Dashi powder? Use sparingly, if at all

(Update: Since this was posted back in 2007, additive- and MSG-free dashi stock granules have become available. Look for words like "mutenka" (meaning additive-free) or "MSG-free". For example, see this product sold by Japancentre, or this one on Amazon.com.)

I was recently sent a book about Japanese cooking for review. I wasn't too impressed by the book for a variety of reasons, but one thing that really bothered me was that it used dashi stock powder for practically every recipe. (What made it worse is that the book's title proclaimed the recipes therein to be "Healthy".)

Dashi stock powder is akin to soup stock cubes in Western cooking. Like soup stock cubes, they are a very convenient way to add a concentrated dose of umami to a dish. I do have a box of the stuff in my kitchen which I use on occasion.

But keep in mind that dashi stock powder contains quite a lot of MSG. The good or bad of MSG may be a debatable subject, but when it comes to food additives I always like to be on the cautious side. Besides, with the right ingredients making dashi stock from real ingredients, even a vegan version, doesn't take that much time - and tastes a whole lot better too. This is different from the time and effort, not to mention the mess, needed to make a good chicken stock, for example. On my list of Japanese pantry essentials, I have put MSG or Ajinomoto as something that's optional, and I regard dashi powder in the same light.

In Japan, more and more households are turning away from dashi stock powder for health reasons, especially in families with small children. I don't see any reason for people new to Japanese cooking to start out on the wrong leg by relying on an iffy convenience product.

[Edit:] I just realized I've addressed the same subject previously, but I think it bears repeating. Any book that proclaims that it's 'healthy' while using MSG or dashi powder for every recipe, obviously isn't up on the healthy-eating trends in Japan at least...

Filed under:  japanese ingredients

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I agree with you that it's best to go for the real homemade thing whenever possible. But there are Dashi powders that are MSG-free, have decent ingredients and aren't too bad taste-wise.

Hmmm...good to know. It's hard to know who to trust when you see the word "healthy."

I totally agree with your post. It took me a long while to work up to making other stocks (and a relatively easy recipe for Chinese chicken stock is what got me started on that). But I've never had a problem making dashi from scratch. I have dashi powder in the cupboard, but I never use it, because the instructions on how to use it aren't clear. It's much easier to get water, konbu and bonito flakes and just do it for real.

"I always like to be on the cautious side": This would have made sense 15 years ago, but how much proof do we need that MSG is harmless? It's been studied to death. It's simple reality-based science. Doubts about MSG are akin to doubts about the theory of evolution at this point.

"In Japan, more and more households are turning away from dashi stock powder": I don't think it's accruate to say that there is any widespread concern about MSG in Japan. There are many cooks who make dashi from scratch, but they do it for the same reason that people everywhere make things from scratch: because they like to cook and they enjoy the taste of scratch cooking. But it's a dying skill: who wants to make dashi on a two-burner konro when you have other dishes to make?

I dis agree with the previous comment. There is a concern about food additives and artificial flavourings in Japan. I have lived here for about 10 years and read some Japanese, and my husband is Japanese. I first learned of this when my daughter developped an allergic skin rash. I was advised to eliminate food additives including ajinomoto and dashi powder, as well as processed foods like sausages. It has been very effective. Most Japanese food magazines do not use dashi power in their recipes.

This site is so old,so don't expect u to get it. I just learned about miso & trying to eat it daily for health. I'm disabled so cooking is very hard, & looked up healthy easy Japanese food (I went to school with quite a few Japanese kids they are awesome people & had a good friend that was also)I got a package from store it's in jap so have no idea except taped on is alittle in English dried powdered bonito (bonito,seaweed,mackerel,yeast extract anchovy & mushroom) So is this unhealthy you think?
Thanks Linda

[quote=Linda555555]dried powdered bonito (bonito,seaweed,mackerel,yeast extract anchovy & mushroom) So is this unhealthy you think?
Thanks Linda[/quote]

According to the Truth in Labelling website/organisation, the 'yeast extract' that is included on that ingredients list is considered to contain processed free glutamic acid ie. MSG.
See website: http://www.truthinlabeling.org/hiddensources.html

It's sad how everything is turning into big business pushing down products on us folks.

