Monday, December 5, 2011

Dashi: The Dish that Inspired Ajinomoto

For any meal that the Japanese prepare, soup is always present and considered a part of a complete meal. In fact, it serves as an appetizer before supping on each dish on the table, packed with tasty “gohan” or rice. The primary ingredient in making any soup is dashi (soup stock), which is mixed with other recipes. The stock, once ready, is added to diverse variations of nimono (stewed dishes) and dipping sauce. There are various ways of preparing dashi, but most of the Japanese prefer the traditional process, which started in the 19th century. Dashi is a clear stock. The goal in making dashi is to create the soup in a way that should be suitable for most meals, and also bringing the umami flavor to the table. In fact, it is dashi that inspired Professor Kikunae Ikeda to discover Ajinomoto because he wanted to extract the umami flavor he found so appealing in dashi.

Dashi is mainly created from boiling dried kelp (kombu) and kezurikatsuo (katsuobushi shavings), with variations of dried small sardines (niboshi), and dried shitake mushrooms. From the sources mentioned, some are pure vegetable stocks while others are fish stock. This is different from the usual pork, chicken and even beef soup stocks that are common soup bases and used in other recipes. The traditional or oldest form of this soup stock is made from kombu and katsuobushi (dried skipjack tuna), producing the same umami taste found in Ajinomoto. As described, katsuobushi are dried bonito flakes that contain protein, minerals and vitamins. It comes from boned, boiled, filleted, dried, and smoked fish that is shaved into thin flakes.

On the other hand, kombu is a kind of kelp, which is harvested in underwater forests. Kombu is best described as a large kind of seaweed. After harvesting, the kombu is laid out in the sun to dry, a very natural process that not only preserves the kombu but also intensifies its flavor. It contains dietary fiber, and loads of nutrients, which are also found in katsuobushi, except for its fiber that aids in maintaining good digestion and circulation. You just have to combine both the kombu and katsuobushi in a pot of water, put it to a boil and then strain the solids afterwards. Even without the presence of Ajinomoto, dashi makes each meal complete and savory. There are ready-made dashi granules and powder, which can be mixed into boiling water to have an instant dashi taste. Both ways are perfect in serving delicious and appetizing soups and other meals on the table.

Jane Burgess has been inspired to make Ajinomoto articles, as she tasted the classic umami flavor of dashi. She is in love with most Japanese soups and stewed meals because of the kombu-kezurikatsuo combination.