How to Make Broth from Bonito Flakes (Quick Fish Stock)

by Sarah TheHealthyHomeEconomist

Bonito Flakes“Fish stock will cure anything

Good broth will resurrect the dead”  

 ~ South American proverbs

Fish broth made from bonito flakes is an easy, fast and highly economical stock.

It is delicious to sip alone or as a base for soup as used traditionally in Japanese cuisine.

I personally feel that fish stock is a must to teach your children before they leave home. It is so easy to make, and absolutely the fastest of all traditional broths.

I recently taught my teenage son how to make fish stock with fish heads and bonito flakes.  He couldn’t believe how easy it was. Show them once and they will never forget!  It’s that easy.

What is Bonito Broth?

Bonito broth, also called dashi, is a fish stock traditional to Japan.  It is traditionally mixed with fermented miso paste to make miso soup.

The Japanese have historically valued bonito broth as a remedy for colds and fatigue and to improve blood circulation. The Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition reported in 2008 a randomized human trial of 27 elderly Japanese subjects who ingested broth made from bonito flakes or water for one month.

At the conclusion of the trial, the people who ingested bonito broth during the study had far improved systolic blood pressure readings than those ingesting plain water.  In addition, the bonito broth drinking subjects had a much improved emotional state.

What are Bonito Flakes?

Bonito flakes are made from dried, fermented, and smoked skipjack tuna. Traditionally, Japanese women kept blocks of the dried bonito and used a kitchen tool to flake off as much as they needed each day. Nowadays the flakes are sold in bags.

Unfortunately, homemade dashi made from dried kelp and katsuobushi (bonito flakes) is rare today, even in Japan. Most people use granulated or liquid instant stock, which is typically full of MSG for flavor instead of the natural and delicious flavor from the bonito flakes.

Beware of bonito broth substitutes!

Bonito Flakes Make a Delicate, Non-Fishy and Very Delicious Broth!

Broth made from bonito flakes is especially helpful for a young adult or family on a limited budget with limited space. Because you can make a pot in just a few minutes, it can be made as needed rather than making huge batches and freezing large quantities like with chicken or beef stock.

It is the most economical stock too:  less than a dollar’s worth of bonito flakes makes a quart of stock in a hurry.

The picture above is of a package of bonito flakes from a local Asian supermarket near me that cost 67 cents! This one package of bonito flakes will make a quart of bonito broth.

This compares with a pot of chicken stock which takes 24 hours to make with quality pastured chicken that is very expensive and sometimes hard to find.

Is bonito broth a substitute for slow cooked chicken or beef stock? No.  The reason is that bonito broth does not contain gelatin like the slow cooked versions made from bones.  However, bonito broth is incredibly nutritious nonetheless and is a great adjunct to slow cooked bone broths to keep the budget in check and for quick meals in a hurry.

Hard to Find Fresh Fish?  Use Bonito Flakes Instead

If you need fish broth asap, don’t have any fish heads on hand or don’t have a place to buy fish heads in your town because you aren’t near the coast, you can make bonito fish broth instead.

Best to keep a number of these handy little packets in your pantry for a pinch!

How to Make Broth from Bonito Flakes

Bring 1 quart of filtered water to a boil.

Remove pan from heat and add a half cup of the bonito flakes (sources)

Cover and allow the bonito flakes to sink to the bottom of the pot.  This will take a few minutes.

Strain out the bonito flakes and discard.

Add 2 TBL of miso paste and mix in if desired (sources)

The broth has a smoky, hearty flavor similar to that of beef stock.

Drink bonito broth by itself, mix with miso or use as a base for seafood gumbo, clam chowder or other similar soups.

You can find the dried flakes at health food stores, Asian groceries, and online.


Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist


Comments (29)

  1. I just spent about 45 min searching your blog and combing through the soup/broth links after watching one of your broth videos that said to search your blog for your chowder and gumbo recipes and I found no such recipes??? Can someone link me to them if they actually exist and I am not searching properly? The only links I find are to posts that talk about using a broth in those soups but no actual recipes for those soups. Thanks.

