Translated by Hilary Keyes
Dashi and Tsuyu - Japanese Encyclopedia
In this article we discuss what dashi is, how it is made and the importance of dashi and its related dipping sauce, tsuyu, to Japanese cooking.
Written by MATCHA
Dashi or soup stock, are the simmered juices of various ingredients in water and is the flavor foundation of nearly all Japanese dishes. Japanese dashi is where the umami (*1) of the food is located, and where its constituent fragrances begin to dissolve; one of its main characteristics is that prevents an excess of flavor or any unpleasant flavors of a dish from coming out of the foods when prepared correctly.
* Umami: one of the five basic tastes (sweet, sour, bitter, and salty), that generally refers to a 'nice savory taste'; this is the main way of describing a standard dashi's taste.
Main Ingredients: Kombu and Katsuobushi
Japanese dashi tends to be made using two main ingredients - kombu, a type of kelp, and katsuobushi, dried and sliced bonito.
Kombu dashi has glutamic acidity (similar to the flavor of glutamates) to it and is made from dried kombu that is slowly soaked in gently heated water for several hours.
Katsuobushi dashi is made from dried and sliced bonito; this bonito is prepared by first heat-drying and preserving bonito until it has hardened into a solid, almost wood-like form, then slicing it paper thin with a special cutting tool. These paper-thin shreds of dried bonito are then boiled in water, and then strained out from the resulting stock; the main taste or ingredient in this dish is inosinic acid, which is a natural flavor enhancer.
There are many dishes in Japanese cuisine that use both kombu dashi and katsuobushi dashi, which when combined are known as "awasedashi", and which provide the two fundamental savory flavors - leading to simmered dishes and soups that are incredibly flavorful.
There are other types of dashi as well: niboshi, which is made from simmered small sardines and other fish, and hoshi-shiitake, which comes from dried shiitake mushrooms and others - there are many kinds of dashi that are unique to Japanese cooking.
Adding Flavoring to Dashi to Make Tsuyu
Using dashi as a base and adding soy sauce, mirin, rice wine, sugar and/or other ingredients creates the Japanese dipping sauce tsuyu. There are infinite numbers of combinations that lead to numerous different flavors and cooking techniques even within Japanese cooking.
The majority of Japanese noodle dishes, such as udon, soba, and somen, are made using mentsuyu (noodle tsuyu), while hot pot dishes require nabe tsuyu (pot tsuyu). If only dashi were used in these dishes, the savory taste of the foods would be lost. When dashi is mixed with other ingredients to create tsuyu, the color becomes darker and the flavor deepens.
Until not too long ago, both dashi and tsuyu were completely homemade, but now powdered and liquid dashi can also be bought in stores. It is up to cook to decide which they prefer to use. But if you happen to find a flavor that really appeals to your senses, it might be a good idea to pick some up as a souvenir.