Get a savory kick at your next meal by cooking with umami-rich foods! We’ve rounded up five simple ingredients that can elevate home cooking.
What Is Umami?
Umami, also known as the savory taste, plays a big role in rounding out the flavor profile of meals. Along with sweet, salty, sour and bitter, umami is the fifth basic human taste that elevates the flavor of food. Consider the classic food pairings of Parmesan cheese on pasta and potatoes with ketchup. It just so happens that both Parmesan cheese and tomatoes are rich in umami.
Umami comes from glutamate, which is a type of amino acid. Glutamate is found in most foods, including meat, fish and vegetables. However, the strength of the umami flavor depends on:
- Food pairings. The umami taste is magnified if a glutamate-rich food is paired with a food rich in inosinate or guanylate. This effect is seen in many cuisines. For example, pairing vegetables (high in glutamate) with meat (high in inosinate).
- How long foods are aged or ripened. The longer a food ages or ripens, the more glutamate it accumulates. For example, aged cheese or cured ham have a stronger umami taste compared to their younger counterparts.
- If foods are fermented. Fermentation increases glutamate in foods. For example, miso and soy sauce are umami-rich fermented soy products.
Since the discovery of umami more than 100 years ago, researchers have investigated umami and any possible relationships to health. One study found that eating umami-rich foods can increase satiety and help prevent overeating. In healthy cooking, umami-rich foods are a great way to boost the flavor profile of meals without adding on extra calories. Next time you get cooking, try experimenting with these five umami-rich foods:
Umami-Rich Food #1: Tomatoes
Ever wonder why ketchup is such a big staple in American dining? One reason is the umami content of tomatoes. Similar to aged cheeses, the umami content of tomatoes increases as they ripen. This is why canned and packaged tomato products like pasta sauce or salsa are so savory — they’re made from tomatoes that are at the peak of ripeness.
Looking for a recipe featuring tomatoes? Try our Butternut Squash & Tomato Posole.
Umami-Rich Food #2: Mushrooms
It’s no wonder why mushrooms are frequently used as a substitution for meat in vegetarian recipes. Not only do they have a meaty texture, they’re also rich in umami. All mushrooms have some amount of glutamate, but shiitake and enoki have the most.
Check out our recipe for Sichuan-Style Tofu with Mushrooms.
Umami-Rich Food #3: Soy Sauce
A staple in Asian cooking, soy sauce adds a dimension to food that regular table salt can’t accomplish. Soybeans are naturally high in glutamate, but the umami flavor is enhanced when soybeans are fermented to make soy sauce. To avoid adding too much extra sodium, opt for low-sodium soy sauce.
Give our Grilled Pork Tenderloin in Marinated in Spicy Soy Sauce a try.
Umami-Rich Food #4: Miso
Miso is another fermented soy product that’s rich in umami. It’s also a probiotic, which means it’ll help maintain healthy gut bacteria. Miso is surprisingly versatile. Along with its classic use in miso soup, it also works well in salad dressings, sauces and marinades.
Here’s a miso recipe for you: Easy Miso-Chicken Ramen.
Umami-Rich Food #5: Sweet Potatoes
What’s not to love about sweet potatoes? In addition to being a great source beta-carotene, sweet potatoes provide extra satisfaction through their umami content. Try experimenting with roasted sweet potato recipes, as roasting is also thought to help bring out the flavor of umami.
Add our Baked Sweet Potato Fries to your repertoire.
Bobby is the community and social media manager at Zipongo. He has a degree in nutrition and dietetics and previously worked as a health educator.