Japanese/ Roundup

12+ Epic Ways to Use Katsuobushi / Bonito Flakes

21/09/2023

Find out all about katsuobushi, an essential ingredient in Japanese cuisine that delivers a huge burst of umami flavour. Includes everything you need to know PLUS incredible recipes to use up your dried bonito to the very last flake.

Loose katsuobushi flakes in a small black bowl.

Why We Love This

Katsuobushi is one of our favourite Japanese condiments – it really makes dishes like takoyaki and okonomiyaki shine. We’ll use it in miso soups, simmered dishes, dipping sauces, as a garnish, a seasoning, you name it!

A little goes a long way when you’re first trying the flakes (but you can also stack it on like we do). We are obsessed with bonito – well mainly Laura – but Sarah’s a big fan too.

As a preserved condiment, it lasts for a really long time, so it’s an occasional purchase you can use for ages before you need to restock.

What is Katsuobushi?

Katsuobushi flakes (鰹節 / かつおぶし or dried bonito flakes) are a super popular ingredient in Japanese cuisine, where it is also known as okaka.

It’s most well known for being one of the two main ingredients in dashi stock alongside kombu (dried kelp / seaweed sheets). 

You’ll often find it as an optional garnish at Japanese restaurants alongside everyday toppings like aonori seaweed flakes and shichimi togarashi / seven spice powder.

A packet of katsuobushi flakes from an Asian grocery store in Australia.

How is katsuobushi made?

The town of Makurazaki in Kagoshima prefecture is the most renowned for making katsuobushi.

The process to make katsuobushi is quite involved and can take anywhere from 20 days, all the way up to over 6 months. Skipjack tuna fillets (also known as katsuo) are simmered, smoked and dried under controlled conditions. During this time the fillets undergo fermentation using a special variety of mould. According to Kinshichi Shoten, the process sometimes needs to be completed by hand over 20 times!

Check out Yusuke Sezaki (瀨﨑 祐介) on Instagram, a 4th generation katsuo maker at Kinshichi Shoten (金七商店), who makes some of most incredible bonito and includes behind the scenes photos and video on how katsuobushi is made.

Traditionally, katsuobushi fillets were finely shaved using a wooden plane known as a katsuobushi kezuriki. You can still buy whole fillets (or blocks), online is easiest but you may be lucky and have a Japanese speciality supermarket that stocks them!

These days you’re more likely to come across it as the iconic pink-brown shavings (which look quite similar to pencil shavings) sold in plastic bags like the image below.

A small clear plastic packet of katsuobushi flakes.

How is it used?

Large, thick bonito shavings are most often used in flavourful soup stocks. These can be removed and discarded afterwards, or repurposed as a form of furikake.

Small, thin katsuobushi shavings are mainly used as a soft, melty, umami-packed garnish.

In addition to the ideas below, it goes well with a wide variety of dishes including noodles and rice, eggs or tofu, and vegetable based recipes.

At home, why not try it:

Close up shot of a pile of katsuobushi flakes showing the texture.

FAQs

What does katsuobushi taste like?

Katsuobushi has a mild, smoky umami flavour and aroma. It’s definitely savoury, more like a bacon / smoked fish jerky than truly ‘fishy’. We also love the flaky, melty texture!

Why does katsuobushi seem to move or ‘dance’?

This can be a big surprise when you first come across katsuobushi! When it’s used a topping on freshly prepared Japanese dishes, steam and heat can cause the fibres in the katsuobushi to expand or contract in random ways, causing the flaky pieces to move and curl.

Can I eat it raw?

Yes you can. Feel free to try some straight out of the packet if you want to!

What’s the best way to store it?

Katsuobushi is essentially a preserved food, so it will naturally last a long time. We prefer to store it in an airtight container (rather than the plastic packaging) in the pantry.

