Home » Katsuobushi: The Japanese Bonito Flake Topping You Can Use on Almost Anything
Katsuobushi refers to bonito that has been dried, smoked and then shaved into flakes. It is a main ingredient of dashi broth, but the seasoning can be used to add umami to almost anything.

Americans certainly love their salt and pepper, and why not? They are both flavor enhancers to season virtually anything. And while residents of Japan are no strangers to using salt and pepper, there is another ingredient that they use abundantly and may deliver more umami flavor than the old familiar black and white seasonings ever could. It is Katsuobushi, and you can use it on and in almost anything you’d want to eat.

What Is Katsuobushi?

Even if you’ve never heard of Katsuobushi, chances are you’ve probably tasted it but never realized it. It accents many Japanese dishes, from stir-fries to soups and everything in between.

As you might have already surmised from the title, Katsuobushi is made from fish, in particular, a type of tuna called bonito (known as skipjack tuna in America). Many seasoning blends and food products in Japanese supermarkets list bonito flakes as one of the ingredients, but Katsuobushi is actually the proper name. This refers to bonito that has been dried, smoked and then shaved into flakes. Traditionally, months, or even years, of aging process is part of creating katsuobushi. However, lower-quality brands skip this process, aging the bonito only for about 30 days.

History of Katsuobushi

There is evidence of the fish flake seasoning as early as the late 1600s, though the fermentation wasn’t a part of the process until about a 100 years later.

In Japan, there’s a common story of Katsuobushi’s early beginnings. An individual found a chunk of Katsuobushi that had been sitting for so long it had grown mold. The individual consumed it anyway and discovered that during the fermentation, the flavor got even richer. That’s how people discovered the taste of Katsuobushi.

Health Benefits of Katsuobushi

Bonito contains a high amount of protein, and Katsuobushi contains all the essential amino acids required by the body for good health. It is also rich in vitamins and minerals, including iron, niacin and B12.

Scientists believe that regular consumption of Katsuobushi helps to improve brain function and metabolism. Also, it helps reduce the risk of several diseases and maladies, including dementia, heart disease and diabetes.

The Many Culinary Uses of Katsuobushi

Katsuobushi is an extremely versatile seasoning packed with lots of umami. In Japan, you can purchase the dried bonito in chunks and bring it home to shave into flakes yourself as needed. It is a major component of dashi broth, which is also used to make a great many Japanese dishes.

In other dishes, the fish flakes serve as a simple topping for tofu or pickled vegetables, and okonomiyaki — flavorful Japanese pancakes. Katsuobushi has also earned the moniker of “dancing fish flakes.” When you sprinkle them on top of a hot dish such as okonomiyaki, the heat causes them to move around almost as though they are dancing.

Another popular use for Katsuobushi is to mix into rice dishes or recipes containing rice such as onigiri. The result is a much more flavorful dish that is also healthy!

Katsuobushi is easy to find in Japanese supermarkets and online at Amazon.com. You can even purchase a complete block of it, but you will then need a special shaver as well. So it’s a lot easier and inexpensive to purchase a packet of flakes. Try Katsuobushi today on some of your dishes in place of salt and pepper and you won’t regret!