Learn about Katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes), one of the most important ingredients in Japanese cooking, including dashi (Japanese soup stock).
What is Katsuobushi?
Katsuobushi (鰹節 or かつおぶし) is a dried and fermented katsuo (skipjack tuna or bonito, 鰹). Shaved Katsuobushi andh kombu (dried kelp) are the main ingredients to make Japanese soup stock called dashi, the foundation of Japanese cooking.
We call dried bonito flakes in English as young bonito has a similar color and texture and is sometimes used as a cheaper substitute for skipjack tuna.
Katsuobushi’s distinct umami flavor comes from its high inosinic acid content.
Use of Katsuobushi in Japanese Cooking
In addition to making dashi, we also use katsuobushi in various dishes including:
- Spinach Ohitashi
- Chilled Tofu
- Simmered Bamboo Shoots (Tosani)
- Homemade Ponzu Sauce
Types of Katsuobushi
There are several types of katsuobushi that can be used for different purposes. The best will have light pink or beige shavings that will be slightly shiny.
Hanakatsuo (花鰹; はなかつお)
- Thin petals that resemble large wood shavings.
- Some contain dark meat.
- You can purchase good quality Hana Katsuo here (ships internationally).
Shaved Karebushi (削り枯れ節)
- Lighter-colored shavings, with or without dark meat, are suitable for making flavorful and aromatic clear dashi or Ichiban Dashi.
- The darker shavings are suitable for miso soups, simmered dishes, and dressings.
Shaved Arabushi (削りあら節)
- The most common type of katsuobushi found in the U.S.
- Suitable for making soups, sauces, and dressings.
- The more dark meat you see in the shavings, the stronger the flavor.
- Thicker shavings than Hanakatsuo
- With more dark meat, produce rich, strong dashi
- Suitable for making braised dishes.
Thinnest shavings, suitable as a garnish for salads and tofu.
How to Store Katsuobushi
Traditionally, you would shave a large chunk of katsuobushi (you can buy here) into thin flakes whenever you need it, using a tool called katsuobushi kezuriki (鰹節削り器), similar to a wood plane. These days you can get a pretty good quality shaved katsuobushi in plastic bags.
Once the packages are opened, the katsuobushi will begin to oxidize and go wilted, and the color becomes dull. In order to keep your katsuobushi fresh longer, expel extra air from the bag, reseal, and store in a cool, dry, dark location. If the packages did not come in a resealable bag, transfer them to an airtight container immediately.
If you live in a humid environment, it’s best stored in the freezer.