosinic acid (one of the main umami compounds), it delivers that same savory, ocean-fresh flavor we crave.

The best part? A little goes a super long way, so your wallet will thank you. Simply swap in mackerel powder, measure-for-measure, in any recipe that calls for bonito. I like to keep a shaker on hand, just like the one I use for bonito, so it’s an easy swap. The results? Let’s just say even fish connoisseurs would be fooled.

My other secret standby is dried shiitake mushrooms. Now these lovely fungi don’t have any fishiness to them whatsoever, but what they lack in brininess they more than make up for with an intensely meaty and robust umami. I like to rehydrate a few in boiling water until soft, then slice them up for instant texture and flavor enhancements in soups, risottos, noodle dishes—you name it. Their impact is amazing for how little effort they require.

2. Dried Shiitake Mushrooms

While the previous substitute offer valid option, there’s something especially magical about dried shiitake mushrooms that makes them a longtime personal favorite of mine. Maybe it’s their deep, woodsy flavor profile that plays so well in savory applications. Or their surprisingly meaty texture, so unlike what you might expect from a fungus.

Whatever the reason, dried shiitakes have become an essential pantry staple I simply can’t live without. Beyond subbing in beautifully for bonito flakes, they enhance everything from stir fries to soups to risottos with their wildly irresistible essence. Like the best kind of secret ingredient, shiitakes have a way of elevating humble ingredients to new, delicious heights.

Of course, accessing all that savory reward does require a bit of rehydration effort. But the process is well worth the minimal work involved. I like to start by soaking chopped dried slices in boiling water until softened, about 30 minutes. Then drain and use the tasty soaking liquid in place of stock or dashi, wherever called for in a recipe. The infusion of shiitake magic into the cooking medium works wonders from the get-go.

On occasions where I want an even stronger mushroom kick, though, I’ll briefly sauté the rehydrated slices in olive oil with garlic until nicely toasted. That high heat coaxes out an incredibly intense and almost meaty flavor I can’t get enough of. Even tossing a few pieces into fried rice takes it to a whole new level of scrumptiousness.

And don’t even get me started on what dried shiitakes can do for homemade ramen—between the rich soup base and tangle of robustly flavored noodles, it’s nothing short of bliss in a bowl. If I had to choose a favorite application, though, it would have to be tossing the rehydrated morsels into miso soup. Their savory meatiness mingling with seaweed and tofu creates a comforting harmony I dream about.

3. Kombu

Kombu seaweed may not sound as appetizing as those other options, but let me tell you, this superfood from the sea is no substitute to scoff at. I know, I know—it can seem kind of intimidating in its leathery, alien form. But just hear me out before you cast it aside!

Once you start soaking kombu and letting it plump up, its texture transforms from tough to tender. And the flavor? Well, let’s just say it deserves far more credit than it gets. With a rich savory-sweetness that naturally enhances soy sauce or miso, kombu is liquid gold for the kitchen. I like to soak a strip in dashi or broth as it simmers, then remove it before serving so diners don’t question why their soup contains seaweed. The result is a subtly oceanic taste that livens things up without being overbearing.

The best part is that you really only need to use a small strip to infuse loads of flavor. So whether you’re dreaming up vegan dashi or tossing kombu into veggie stir-fries, don’t sleep on its incredible bonito-like powers of deliciously making everything better. I promise this will become your new secret weapon ingredient after just one use!

4. Dulse Flakes/Nori

Now, while those options offer killer umami flavor on their own, sometimes a one-two punch is needed to really knock it out of the park. Which is why my next recommendation involves a dynamic duo: dulse flakes and nori!

Used together, these ocean plants have become my favorite vegan way to add subtle savory depth. Dulse flakes in particular have a nice, robust texture when dried, almost crispy like lightly cooked bacon bits. Nori I’m sure you’re familiar with it if you’ve ever had sushi; it adds a pleasantly salty background note.

But the real magic happens when you gently toast them both in a dry pan together. As they swell up ever so slightly, their flavors deepen and commune in a way that’s surprisingly similar to bonito flakes. I like to crumble the mixture atop veggie bowls, noodles, and risottos—really anywhere a hint of “fishiness” would normally come in handy. Your friends will be wracking their brains trying to figure out how you snuck seafood into a vegan meal!

Between the briny pop of dulse and the more rounded sea taste of nori together, they satisfy that craving in a very convincing plant-based way. It’s a substitution I keep coming back to time and time again.

5. Baby Anchovies

Dried baby anchovies are an umami-packed substitute worth exploring. These tiny fish are sun-dried, concentrating their irresistible depth of flavor.

When you open the package, expect an intense burst of salty air aromas. No cooking is needed; simply crush or crumble a few pieces above ready dishes. The strong savory flavor awakens your tastebuds with each bite.

Baby anchovies lend a luxurious body and complexity similar to bonito flakes. Their small size means you only need to use a light touch. A pinch or two softly crumpled atop a bowl of steaming rice and veggies infuses robust flavor throughout.

Their saltiness pairs beautifully with mild ingredients like tofu, squash, or noodles too. A few anchovy morsels tucked into onigiri rice balls are simply divine. No doubt, a little goes a very long way with these salty-umami powerhouses. Consider keeping a small packet on hand on those days you crave an oceanic oomph.

6. Toasted Soybeans

Toasted soybeans offer a subtly nuanced take on the bonito flakes substitution. Don’t let their humble appearance fool you—these legumes contain manifold umami treasures just waiting to be unlocked through a light charring process.

Rather than dominating the flavor profile, toasted soybeans play well with others. A light dusting lifts dishes in a gentle, embracing way, letting other flavors shine forth radiantly.