12+ Epic Ways to Use Katsuobushi / Bonito Flakes

As an ingredient:

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Quick Dashi Recipe – Japanese Soup Stock
Ichiban Dashi (number one dashi) is the backbone of Japanese cuisine. Dashi brings the umami richness through lightly simmered kombu and bonito flakes. Ready in 30 minutes, this quick soup stock is a Japanese household staple to take your hot pots and soups to the next level!
Quick Dashi Recipe – Japanese Soup Stock
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Tsukemen Dipping Ramen Noodles with Miso
Dunk your ramen noodles into a rich broth of miso flavoured tsukemen! This easy dipping ramen recipe is a super fun treat to whip up for lunch or dinner, and it's ready under 20 minutes.
Tsukemen Dipping Ramen Noodles with Miso
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Yaki Udon – Japanese Stir Fried Udon Noodles
Yaki udon is the ultimate quick and easy dinner – filling, delicious and FAST! Tossed with pork, veggies and a delicious yaki udon sauce, these easy Japanese stir-fried udon noodles are ready in just 20 minutes.
Yaki Udon – Japanese Stir Fried Udon Noodles
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The Ultimate All Rounder Umami Sauce
Try our handcrafted recipe for umami sauce, made with a blend of umami-packed ingredients like soy, miso and katsuobushi. This sweet and salty sauce is ready to bring huge savoury flavour to your cooking.
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Quick Japanese Rice Seasoning – Nori Komi Furikake
An easy Japanese rice seasoning perfect for sprinkling over rice, noodles, meats and salads. Add savoury umami flavour with our base Nori Komi Furikake recipe or amp it up with your favourite spices or seasonings to make your own custom blend.
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As a garnish:

Okonomiyaki topped with sauce, kewpie mayonnaise, bonito flakes and seaweed flakes.
Easy Okonomiyaki Recipe – Japanese Savoury Pancakes
Okonomiyaki are Japanese savoury pancakes packed with flavour and SO easy to make! Ready in less than 30 minutes, these 'as you like it' pancakes are sure to be the new family favourite.
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Plate of takoyaki balls topped with homemade takoyaki sauce, kewpie mayonnaise, aonori and katsuoboshi.
Quick & Easy Takoyaki Recipe
A quick and easy takoyaki recipe you can cook in minutes with just one chopstick. Make at home using five secret topping combinations. Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and packed full of flavour. 
Quick & Easy Takoyaki Recipe
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Yakisoba – Japanese Stir Fried Noodles
Get dinner on the table in just 25 mins with this quick and easy yakisoba recipe. These delicious Japanese stir fried noodles are loaded fresh veggies and tender pork or chicken, smothered in homemade yakisoba sauce.
Yakisoba – Japanese Stir Fried Noodles
Udon noodle soup in a bowl of udon soup stock made with dashi, soy sauce and mirin.
Udon Noodle Soup Recipe
This Japanese udon noodle soup recipe features an easy udon soup base that you can make in minutes. Choose your favourite udon toppings such as spring onion, katsuobushi (bonito flakes) and shichimo togarashi (Japanese chilli flakes)! This light, tasty Japanese noodles soup is perfect as a quick lunch, dinner or appetiser. 
Udon Noodle Soup Recipe
Hiyayakko in a white dish in a shallow pool of soy sauce.
Hiyayakko – Japanese Cold Tofu Recipe
Get ready for the easiest 5 minute meal – Hiyayakko. This Japanese cold tofu recipe is ideal for a quick and healthy lunch you can have at work or home, with loads of topping ideas to get you started.
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Yudofu – Japanese Boiled Tofu Recipe
Yudofu is the easiest Japanese hot pot ever. In just 5 minutes, you’ll enjoy delicious boiled tofu that’s healthy, light and full of satisfying flavour. Perfect as a tasty side dish or snack.
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Easy 20 Minute Agedashi Tofu (Air Fryer Recipe)
For a delicious appetiser that’s crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, look no further than Agedashi Tofu! This simple air fryer version of the traditional Japanese deep fried tofu recipe is paired with a tsuyu sauce of dashi, mirin and soy sauce.
Easy 20 Minute Agedashi Tofu (Air Fryer Recipe)
Golden and creamy miso butter in a dish, ready to use.
Quick Miso Butter Recipe
Try this amped up miso butter recipe next time you want to bring delicious umami flavour to your cooking! Includes loads of uses and recipes ideas too.
Quick Miso Butter Recipe

12+ Epic Ways to Use Katsuobushi / Bonito Flakes
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2 Comments

  • Reply
    Lucretia Borgia
    28/09/2023 at 6:56 pm

    And of course, dashi is right at the base of Oyako Donburi..!

    Would love to see your take on this favourite.

    • Reply
      Wandercooks
      28/09/2023 at 7:28 pm

      Great one! That’s on our list actually, so keep an eye out!

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