  2. Ohh man!!! Thanks so much for this Sarah! I am in my last year of university at Western here in London and I keep telling my friends to drink bone broth when they are sick haha! Broth is also excellent for my digestion and my skin :) I am going to play around with this and make some soups with it! We have this little Asian market here too that I love going to and I’m going to get me some Bonito! Damn that’s catch. Bonito!!! Thanks again :)

  3. RE: safety of bonita flakes from radiation….My package says “product of Japan” …so, wouldn’t the bonita be in Japanese waters? I read where the skipjack is from tropical waters but if the package says again, product of Japan..that must be the country of origin and therefore possibly contaminated with radiation?

  4. Being from Japan, I have some reliable resources of how much radiation they are dumping into the ocean since the incident. I used to use bonito flakes a lot before but never now and will never use it personally in the future.

    The package is up side down by the way.

    • Thanks! Need to reshoot that picture :)

      Also, I would not be overly concerned about bonito flakes … skipjack tuna come from tropical waters, not Northern Pacific waters near Japan.

    • Hi Yoko. Any idea if Kombu from Japan is safe after the incident? I love using it when I make chicken and beef broth, and beans.

      • I am not a scientist. I am an educated person though, and I love everything Japanese including the people. However, I refuse to purchase any Japanese food products, imported ceramics like tea pots, green tea or even clothing/books/etc. post Fukushima. I do not eat fish period, no matter whether ocean, stream or river fish. I don’t ask anyone else to follow my code of behavior, but I am true to the determination I made.

  5. Your link for bonito flakes says they are from japan — I don’t see any bonito flakes on your resource list…. can you specifically name the brand you buy? I have never purchased before & would prefer not to get them from Japan. Thank you!

  6. I would love to try bonito flakes! My only concern is added MSG, which I have found on every (English) label of bonito flakes I have ever come across. The one referenced on Amazon is apparently written in Japanese, so the seller says he/she doesn’t know whether MSG has been added. If you know of any bonito flakes that have no added MSG, please let us know. Thanks! :)

  7. Oh, Sarah, THANK YOU! It is especially comforting that this broth doesn’t taste fishy. I wouldn’t mind if it did, but my partner can’t even tolerate the smell when I eat salmon or tuna near him. The only time I’ve seen him actually enjoy seafood was when he had some extremely mild lenguado fish cooked in butter. If I could use this bonito broth to get him to eat fish, I’d rest so much easier.

    I’m also not sure I could tolerate handling fish heads, at least not yet…. And we’re not very wealthy, so an alternative like bonito is appealing. I had no idea it was such nutritious stuff.

    Thank you very much for sharing the recipe and ingredient sources.

    • Sarah TheHealthyHomeEconomist May 31, 2014 at 5:04 pm

      My daughter can’t stand fish smells either but tolerates this just fine when I make it. Hopefully your partner will agree :)

    • Sarah TheHealthyHomeEconomist May 31, 2014 at 5:08 pm

      I don’t think it would be exactly the same as unprocessed gelatin from a slow cooked broth, but it would be close and certainly beneficial to the digestive system.

  8. Suyai Gimpel via Facebook May 31, 2014 at 6:06 am

    Sounds great BUT what about the radiation still leaking in Japan and its oceans? Wouldn’t that defeat the purpose? It would be great to know your take on this issue, The Healthy Home Economist. Thank you.

  9. Pingback: How to Make Broth from Bonito Flakes (Quick Fish Stock) » Nourishing News

  10. I love learning about what other traditional cultures do for health. I didn’t know bonito flakes come from skipjack tuna. Do you have any concerns about the Fukushima radiation being a problem with the bonito broth, or is it safer because the flakes are discarded? Thanks.

    • Sarah TheHealthyHomeEconomist May 30, 2014 at 5:24 pm

      Albacore and bluefin tuna poses the biggest problem due to migratory patterns near Japan and the Northern Pacific. Skipjack less so as they live in tropical waters and wouldn’t typically be found anywhere near Japan. The skipjack tuna I buy comes from Portugal and I feel very comfortable with that choice (see my resources page if interested). I don’t feel that bonito broth from skipjack poses much of a risk at all.

      • Thanks, I am very glad to know, Sarah, that there are bonito sources nowhere near Fukushima. I have been using a rapidly dwindling stash that I’d purchased just prior to that tragedy. Great article!


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