MSG is not natural and those claiming it's in nature might not understand what 'nature' means. Ads by Ajinomoto claims that their products is made to taste LIKE the real thing.Power of words.

Real dashi stock is sea weed...kombu...hijiki ...in my humble opinion.

is it not the truth that MSG is a compound that the japanese first isolated from konbu? is it also true that to make good dashi one puts konbu in hot water? in doing so, is it true that MSG from the konbu is transferred to the water?

is MSG as an additive any way unhealthy as compared to MSG extracted from konbu?

It's true that konbu contains glutamic acid (as do many other foods), but that doesn't mean that boiling konbu in water produces MSG. Monosodium glutamate is the salt of a sodium ion and a glutamic acid ion, and is the product of experimentation in a chemistry lab. They pretty much broke down proteins to extract glutamic acid and then combined it with a bunch of different metals and concluded that sodium tasted best (no surprise there).

Here is my opinion as a food chemistry enthusiast:

First, glutamic acid may be common in nature, but it isn't an essential amino acid. If we are to add amino acids to common foods, I feel that we should favor essential amino acids instead (the ones our bodies need but cannot produce, hence require from diet).

There are claims that using MSG allows salt content to be lowered without sacrificing the salty taste. This is because we think of "salt" as sodium chloride, but this is not the same as lowering SODIUM content, which is what we are truly concerned about when we say that we should lower our salt intake. Keep in mind that MSG is also a sodium salt. Again, if we are to add a substance to just about every pre-packaged food product, I don't think that substance should contain sodium, something that we already consume in excess.

MSG is a very highly concentrated form of umami, and I believe it is no longer made from kombu (the Ajinomoto site says it is made from soybeans now).

I realize from the comments here and on other posts here (and on other sites) that the choice of whether or not to use MSG is a personal one. I prefer not to use it...and someone else's preferences may differ.

The main reason I would rather not use it though is that it's so relatively easy to make a proper dashi from natural ingredients. The taste difference more than makes up for the few extra minutes it take to make dashi. It's a worthwhile payoff for me.

Maki, you say that you have dashi powder in your pantry and you use it occasionally... In what situations do you bust out the hondashi rather than make your own? Just wondering...

Meg, I use dashi powder sometimes for a dish where it's not the primary or only flavor - as a sort of 'hidden flavor' or flavor booster. I make dashi from kombu and katsuobushi etc when I'm making a soup, but if it's like a big pot of stewed vegetables or something sometimes I'll use the hondashi. Though recently I've been using powdered anago (sea eel) instead of hondashi...something my mom send to me from Japan (mom I love you) and it's pretty good! I wonder if they will start selling stuff like that now more widely....I hope so!

I have a question.
I found a recipe in which dashi broth is one of the ingredients; however, I could find only dashi powder (grains..)in the Asian store of my city in a big bag. It seems that it is used to make dash soup or something. My question may seem stupid but I just want to make sure since I am new in japanese cousine, can I use this powder with boiled water to make that dashi broth of the recipe?


Hi Ruth, yes you can. It's just like instant soup cubes or granules used in Western cooking. (A lot of recipes do call for the instant granules because they are so convenient.)

A year late, but I bought Dashi Powder, (Yamaki Dashi No Moto) and it's a box of 5 packets of 0.35oz each.

Nowhere it says how much water I'm supposed to use for each packet.

I've never had (seen) dashi stock, so I'm not sure how it's supposed to look/taste.

Any idea of the ratio water/powder?

Hi Willow. The amount of dashi really depends on how you are using it. Recipes that call for it specify how much to use. As a general rule, try about 1/2 tsp. per 1 cup of water to start with and add more if needed. (It's easier to add more than take it out!)

I have a recipe calling for 1/2 tsp of dashi powder. How much dashi stock should I substitute. I will also be making this 4 serving recipe for about 50 servings.

See how much water or liquid is called for in your recipe, and just substitute dashi stock for that. If your recipe calls for 4 servings, divide by 4 then multiply by 50 to get to 50 servings.

