Dashi

“What is the deliciousness?” You may intuitively taste “good” or “not good” from a flavor at first bite before imagining the quality of spices and food materials, and all the effort that the chef put into. To give this initial feeling of taste is a function of dashi, the “foundation” of food. Dashi contributes to an expanse of flavor and mouth feel.

Then, what is dashi? It can be defined as “umami ingredients heat-extracted in water from plant or animal food materials”. However, it is not just a taste of the material moved into water. Most people imagine "katsuo dashi (bonito stock)" from fish origin and "kombu dashi (kelp stock)" from seaweed origin as Japanese dashi. They are the dashi grown up in Japanese food culture. Then, what kind of dashi has been growing in the other countries?

Foods vary from country to country and grew up with the culture of their society; they can be said the history of taste. Thus, the way of thinking about extracting dashi is tremendously different around the world. The following is comparison among world’s typical dashi.

Dashi for the World Cuisine

French Cuisine

Bouillon mainly used for soup and Fond / Fumet mainly used as sauce and the base of dishes are corresponding to dashi in French cuisine.

1. Bouillon

Bouillon is usually made by simmering carrot, onion, leek, garlic, celery, tomato, bouquet garni and spices with beef shank and chicken for many hours. It is the dashi based on rich umami from beef seasoned with spices, herbs and potherbs.
Bouilion is made into consommé by adding beef, potherbs and spices, simmering 6~7 hours and then adding egg whites to clarify the soup. The extremely taste concentrated consommé made by adding taste to the clear rich bouillon becomes worthy of its name; the word consommé means "perfect" or "completed" in French.

2. Fond / Fumet

It is possible to find various types of fond and fumet. There is no difference of meaning between the two; some kind of fond is called fumet.

Fond de veau (veal stock)

Brown stock cooked by simmering roasted veal shank and bone with tomato, bouquet garni and stir-fried vegetables as carrot, leek, onion, garlic, celery in the stock pot for 8 hours.
Deep flavor of simmered veal is in harmony with the flavor of bouquet garni.

Fond de volaille (chicken stock)

White stock made by simmering poultry (especially chicken), vegetables and bouquet garni for 4 hours. The sweetness of white poultry and the flavor of bouquet garni are in harmony.

Fond de canal (duck stock)

The basis of this stock is duck bone oven baked with garlic and nut oil, and it is simmered for 3 hours with stir-fried mirepoix (mixture of carrot, onion, celery, échalote, etc.), nibandashi (second stock) made from fond de veau, tomato and bouquet garni.

Fond de poisson (fish stock)

The recipe includes combining non-oily white fish (especially flatfish) bones, onion, carrot, échalote and mushroom, and allowing them to simmer with white wine and herbs. You can savor the flavor of slightly roasted materials and the sweetness of simmered white fish with the slight aroma of potherbs.

There are many kinds of dashi in French cuisine as fond de agneau (lamb), fond de caille (quail), fond de gibier (deer, pheasant, pigeon, duck, etc.), in addition to the mentioned above. They all have one thing in common; they bring out deep umami and rich taste that make the most of the materials. This complex rich taste is achieved by taking time to extract dashi and repeating adding and concentrating umami. Many of the French dashi will give you deep heavy flavor of the materials combined with the aromas of potherbs and bouquet garni.

Chinese Cuisine

Dashi is called “Tang” in China. It is a large country and has a long history; that why you can find many food products and also a lot kinds of dashi.

Qing tang

Qing tang is characterized by its clean and clear taste. The basic ingredients are whole chicken, duck, pork shank, pork bone, scallion, ginger flakes, etc. The meat is cooked by blanching in hot water to remove the scum and simmering 4~6 hours with other materials. To extract umami with keeping the soup clear, make sure the water is at just below boiling point and letting up small bubbles rising to the surface. This soup has a meaty savoriness rather than fattiness.

Bai tang / Nai tang

The soup called bai tang or nai tang is a white cloudy full-bodied soup. Its materials are not so different from qing tang; however, by simmering in relatively short time over high heat being careful not to burn, oils and fats in the materials are emulsified and resulted in white, thick and deep full-bodied soup. The soup is full of fatty savoriness derived from the materials.

Shang tang

Shang tang is a kind of qing tang and regarded as the highest grade of Chinese dashi. The basis of this soup is “Jīnhuá ham”, one of the world's top 3 hams with Prosciutto from Italy and Jamón Serrano from Spain.Jīnhuá ham is traditionally produced using the pigs called "two ends black" native to Jīnhuá City (Zhejiang, China). They are raised on only fermentated tea grounds and Chinese cabbages and not given the grain to promote fat. The breed grown in this way is called “Jīnhuá pig” and is especially noted for its low-fat high-quality meat.

Thus, Jīnhuá ham becomes the excellent quality ham that free amino acid known as a major umami substance is super-condensed and suitable for making dashi.
Shang tang is the top-grade qing tang with full of umami from an abundance of this premium material simmering with chicken bone and pork on low heat for 6 hours.

Thai Cuisine

Chicken stock has been used for Thai food. It was spread in Thailand recently influenced by Chinese food transmitted from Overseas Chinese. It is made by simmering blanched chicken bone with onion, celery and coriander for 4 hours. This soup is used for the base of Tom yum goong, one of the world’s top 3 soups.

