Cool-looking garnish? A Japanese condiment that can raise your energy levels? MH examines bonito flakes, whose appearance belies its nutritional and culinary value.
Made of fish
Bonito flakes are feather-like shavings of dried and smoked skipjack tuna. If chowing down on the brown condiment on its own seems a tad unappetising, go ahead and make a glazed topping using either leftover flakes from making dashi (broth used in Japanese cuisines) or dry shavings moistened with a touch of water.
Sleepy no more
Food researchers at Ajinomoto have proposed that a blend of protein containing casein, wheat protein and powdered bonito flakes can help alleviate fatigue. The Japanese food and chemical corporation – which produces a third of the world's monosodium glutamate - has since patented the protein formula.
According to a Japanese study published in the Journal of Food Science, the aroma of bonito flakes can make a low-salt diet more acceptable to taste buds. Subjects of the study rated low-salt dishes as more palatable, even though the flakes did not affect the perception of saltiness.
This popular garnish contains ribonucleotide IMP and N-lactoyl GMP – umami substances (natural flavor enhancers) that amp up the tasty quotient of dishes. This is why dashi – with its umami-laden combo of bonito flakes and dried kelp (kombu) – forms the basis of almost every Japanese dish.
Make your own
Soak a 10cm piece of kombu in a saucepan with a litre of water for 30 minutes. Turn on the heat and remove the kombu when the water bubbles. When it boils, reduce heat and add 25g of bonito flakes. Simmer for 10 seconds and turn off the heat. Allow all the flakes to sink before straining the finished stock.
Glazed bonito flakes
Cook 25g of wet, finely chopped bonito flakes in a skillet over medium heat, stirring until it’s mostly dry. Add 2 tablespoons each of mirin (or sake, if less sweetness is desired) and soya sauce, and ½ teaspoon of raw white sugar. Cook, stirring constantly for about 3 to 5 minutes, until the flakes appear glazed.