I've learnt an important lesson about commercial dashi today - the sodium content. 3800mg for every 100ml? And 1 serving is 37.5ml with 1430mg of sodium? No way! At first, I did not want to chuck it straight into the bin after using it for soup. When I realised that it's expiring soon, why not? Health is more important..

The 2/3 full bottle is now in the bin and I'm very happy about it :)

I have used Bonito dashi powder several times for recipes...my experience is.....if you are a westerner...use VERY little.....the word "pinch" comes to mind....use a small, small amount...the reason being...although it might add to the recipe and taste delicious while you are eating it, if you use too much, it will have an aftertaste that can haunt you for up to 3 days, depending on how much you put in..you can avoid the problem by using Kikkoman "Hon-Tsuyu" sauce...it is a pre-made version of Soy Sauce, Mirin (a sweet cooking sake) sugar, and sake....however the store bought sauce seems to have a lot of the flavor of strong dashi powder without the "aftertaste"....it's up to you...if you like the "fishy" flavor of the store bought sauce...you are all set...but I recommend using VERY little dashi powder.if you are making it from scratch.it will taste better to a westerner, and if you don't overdo it, there will be no aftertaste....the trick is using less than you think you need...if you think you haven't used enough....you probably have used more than enough...trust me, I have messed this up enough to know, that less is more...

Dashi powder is just like soup stock granules or cubes (Knorr, Maggi etc.) - so very concentrated and salty. So you do need to use it in moderation.

I have seen konbu dashi powder (based on konbu seaweed only, no fish) at more grocery stores (outside of Japan of course) these days, so that might be worth looking into for people who don't like the fishy taste of katsuobushi or dried fish.

I SO agree with you. A cookery book that suggests cooking with a commercial stock cube? Out the window it goes! And it might have MSG? Fling it off a cliff! MSG has many KNOWN health risks hence it has been banned from EU organic standards, right from the start.

To me, MSG is the nicotine of food. It makes food more-ish but adds ZERO nutritional content - a cheap addictive filler that suits the food manufacturers more than the consumer.

Can you imagine what junk food tastes like without the MSG? It would be truly revolting and no one would eat it!

However a dish made with wholesome ingredients needs no technology to make it palatable!

Don't you know that the kombu (kelp) used in making dashi from scratch will add a lot of MSG to the stock, "naturally"? There is no such thing as dashi without MSG, because all dashi has kombu in it.

There's a Japanese company called Muso that make organic food products. I think they are especially known for their miso.
I buy their miso and instant dashi at the organic store where I do my groceries. I quite like the taste of the instant dashi.
Call me lazy, but I prefer to use this kind of dashi most of the time (I usually have kombu + katsuoboshi at home too!), because I only cook for myself as I'm single.
I recommend you try this once if you can find it, I'm curious to what you think about the taste. On this page is a picture of what it looks like: http://www.muso-intl.co.jp/english/p_list/pl32.html

I, for one, feel that MSG should not be used in as many products as it is. Last year, I discovered that I am allergic to MSG. It causes me to vomit within 30 minutes of my eating something with it in the ingredients. Once I had narrowed my allergy down to MSG, I now review ingredient labels thoroughly before I purchase any products. I am truly shocked by how many ready-made products, from soups to rice dishes to ranch dressing, include MSG as an ingredient. Why does MSG have to be in any product? What does it actually do that some other, less controversial ingredient, could not?

Yes, I agree! I am also allergic to MSG. My whole life, I noticed on many occasions that after consuming food with MSG (Doritos, ranch dressing, Chinese food, Japanese seasonings and salad dressings)that I would afterwards get a fairly bad headache. Jeanne, to answer your question, MSG is a sort of salt used as a flavor enhancer, and it makes you salivate or something, making the food also addictive in a mental sort of way (because the food tastes amazing).

I normally try to avoid it when I can, reading labels carefully. However recently, this winter, after coming down with the stomach flu, I could eat nothing but broth I made myself from vegetable stock cubes. After a few days of this, I suddenly started seeing flashing, gradually enlarging rainbow auras in one eye while watching television, which eventually blocked my vision.

I researched it online, and turns out I was experiencing an ocular migraine, which is rare but for those who do experience it,the light show comes before the actual pain, usually severe. I took an Excedrin and it went away. As someone who is very aware of my body, I couldn't think what could have caused it except that I was very dehydrated.

