Nothing beats the umami punch from bonito flakes. They bring so much flavor, but what can you do when these fishy flakes are out of stock or you’re trying to go meat-free?
So many people find themselves with the problem of going vegetarian and trying to recreate the fishy, umami flavor from bonito flakes that they know and love. Bonito flakes are dried fermented fish filets that are then flaked. They bring a smoky, umami flavor, but there are plenty of ways to substitute bonito flakes without losing out on oceanic flavor!
Uses for Bonito Flakes
Bonito flakes are used to bring fishiness, savory umami flavor, and smoke to broths, stews, batters, and so much more. It is sprinkled over rice, cooked in stir-fries, and even baked in casseroles to add a little fishy flavor.
Usually, the flakes are worked into marinades, doughs, or broths in a way where the flakes aren’t really seen, but when they are served atop rice the steam makes the feather-light flakes shiver. Some people enjoy eating raw flakes as a quick snack.
Substitutions for bonito flakes need to bring a similar level of umami flavor. They also need to bring a bit of brine to the dish.
Are Bonito Flakes Healthy
Bonito flakes are low in calories and fat, but it’s not all good news. Bonito flakes are also very high in sodium and cholesterol. They have some vitamins and minerals but not in substantial levels. Overall, with balanced sodium intake throughout the rest of your diet, these fishy flakes are great!
If you are someone trying to watch their sodium or eat fish-free you may want to substitute bonito flakes with another ingredient.
How to Choose a Substitute for Bonito Flakes
No matter your reason for seeking a substitute, the right one needs to deliver in all the right areas. A great bonito flake substitute has the right amount of oceanic flavor, but it also needs depth of flavor like the smoky bonito flakes. You will also want to consider the fish content of the bonito flake substitute if you are trying to eat vegetarian.
The 6 Best Substitutes for Bonito Flakes
|No.||Substitute||Is it Vegetarian Friendly?|
|4||White Fish||Not Vegetarian|
A frequent component of Japanese cuisine, nori is an excellent substitute for bonito flakes. Nori brings a ton of ocean flavor to the dish and it does not have any actual fish in it. Nori is a type of seaweed with a deep green color and it is typically sold in thin sheets.
Nori is a common and easy-to-find substitute for bonito flakes. It is usually found near soy sauce and Asian sauces in grocery stores, and it is widely available online. It is shelf stable and does not require special storage.
Nori is a great substitute for bonito flakes in broths and cooked dishes. It brings a lot of great flavors that are similar to the bonito flakes, but with more freshness and less smokiness. Much like Bonito flakes, wonderfully thin and briny nori can also be enjoyed raw as a light snack.
2. Shiitake Mushrooms
Shiitake mushrooms can be a great choice for vegetarians looking for a substitute for bonito flakes. Shiitake mushrooms are a large earth variety of mushrooms that grow off logs. They are dried and sold in stores everywhere.
Dried shiitakes can be more pricey than common button mushrooms, but they are worth the price for the full, delicious, umami flavor they have. They can be incorporated into broths, stir-fries, and used as a dry garnish.
While dried shiitakes pack a serious umami punch, they do not have all the flavor notes of bonito flakes. They are missing the smokiness and the signature ocean flavor of bonito flakes, but for a fish-free option, shiitakes bring a lot of complexity as a substitute.
This variety of red algae is great for use as a bonito flake substitute. It grows in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, making it easy to find and well-known by many. It has no fish, but plenty of oceanic flavors to replace the bonito flakes.
Dulse is available in stores and online everywhere. Dulse can be stored outside refrigeration, but in the fridge or frozen this seaweed can last up to a year. While both nori and dulse mimic bonito flakes with their seaweed flavor, dulse is almost double the price of nori.
Dulse has a briny, umami flavor that works well in soups, stir-fries, and more. It does not have the smokiness of bonito flakes, but the flavor of dulse is known for working well with others. Dulse can be enjoyed cooked or as a fun, raw snack.
4. White Fish
White fish is more of a general term that refers to any white-flesh fish. Bonito flakes are made with Oceanic Bonito, which is not technically a white fish. That being said, various different types of white fish make great substitutes for bonito flakes.
The range of white fish includes familiar favorites like cod, haddock, and Atlantic Whitefish, so finding this substitution is no problem. One easy-to-find option for white fish is to use smoked whitefish, which is found in most stores. All fresh and smoked required careful cold storage.
To make the best use of this substitute for bonito flakes, you should try it in soups and stir-fries. It adds so much fishy flavor it’s simply irresistible. Being a whole fish, white fish will naturally have a more dense and full texture than lighter-than-air bonito flakes. Try breaking down the white fish as much as possible to make it more texturally like the flakes.
The anchovy is a small forage fish. They make an excellent substitute for bonito flakes. These tiny fish are typically packed in salt and/or oil which gives them lots of briny flavors to bring out their strong umami punch!
These small fish bring a big bite of flavor. They have all the fishy and umami notes of bonito flakes, with a little more salt. Some brands even offer smoked anchovies that will have a bit of the bonito’s signature smoke.
Anchovies can be found in cans and jars in stores everywhere. They have a low price point, and unopened cans of anchovies are shelf-stable for a long time. To make the most of this substitute try it in soups and cooked dishes. Its texture will differ, but the flavor is a great swap for bonito flakes.
Kombu is sheets of dried kelp from the brown algae family. Kombo tends to be sold in thick, dark green sheets. They have lots of umami flavor, but no fish, so they’re a great veggie swap for bonito flakes.
Kombu does not require special storage and can be found in so many stores and online. It is versatile and easy to use, and the best part is the powerful flavor it brings to the table. Kombu has a strong umami flavor with notes of mushrooms and salty brine. It adds a wonderful complexity in place of bonito flakes.
This substitute for bonito flakes works well in almost every application. Like bonito, it is an excellent uncooked snack. Kombu can be used in cooked recipes, too, but it does get softer when cooked. One tip is to grate the kombu as small as possible before cooking to make it more like the texture of delicious bonito flakes.
The Best Overall Substitute for Bonito Flakes
The best substitute for bonito flakes is nori. Whether you are watching your fish intake or not, nor offers so much oceanic flavor at a low price and wide availability. It is great on top of cooked rice, as a raw snack, in a stir-fry, or flavoring a soup. If you need to swap out bonito flakes, consider nori!
6 Best Substitutes for Bonito Flakes
- Shiitake Mushrooms
- White Fish
- From the list of substitutes above, pick your favorite to use in its place.
- Use your imagination and be creative with these substitute recipes!