To coax out their silky savor, dry fry a handful of soybeans in a skillet over medium heat. Shake frequently as they pop and crackle, releasing their fragrance. Within 10 minutes, the beans will take on an enticing golden brown hue with interiors that are creamy-soft.

A modest 2-3 tablespoons of the toasted beans sprinkled over chicken noodle soup, stir-fried greens, or bibimbap lovingly enhances without distracting. Their texture mimics bonito’s flakes whilst imparting an elusive yet deeply satisfying essence. Imagine waves lapping softly while being nourished fully by life’s simple pleasures.

7. Nutritional Yeast

Now I know nutritional yeast may not seem like an obvious bonito flake substitute at first glance. After all, it’s neither fish nor seaweed-based. But hear me out—this cheesy-flavored supplement is a savory superhero pantry staple well worth exploring.

Something about nutritional yeast’s uniquely robust and almost addictive flavor always reminds me of that intense umami from bonito flakes. Perhaps it’s the high glutamic and ribonucleic acid content lending that irresistible savory character. Or maybe the subtle nutty-cheese tones echoing the smoky depths. Whatever the reason, it satisfies me in a similar comfort food kind of way.

The best part is that nutritional yeast adds that je ne sais quoi without any briny seafood elements that some substitutes can bring. For those craving that lovely savory enhancement without fish notes in vegetarian dishes, it’s perfect. I like to play around sprinkling varying amounts on everything from pastas and risottos to popcorn, roasted veggies, potatoes—you name it!

But here’s where nutritional yeast really shines—when blended into a DIY nacho cheese sauce or mac and cheese. The blend of toasted earthy yeast vibes with melty cheese combines for the most incredibly edible umami bomb. Served over rice or chips, even the most skeptical carnivores clean their plates with gleeful abandon. It’s endlessly versatile too, letting you tailor the blend to personal tastes—everything from heavier cheese to a tangier cashew variety. The flavor permutations are never-ending.

Whether directly sprinkled or experimented with in homemade sauces, nutritional yeast granted my cooking an extra oomph I never knew was missing. And while it may seem like an unorthodox choice at first, I promise this pantry gem is well worth giving a chance. For vegetarians especially, it presents a satisfying way to experience bonito flake magic without any fish involvement whatsoever. Consider me a forever convert!

Additional Substitutes

While mackerel powder, kombu, nori, and dried shiitakes are stellar Bonito flake substitutes, there are a few others worth mentioning for their deliciousness.

Dried wakame seaweed is one I’ve come to love. Its mild yet complex flavor lends itself beautifully to miso soups and broths. Simply rehydrate, then coarsely chop the slightly crunchy-chewy seaweed. The flavor unfolds more with longer cooking, too.

Baby clams also make a worthy substitute thanks to their natural brininess. Their petite size means they blend in seamlessly. I like to quick-sear fresh ones in butter with shallots, then toss the morsels into risottos and pasta for an indulgent bonus. Canned minced clams work too, in a pinch.

Ancient grains also bring lovable qualities to the table. Toasted barley has a wonderful nutty dimension that pairs with all things savory. And black rice, with its subtle popcorn-like texture and deep color, adds visual appeal and minerals. Cooked into onigiri or risottos, they nourish the palate fully.

And last but not least, dried kelp adds an alluring mysterioso. Its smoky, charred notes enliven soups, noodle bowls, and salads with intrigue. A scattered few pieces go a long way to spark the imagination and taste buds alike. You can’t help but crave more with each richly flavored bite.

Bonito Flake Substitute FAQs

Do all these substitutes taste the same as bonito flakes?

No substitute will perfectly recreate bonito flakes’ unique flavor. But many come close, and all add satisfying umami in their own way. The best is to try different options to see what you enjoy. Experimentation is part of the fun!

What if I’m vegetarian or vegan?

Fantastic substitutions like dried shiitake mushrooms, nutritional yeast, kombu seaweed, and MSG and wakame granules work deliciously well for vegetarian cooking too. If you give extra love and care to texture, you’ll be just as satisfied.

How do I know what amount to use?

Start with a small pinch or 1/4 teaspoon and adjust to your taste. The deep flavors of these ingredients mean a little goes a long way. Patience and experimentation will serve you best. Discover what your body and heart know is right for you.

How long do dried ingredients like kombu and shiitakes last?

Properly stored in an airtight container away from heat and light, dried ingredients can retain their quality for 6–12 months. For the longest shelf life, it’s best to purchase in smaller quantities as needed. But don’t fret too much over best-by dates, as powerful flavors tend to linger well past them. Listen to your senses!

Can bonito flakes be replaced 1:1, or do amounts need adjusting?

Most substitutes have a more concentrated flavor, so start with 1/2–3/4 the amount called for in recipes.Adjust to taste, keeping in mind that ingredients like nutritional yeast are very flavorful in small quantities. It’s always better to add more incrementally than overdo it. Patience in cooking, as in life, yields happy discoveries.

What if I’m allergic to seafood, fish, or shellfish?

Please consult a medical expert for guidance tailored to your condition. While options exist for most diets, health takes priority over taste. There are many recipes nourishing for body and soul; keep exploring till you find your perfect flavor match. You’ve got this!

Any parting advice?

Seek flavor with an open and understanding heart. Cook not just to please the palate but to bring people joyfully together. Differences make life’s feast all the more savory; with compassion, we can find unity even in substitutes. Now go, and bon appétit!


In conclusion, I hope this exploration of bonito flake substitutes has sparked your curiosity to experiment with new ingredients and flavors. While no substitute can perfectly replicate that unique sea breeze essence, each option brings its own special magic to the table.

Remember to focus first on quality whole foods prepared with care, appreciation, and mindfulness. Happy cooking!

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