What is Umami Seasoning?
Let’s talk about umami foods and some of my favorite umami recipes. You may already be familiar with the term umami but I am sure there are a few things that you didn’t know.
The term a taste of umami may be mysterious for many of us. However, we are all familiar with the flavor of umami! We may be more familiar with the other four terms of tastes on our tongue which included salty, sweet, sour and bitter. Umami is that savory flavor many of us are craving, especially when we move towards a plant-based diet.
Most of the time, meats come to mind when thinking about the umami flavor but there are a lot of plant foods that are umami rich.
We all have a taste for umami whether we are meat eaters or plant-based eaters.
How Would You Describe Umami Flavor?
I was more than a little surprised when I heard that we actually have an ability to taste umami! As a registered dietitian, I had to learn about where on the tongue that we perceived the other four flavors like sweet, sour, bitter and salty and then all those years later, there was a new flavor called umami. Or rather, it was there all the time, but now we are more aware of it being there, how it is described and how to get it.
I have found over the years, there is always something new to learn in the field of food and nutrition. That makes it so interesting and it also keeps me on my toes!
The word “umami” is a Japanese term which means “pleasant savory taste”. It also may be described as a meaty taste. Meat broths, fermented foods, meats and fish, especially if they are smoked, have an amino acid called glutamine which give us this rich flavor. Condiments like soy sauce, fish sauce and the Australian favorite “Vegamite” are other ways people can get their taste for “umami”. I love the description in this article in The Spruce!
Food companies have discovered long ago that we had the craving for this savory taste even before most of us even had a name for it. Part of them knowing included the fact that they realized that monosodium glutamate or MSG which is a food additive, had a savory flavor and enhanced the flavor of many foods.
MSG is a controversial additive because many times it is not always labeled in processed foods and there are some health concerns when this is added to so many foods including excess sodium in the diet. There are some people who feel that they are intolerant/sensitive to MSG and for many of them this includes a bad headache. This has been referred to as the “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome”.
It is important for additives in our foods to be labeled so people know what they are getting if they are sensitive to them. And most foods unless you get them fresh from a garden, farmers’ market or the produce aisle have some types of additives included.
Additional Seasoning Facts
A little flavoring fact that is a little off topic from umami that I wanted to share with you is if you want to decrease excess saltiness or sweetness in foods, is to add a little vinegar, lemon juice for a little sourness to balance it.
You can also add walnuts or lemon rind for a little bitter that can provide additional interest and balance to foods. Seasonings and flavorings can add so much enhancement to our meals and make something plain so much more interesting.
How Do You Add Umami Flavor?
I have included some delicious tips that I enjoy on how umami seasoning can be added so you can have more of this rich and savory flavor to foods. And I have included some umami recipes!
Vegetarian Umami Foods
Here are some of my favorite umami examples without the meat, meat broth or MSG! You will also see how to add umami flavor to vegan meals!
Below in addition to vegetarian umami foods, I also have included a few of my favorite savory vegetarian umami recipes and umami vegan recipes! You may be very surprised to learn some of those foods that you love and the way that you like to prepare them is because that they give you some of that delicious umami seasoning to your palette.
I also love the fact that there are a lot of plant-based foods rich in the umami flavor so if you are eating vegetarian, you don’t have to lack in getting that delicious, savory flavor!
Many people may be surprised to learn that there are umami vegetables! Mushrooms have the ultimate vegetable meaty flavor! They are delicious almost everywhere. You can grill one for a sandwich, add to a stir fry, pasta or risotto. The fact that there are so many different types of mushrooms means there are many delicious twist of umami between them! Here are some other plant based umami recipes including Roasted Mushroom Potato Squash and Pepper Over Grits and Mushroom Tempeh Lo Mein
It is no wonder that I love tomatoes so much! They have a savory flavor! This flavor is even more pronounced when they are grilled or roasted and begin to brown. Or they have a distinct savory flavor even more when they are concentrated like a sundried tomato or a tomato paste. Whether it is on a sandwich, a pasta, a soup and many other recipes, this little fruit has a little umami flavor going on. Here is recipe using tomatoes Grandma Ida’s Famous Vegetable Soup
3. Chinese Cabbage
It is no wonder that most of us love stir fries! They have an extra special savory flavor when they include bok choy. Substitute Chinese cabbage for regular cabbage in a variety of recipes. Here is a delicious recipe to try with Chinese cabbage for Kale Cabbage and Apple Slaw
Many of us enjoy the umami flavor of spinach and because it is less bitter than some of the other greens so it may be a favorite green for many of us. I love it in salad, lasagna and on a pizza. Check out some other recipe ideas where they taste great also Tempeh Sweet Potato Spinach Burrito and Spinach Beet and Walnut Salad
The little bit of bitterness, saltiness, sweetness and savory of celery make it a very flavorful vegetable to add to recipes like stir fries, soups and grains.
