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The Evolution of Dashi Culture and Ramen: An Inseparable Pair

What is the secret to developing great ramen in Japan, you ask?

The answer is Dashi, Dashi, Dashi!

Dashi is a class of soup and cooking stock used in Japanese cuisine (Washoku) and it is the base flavor for many Japanese dishes. Although dashi is usually made with kombu (edible kelp) and katsuo (dried-bonito flakes), it can be made from various other ingredients. The soup that comes from boiling ingredients is also called dashi. This means that dashi is like the bouillon and soup stocks used in French cuisine, as well as, the soups used in Chinese cuisine.

Dashi culture has a very long history in Japan and is precisely the key to creating ramen’s delicious taste.

Dashi = Umami Soup

Ichiban Dashi (ichiban meaning the first) is the most famous type found in the many varieties of dashi. There are various ways Ichiban Dashi can be prepared but all methods share something in common, the use of kombu and katsuo. For example, here is a general recipe for dashi:

-Put kelp and water into a pot and apply heat.

-Just before the water starts to boil, remove the kelp from the pot.

-Put the dried-bonito shavings into the pot until it boils and then turns off the heat.

-Let the soup sit for a few minutes and then strain.

Good Ichiban dashi has a clear, golden color and has a strong refreshing taste. This taste comes from the combination glutamic acid in kombu and inosinic acid in dried-bonito flakes that results in a synergy effect. Although other combinations of ingredients may be used, the delicious taste produced from the glutamic acid and inosinic acid is second to none.  When 1-part glutamic acid and 1-part inosinic acid are mixed together, the umami-flavor is 7-8 times better when compared to tasting them separately.

Ichiban Dashi has made large contributions to the development of ramen in Japan. In most cases, ramen soup includes glutamic acid and inosinic acid and because of this combination, delicious, rich-tasting ramen can be made. For example, tokontsu and dried-bonito flakes contain a large amount of inosinic acid and soy sauce, miso, and kombu contains a large amount of glutamic acid. It can be said that the dashi culture in Japan has led to the development of ramen soup and the combination of delicious flavors.

Food Fusion: Dashi Culture & Meat Culture

It is said that the first steaming hot bowl of ramen in Japan was served in 1910. In only 100 years since then, ramen has become Japan’s national dish and its popularity has been spreading all over the world. Perhaps the rapid growth of ramen is a result of the food fusion between the dashi and meat cultures. Incidentally, eating meat was forbidden for more than 1000 years in Japan until the end of the 19th century.  When the meat culture was introduced, it immediately spread all over the country and nowadays meat-based dishes such as Tonkatsu, Sukiyaki are extremely common.

Western food culture has had a major influence on the growth of Japan’s meat culture. In and around the time that ramen was created in Japan its saw rapid growth so it seems that the two are not unrelated.

At the heart it, only a small amount of fats and oils were included in traditional dashi. However, the meat culture was introduced to Japan and this led to the use of fats and oils in ramen soup preparation. Many people began to believe that a more delicious ramen soup could be made by adding more fats and oils.  

It is said that people became addicted to the combination of fats and oils, sugar, and flavor as a result. Present-day ramen is made with a perfect combination of sugar, ramen tare, animal fats and oils and dashi flavor. This is the main reason why ramen is attractive to people.

Even after one hundred years since the birth of ramen, an obvious “Ramen must be this way” form still doesn’t exist and therefore ramen continues to grow at a rapid rate.

In the future, ramen will keep its roots in the dashi culture, as well as, be fused with various other food cultures to continue producing many new delicious creations. To grow and to continuously change is the foundation of the ramen culture. This is one of the main reasons why we, the Ramen Hero team, want to continue spreading the great appeals of ramen all over the world.