A week later, it occurred to me! I had accidentally purchased the soup stock with MSG (hidden deep among the many spices on the label) and had been making it very strong, taking several doses a day. It immediately went in the trash where it belongs!

Anyhow, I lived in Japan for a year 1/2 and chawan mushi has always been my favorite dish, but now that I know it is often made with MSG, I hope I will like it just as much without it! I wonder if the naturally made broth with kombu is just as bad, something to research, I guess. I think MSG is probably synthetic and if it's made from soybeans as someone said, no wonder many people are allergic!

Hi all --

Since the last post is April of 2011, I'm going to assume that this post is still attracting visitors besides me. Stumbled onto the post looking for a favored brand of powdered Dashi-no-moto, and I got caught up in the comments.

Grrrrr. Never thought about the MSG angle before. While I am not hyped up about MSG, I agree that there is no reason to consume vast amounts of it when there are alternatives. I suppose I'm going to have to look into making dashi from scratch (grrrrr) even though I have been mocking my sister-in-law for years because she does it, but I think my powdered stock tastes just as good.

Saw a lot of questions in the comments for how to use. I make a dashi stock from powdered dashi with a recipe from

    Japanese Cuisine for Everyone
      by Yukiko Moriyama, p. 93, that consists of 1/3T of powdered dashi (I use Yamaki Dashi-no-Moto) and 1 quart of water.

      Typically, to simplify measurements, I triple everything so that I use 1T powdered dashi and 3 quarts of water. Directions are to add the dashi-no-moto to boiling water and stir until the powder dissolves.

      To make a clear broth, according to p. 14 of the same book, take 3 cups of this dashi, add 1t light soy sauce, 2/3-to-1t salt (to your taste), and 1t sake, and you have clear broth. Add what you want. I typically add 1/2 a scallion chopped and a couple of 1/2-inch square pieces of tofu for a yummy soup.

      And actually, since 4 cups = 1 quart, what I actually do is quadruple that recipe. I take all the stock I made in the previous recipe for dashi broth and then add 4t soy sauce, 3-to-4 teaspoons of salt, and 4t of sake so that I turn the entire thing into clear soup broth.

      I then let it come back to room temperature (you will have some powder left in the bottom, but it's ok), and then I freeze what I don't use in ice cubes and I use it later (I have found that 8 typical ice cubes is about 1 cup).

      Stop groaning all you purists out there! It means that I can come home and throw 16 cubes into a pot, dice some scallions, and chop some tofu and in the time it takes to melt the soup and bring it to a boil, we have soup. More time to spend on the entree portion of the meal.

      And, as I said, I think my dashi soup is a good if not better than some other's dashi stock from scratch (hello, sister-in-law! 8-). And I am second-generation Japanese and my from-Japan parents seem to like my soups made from that stock. So there! ;-)

      That said, I will also try making it from scratch. But I thought I would share for all those in the comments looking for directions for powdered dashi.

      Gotta to tell you, I can go from nothing to clear soup with powdered dashi in about 15 minutes. I'm going to bet that it's not that fast from scratch. And so, on a work weekday, powdered dashi wins!

      Great site. I'm looking forward to looking around! Cheers!

Thank you for this. Rather than ditzing about the amt of MSG, you have given clear directions for the use of the powder which I needed and was the reason I found this page in the first place.

Thanks for the great recipe! As for the Dashi, I just read a book called Excitotoxins and it lays down a lot of scientifically proven research that provides evidence that MSG is harmful. I'm a Pediatrician by trade and father of two 4 year old girls (twins) and I'm really convinced that MSG is indeed not good for human - especially for kids.

MSG occurs naturally in seaweed, and its always been a component of Japanese cooking. Its part of the yumminess.

If you are allergic to MSG stay away from Dashi or any food containing or made with seaweed. Note that MSG is also sometimes called 'hydrolized vegetable protein'.

[quote=Happyfun]MSG occurs naturally in seaweed, and its always been a component of Japanese cooking. Its part of the yumminess.

