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Kombu (Dried kelp) is a key ingredients for Japanese cuisine.
Here is a guide about what it is, how to use it, and what is the substitute.
What is Kombu?
Kombu (昆布 / こんぶ) is a dried seaweed which is used for many different things in Japanese cuisine.
It hardly have any characteristic taste or flavour, but it really boosts umami of the foods. So it works as natural MSG.
By the way, Japanese brands are so expensive in here Australia.
So I usually buy Korean brand which is cheaper, but works great.
How to use Kombu?
Usually, kombu is soaked in water to make its stock called "Kombu Dashi".
(昆布出汁 / こんぶだし)
*Dashi means stock in Japanese.
After soaking few hours to overnight, it's typically used for soup dishes or slow cooking dishes just like the way western cuisine use its stock.
The other example is "Ichiban Dashi'.
(一番出汁 / いちばんだし)
It means "First stock".
It is a combination of warmed kombu dashi and bonito flakes.
This is the most important Japanese stock, and the heart of many traditional dishes.
Is there any substitute for kombu?
To replace kombu, you can use Kombu dashi powder instead. (Or MSG)
It is powdered kombu dashi, so basically it works almost as the same.
You might wonder "How much dashi powder should I use to replace kombu?", but it could be depending on the brand. So check the packet instruction.
If you are still not sure, just start from the half amount of what the recipe says. And taste it, then add more if you think it's necessary.
Unlike the real kombu, it doesn't have to be soaked in water for hours. So take it easy.
You might find dashi powder like these ones. But these are different type of dashi powders.
It has bonito flake flavour in it (like the picture shows)
So it's not as neutral as kombu dashi powder on the taste, but it still does the job for most cases. But if you are looking for the replacement of bonito flakes (for making "Ichiban dashi"), this is what you can use.
However, if you are planning to use bonito flake as it is (like my Furikake recipe), but need a substitute, unfortunately, there is no replacements.
The link for my Furikake recipe
If you have kombu, but don't have bonito flakes, and you want to make Ichiban dashi?
That case, you can just use the bonito dashi powder.
Or make kombu dashi, and add bonito dashi powder too.
Both will be fine.
Is there any other way to use Kombu?
I founded that the umami from kombu match well with any foods.
And I thought it would be great if I can use it for anything without adding water to it.
In western cuisines, it's common to add flavour to salt, and there are many types of them.
(ex: Smoked salt, Herb salt, Spice blended salt, etc)
I knew how to make them according to my experiences.
And one day, I came up with making my own special salt with kombu.
To make things easy for cooking at home, I simply blended salt and kombu in a food processor. (Salt 50g / 1.75oz + Kombu 4g / 0.15oz)
*(This recipe is for small handy food processor. If you have normal size food processor, you might need to make a bigger batch to fill up the machine enough. Otherwise it might not blitz well)
The result was great.
It dramatically changed all the foods I cooked.
It is pretty much like "The salt which already has MSG in it"
But it's lot more elegant in flavour, and nothing artificial.
This is the CHEF'S LABO’s signature seasoning, "Kombu salt".
Since I made it, I have been using it for most of my recipes.
It add umami to anything, but it does't affect on the taste at all.
It's such a game changer.
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