This Month's Ingredient
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Quintessence of a perfect Dashi, Katsuo-bushi かつお節

“Mummy, look! The Katsuo-bushi is dancing on top of the rice.” June would always say whenever I serve her rice with Katsuo-bushi.

What is Katsuo-Bushi?

Katsuo-bushi かつお節, also being known as Bonito flakes is a smoked fermented fillet of skipjack tuna. It is an essential ingredient widely used in Japanese cuisine to enhance the umami taste of Kombu 昆布 hence both of them are often being paired up together to make Japanese Dashi. However, Katsuo-bushi alone can produce flavourful dashi as well. 

There are 2 types of Katsuo-Bushi – Karebushi 枯節 and Arabushi 荒節 shown in the picture below. In case you wonder, yes – they are very hard in texture and do look very much like a block of dry wood in real life. Compared to Arabushi, Karebushi is a premium. It makes fine decadent dashi with a strong and flavourful unami. On the other hand, Arabushi also considered flavourful, is more popular in Kansai area and it is used for making the economical  Hana-Katsuobushi 花かつお.Katsuobushi block

You’ll need a wooden shaver called Kezuriki 削り器 shown in the video to shave these blocks of katsuobushi. Already not very popular now though, back in the olden days, almost every Japanese kitchen owned one and it was often the job of the children in the house to shave the katsuobushi before meals.

labelsThings are surely getting easier these days, we can buy shaved Katusobushi in shops anytime we want now. Sold in relatively big bags, you can find them under the dried food section in Japanese grocery shops.

Before you buy, it is always good to check out the labels on the back to know which type of katsuo-bushi you are looking at.

How to choose Katsuo-Bushi?

Here are 5 kinds which are commonly available to cater for various purpose of usage.


  • Mostly made from Arabushi-Katsuobushi.
  • Contain bloodline and gives out an alluring strong smell of smoked fish when cooked.
  • Fairly rich in umami taste and ideal in making thick dashi with Kombu.
  • Suitable for nimono, oden and soba tsu-yu



  • Mostly made from ArabushiKatsuobushi.
  • Contain bloodlines.
  • Used for dashi or consume on its own.
  • Has a strong smoked fish taste and smell.
  • Affordable for daily use, e.g. Hana-katsuo 花かつお.
  • Suitable for nimono, udon/soba tsu-yu and miso soup.


  • Made from Karebushi-Katsuobushi. 
  • Do not contain bloodline.
  • A premium and more expensive.
  • Suitable for making a clear, flavourful dashi.


  • Made from Karebushi-Katsuobushi.
  • Contain bloodline.
  • Not suitable for making dashi.
  • Mostly used as toppings for cold tofu and vegetables.


  • Made from Karebushi-Katsuobushi.
  • Not suitable for making dashi.
  • Mostly used as toppings for Okonomiyaki, Takoyaki and Ocha-tsuke 


What are Chi-ai 血合い – bloodlines?

It’s a strip of dark, blood-rich muscle running down the spine area of the fish. Has a stronger fishy taste compared to other parts. Let out a bitter taste when over cooked. Flakes without bloodlines, on the other hand, makes a clear and less  fishy taste soup stock.


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