Mexican Cuisine

“Caldo” is a Mexican version of soup stock. There are various basic ingredients for the soup such as beef, pork, chicken, mutton and seafood; “Chicken caldo” is the most popular among them. It is prepared by simmering whole chicken instead of chicken bone together with onion, carrot, celery and garlic for 4 hours and then filtered. Chicken meat used for making this soup is also applied and garnished with vegetables, chili and avocado. Additionally, local ingredients such as tomato, tortilla, frijoles (Mexican bean), avocado, garlic, chipotle (smoke-dried chili), seafood, may be added.

Indian Cuisine

There is nothing equivalent to dashi in India. It is said that the culture of extracting umami from animal ingredients hasn’t taken root in India because of the religious reasons. The difference between Japanese curry and Indian curry may be whether to contain umami from dashi or not.

Japanese Cuisine

Dashi mainly used in traditional Japanese cuisine is made from katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) and kombu (kelp). Katsuobushi is rich in inosinic acid, a kind of nucleic acid and kombu contains high amounts of glutamic acid, a kind of amino acid.

Katsuo dashi (dried bonito stock)

Katsuobushi is the most important in many other dried fish in Japan. It is divided into 4 types according to the production method: namaribushi, arabushi, hadakabushi and karebushi. It also can be classified into 3 categories by its part and size: obushi, mebushi and kamebushi. Dashi from katsuobushi can be used for many applications including Japanese food, ramen, soba and udon. Atsukezuri (thick flakes: 0.5~1.0 mm) is generally used for soba and udon. It gives strong dashi that has impact in taste by infusing in boiled water for 30~40 minutes. Dashi from usukezuri (thin flakes) is increasing recently; it will be extracted in 10 minutes or so. Hanakatsuo (very thin flakes; 0.05 mm) is often used for Japanese food. It can be extracted in water just below the boiling point within 1 minute.

Kombu dashi (kelp stock)

Kombu is a good source of refined umami and can be used as dashi in combination with katsuobushi. There are 3 ways to make dashi using kombu:

  • -
    Mizudashi: Soak kombu in water for 2~4 hours. Then umami comes out naturally.
  • -
    Nidashi: Heat up the water gently 30 minutes after soaking kombu. Remove kombu just before boiling.
  • -
    Ichibandashi: Take kombu out from nidashi. Add katsuobushi and bring to a boil.

They all have refined and clear taste in common.

The Unique Characteristics of Japanese Dashi –Complexity and Simplicity

Here I would like to introduce the unique characteristics only found in Japanese dashi.
All the dashi around the world are made by adding materials over and over again with long cooking times to obtain complex deliciousness and deep thick umami; whereas, Japanese dashi, especially katsuo dashi for suimono (which translates to “things to sip”, a transparent Japanese soup based on dashi) has a reverse way of thinking. By shaving the material as thin as possible to expand its surface area, the taste is extracted in a short time. This is the way to extract umami ingredients tend to dissolve quickly from katsuobushi and unique in the world with its brief cooking time. Katsuo dashi tends to become bitter and astringent through long cooking times. Therefore, only the clear taste in the material is “selected”.

The same can be said of kombu. Mizudashi method doesn’t exist in the foreign country. The cooking must take many hours of sensitive boiling on small fire; if boiling kombu over high heat, dashi will become viscous and bitter due to its elution of alginic acid. This also can be regarded as a technique peculiar to Japan as it is “selecting“ the requisite ingredients.
The world general dashi is made by adding strong taste. The unnecessary part will be skimming off or covering with herbs. Meanwhile, it is the characteristic of Japanese dashi using only the necessary part.Moreover, by extracting quickly, flavor loss due to heating can be prevented and dashi full of light flavor ingredients will be obtained.

As for aroma, only light and preferable bonito aroma will be selected and the fishiness from prolonged heating will be excluded. It is an important feature of “owan (Japanese wooden bowl) of clear soup” like suimono. It is the same clear soup as French soup; however, the way of thinking is far different. Japanese dashi is characterized by its aroma as well when compared to the wolrd dashi.

Ramen Soup – Another Dashi in Japanese Culture

Ramen is a staple food in Japanese culture, whereas it originally came from China. It has been changed and improved over the years and evolved into Japanese original food culture.
What makes the ramen soup full of umami is simmering potherbs and animal raw materials for many hours to extract flavor. So far it is same as Chinese “tang” and foreign dashi. Then seafood materials are added just before the soup is ready in order to add umami and flavor in a short time.

Today, double-soup based ramen can also be seen in general. Two different soups cooked separately come together as a final soup; one is made from seafood materials cooked briefly and the other is made from animal materials taking time to cook. Thus, the ramen soup, blending of foreign style dashi spend long time to cook and Japanese style dashi cooked in a short time, can be said the trendy, “hybrid” dashi.

Flavor Ingredients of Qing Tang and Bai Tang

There is a soup dish using dashi blending technique in China. Qing tang and bai tang are cooked separately using only chicken and then mixed together to obtain both advantages.

Conclusion

Nowadays, food environment in Japan is surrounded by not only their traditional cuisine but also the food cultures from all over the world. Processed foods reflecting world cultures as well can also be seen widely in marketplace. Flavor is one of the means to express the taste of processed foods.When it comes to the construction of flavors contribute to deliciousness of food, flavor researchers like us must carefully consider cooking process and origin of flavor; otherwise we cannot express profundity of originals.
This article has shown the origin of taste and flavor of dashi based on this point. You’ve seen the flavor produced by long time cooking and the flavor ‘selected’ from materials by short time cooking.I’m glad if this will become an opportunity to reconsider the origin of taste and flavor of dashi, the base of dishes. Gaining more insight into dashi will be the key to understand the basis of food and flavor.

Hiroshi Ishida (2013)