Among several other things, Japanese people have also mastered the art of incorporating umami into their cuisine. Umami, the elusive 5th taste sensation, is the heart of many popular dishes like ramen and soba noodles.
Bonito flakes are packed with umami, making it an indispensable ingredient of the cuisine.
Bonito flakes are fermented, smoked, and dried skipjack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis). You can use these paper-thin fish flakes as the core ingredient of your soups, stews, or as a topping on okonomiyaki. It’s a great soup thickener and makes for a tasty treat for cats too!
Not sure which brand of bonito flakes to pick? No worries. I have put together a list of the 5 best bonito flakes brands to give you a headstart.
5. Marutomo Dried Shaved Bonito (Hanakatsuo)
I was introduced to this brand by a dear friend of mine who makes the most amazing ramen. Marutomo is an old and trusted Japanese brand and their bonito flakes have the pronounced smoky flavor you’re looking for.
While the flavor and texture are on-point, I personally find these flakes a bit on the saltier side. Each 16-ounce bag contains 40 mg sodium which can easily add up. So if you are watching your sodium intake, you should opt for a less salty product.
That being said, the “bite” it adds to the foods when used as a topping makes it a great cure for boring meals. You only need a small amount of these bonito flakes to up the umami level of your stews, soups, and broths.
Sick of instant ramen and want to kick it up a notch without spending too much on gourmet stuff? Try Marutomo bonito flakes. Although I don’t have cats, I know people who do and they have been quite vocal about how much their cats love these flakes.
The bag these flakes come in is satisfyingly huge and can last for over a month, depending on how much you use. keep the flakes fresh and crispy for several days.
Although you don’t necessarily have to refrigerate them, I’d suggest that you do after emptying all the contents of the bag in zip-lock bags.
4. Eden Bonito Flakes (Aged and Dried)
Looking to get a more prominent fish flavor to integrate into your dish, consider this brand. It’s noticeably less salty than Marutomo flakes which would be a good thing if you are concerned about your sodium intake.
It’s made with hardwood smoked skipjack tuna and therefore, naturally, has a very pleasant smoky aroma. It’s as close to the authentic stuff as you can get at this price.
Cheap, low-quality bonito flakes are unevenly sized, with some being too chunky and some too crumbly. That’s not the case with Eden bonito flakes, at least not in my experience. The flakes are uniformly sized for the most part.
The 1.05-ounce bag is enough to make 5 cups of Ichiban dashi. When hot brewed, the flakes nicely dissolve in water. You can use it to give your Western-style stews, instant ramen, and miso soup a solid hit of umami.
To keep the airy shape of the flakes intact for days, put all the contents in sealed containers or zip-lock bags and refrigerate. If you don’t want to refrigerate, that’s okay too.
Store the flakes in airtight jars and keep them in your pantry, out of the reach of your cat because they won’t mind finishing half of the pack in a day.
3. Yamaki Dried Shaved Bonito Flakes
If we are talking value for money, the USA-made Yamaki bonito flakes are hard to contest. It’s not just the quantity that I found impressive about these flakes.
Appearance-wise, it’s nearly perfect with all the shavings being significantly larger and uniform in size than what cheaper brands offer. If you want your bonito flakes to taste less fishy and more smoky, Yamaki won’t disappoint.
Even with a strong smoky flavor, the taste of the skipjack tuna doesn’t get lost in the mix. It goes on to show how carefully each step of the manufacturing process was carried out.
Use it as a topping for your steamed eggs, sushi rolls, egg, and cabbage pancakes to elevate the flavors and textures. It makes an umami-rich, scrumptious bowl of dashi broth as well.
Due to the large size of the shavings, you will need only a handful of these flakes to thicken your soups and stews. Make sure to store it in sealed bags and containers to prevent the moisture from ruining the flakes.
Also, don’t let your cats know that you have them or they will finish the whole bag before you know it.
2. Yamahide Hanakatsuo Japanese Bonito Flakes
Out of the products listed here, this one smells the best to me. Smoked and dried to perfection, these bonito flakes pair amazingly with savory dishes. If you feel your homemade miso soup or ramen broth is lacking something, try making the dashi base with Yamahide flakes.
The flakes are airy, light, and crispy and they do that epic dance when you sprinkle them on hot food. You get two massive bags for the price of four, making it a stellar bang for the buck.
I also loved that the flakes are disturbingly salty, so I don’t have to worry about the negative effects of high sodium intake. It’s a nice little treat for cats and dogs who are very particular about what they eat.
1. Kaneso Tokuyou Hanakatsuo, Dried Bonito Flakes
This is currently my go-to brand and the reason it found the top spot on this list is its beautifully balanced taste. It’s neither too fishy, nor too smoky, nor overly salty.
The quality of the dashi base made with these flakes is significantly better than what I was previously making. The nuanced flavor of the katsuobushi flakes harmonizes the flavors of the other ingredients – which is the secret code to unlock culinary perfection.
You know the umami hit is legit when you keep slurping the ramen broth even when you’re full. The flakes are light and have the right amount of crunch, making them a great addition to furikake as the seasoning for onigiri and many other dishes which could use some extra texture.
To top it off, the huge 3.52-ounce bag is attractively priced and doesn’t necessarily need refrigeration to last for months. What’s not to love?
So that was my two cents on the best bonito flakes brands in the market right now. The use of katsuobushi isn’t limited to Japanese cuisine.
There are tons of Western dishes that can be taken to the next level with the help of these smoky, thin flakes with a mellow taste of skipjack tuna fish.
So go, experiment with different brands until you find the one that takes your taste buds on a fun ride.