If you are allergic to MSG stay away from Dashi or any food containing or made with seaweed. Note that MSG is also sometimes called 'hydrolized vegetable protein'.[/quote]

Actually the MSG they currently put in most food stuff is not the natural kind from seaweed but a chemical produced in a lab through fermentation or chemical reaction, usually both. Adding seaweed is not the same as adding manufactured MSG so most people allergic to MSG won't notice any side affects when eating seaweed...

I would like to point out, that glutamate is naturally present in foods like Soy Sauce, what is bad, is synthetic version used in commercial purposes.
Here some health info on MSG:
It could kill nerve cells, resulting in diseases such as Huntington's, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Pregnant women, children, hypoglycaemic, elderly and those with heart disease are at risk from reactions. Adverse effects appear in some asthmatic people, should not be permitted in foods for infants and young children as it could damage the nervous system.

I agree most westerners should use dashi sparingly. I love fish and am accustomed to Korean food, worked in an Asian food market when I returned stateside and I still get carried away with Dashi some times so nobody else can tolerate my cooking. Hell i've made it so strong I couldn't stand it myself.

Just as some of my friends make chili that hardly anyone else will touch without adding a half a box of crackers - and they eat it while tears pour out of their eyes and claim its the best thing ever.

I try not to pretend my barely tolerable mistakes are "just the way I like it"

First off I love you book! Super cute and I'm amazed you made all that for your pipsqueaks. She's a lucky kid.

I found this page when I was looking up dashi recipe, to see if I could eat it or not.

Found a lot of the old comments to be uninformed. If not down right wrong. Msg is a natural occurring flavor compound not artificial. It is in the homemade version of fish stock as well as the instant stuff.

People who think they are allergic to msg are actually allergic iodine. Allergy testing to msg does not exist anymore due to the false positive it generated, doctors realizing they already had the culprit in there testing. Allergist have isolated the so called msg allergy down to iodine sensitivity. Which is on most scratch test for food allergies. Either in the form of shellfish, or strait out iodine testing.

If you use Bonito flakes and kombu you are making a iodine enriched broth that is basically homemade msg broth. It expands the taste-buds on your tongue allowing you to taste a more rich flavornoid. Basically it taste good right. If it taste right, and you don't swell up like a puffer fish than it doesn't hurt to eat it. For the folks that can handle the stuff it usually comes from food sensitivities.

The msg argument was created in the 70's, when a great deal of people began having a mysterious food allergy to something new in the market place. What was new was high levels of iodine in the the new fishy treats that were coming over from overseas.

Things like sushi calamari, and host of other ingredients began flooding the food market place and high priced restaurants. In essence american grocery stores started becoming global ingredient marketplaces. American restaurants began focusing on foreign cuisine. With that some folks were bound to find something they couldn't eat.

The allergy to Msg popped up. Was labeled to culprit thanks to some bad medical writing, and some stupid psuedo science. Since then this has been proven false positive in medical world. Its left a memory in our consciousness that msg is bad.

Histeria of the Msg allergy was actually caused by host of other diffrent things. Most commonly the real culprit was a allergy to shellfish or high levels of iodine.

Iodine is present in a lot of different food. But mostly concentrated in seaweed. Cold water oceanic fish. There for; fish stocks will set them off no matter if its powdered or fresh containing msg or not. Anything labled msg free on a fish stock should be looked at as being tampered with. Since the two major ingredients both contain the iodine, and the msg compound. MSG free would need to have some laboratory tampering with the stuff to remove it.

If you have a allergy to msg/ Iodine you will be allergic too a host of many other things. Such as nori, shellfish, Ivp dyes hell mri's at the hospital. You should consult your doctor before eating something you know you are allergic too.

There is a difference between glutamic acid derived from MSG which a salt of glutamic acid and sodium, and glutamic acid derived from natural ingredients like Kombu. Natural glutamic acid is L-glutamic acid, whereas manufactured glutamic acid, like in MSG, is D-glutamic acid. What is the difference between D and L glutamic acid? L-glutamic acid, an amino acid, is used in your body to make proteins. D-glutamic acid cannot be used by your body since it is not a natural compound. I don't think people know of any adverse affects from D-glutamic acid yet, besides allergic reactions in some people (but then again some people are allergic to peanuts, and many people eat them with no adverse effects).