6. Green Tea
Green tea has always tastes a little bitter to me and there is a flavor that I could not describe. Could it be a savory flavor? I learned from my friend Jessi from Asheville Tea Company that I could be steeping my green tea a little too long. Now, that I know to steep it less time, it has decreased the bitterness so that umami flavor shines through. It is even has a little bit of smokiness.
There are lots of different green teas to try to explore the taste of umami from all over the world! It would be fun to even plan a green tea tasting party!
I love the sweet flavor of carrots but it may be the “umami” flavor that keeps me coming back for more in soups, stir fries and even pasta dishes. That is why, I love them browned and caramelized because they are smoky, savory and so flavorful. Here is a recipe to include them in this Thai Broccoli Salad .
8. Parmesan Cheese
Adding a sprinkle of parmesan cheese to your favorite veggie recipes can give your foods an added savory flavor. This Creamy Parmesan Salad Dressing is a great way to get a taste of umami! If you want an umami vegan recipe for parmesan, scroll down below under nutritional yeast.
Potatoes are America’s favorite vegetable! We just love its savory taste! Try my Southwestern Potato Salad for a great plant based taste of umami flavor. Grilling the potatoes just gives them a great savory flavor that really brings out a umami seasoing!
10. Fermented Foods
Fermented foods like tempeh, soy sauce, miso, sauerkraut, pickles, olives, ect has a savory flavor that many of us love! These Plant Protein Bowls are full of savory, umami flavor and there are many more recipes on the blog with tofu and tempeh.
The picture of this tempeh sandwich is from my cookbook Farm Fresh Nutrition .You get a double dose of umami from tempeh being both a soy food and fermented. When it is cooked, the savory flavor really comes out!
11. Caramelized Onions
The caramelized flavor tastes savory to me! There is a flavor change when onions get soft and begin to brown, there is a sweetness there, but I also taste the savory flavor of umami.
12. Roasted Eggplant
To me eggplants really do have a smoky, savory, savory taste. Roasting an eggplant is my all-time favorite way to eat it unless I grill it! Try this savory eggplant and potato dish Grilled Roti with Eggplant and Potatoes to get your daily dose of umami! In fact, it is a double dose of umami with the potatoes also!
13. Lentils and Field peas
Brown lentils (not the red ones) and field peas have a unique “savory and umami” flavor when added in a soup or salad, they are also high in protein too! These lentil tacos have a delicious, savory flavor!
14. Nutritional Yeast
When I was a kid, I watched my grandmother add Brewer’s yeast to her foods and when my son followed the vegan diet, I purchased my own! These yellow flakes give foods a rich, savory flavor. It is a great source of B vitamins and often is supplemented with vitamin B12 . It can be added to potatoes, sauces, gravies, tofu or tempeh to give it a nutty almost cheese-like flavor.
Here is a plant based vegan parmesan cheese that can be used to top pizzas or pastas to give you a chance to give nutritional yeast a try! I is a perfect vegan Umami recipe!
Beets especially when they are roasted or grilled give foods a savory, umami flavor on many of our palates. This recipe with roasted beets makes this risotto full of umami!
16. Sea Vegetables
Sea vegetables not only provide a taste of umami flavor to meals but they also provide a variety of nutrients. The Guide to Seaweeds and Sea Vegetable Recipes below has a lot of great seaweed facts and some creative recipes using it also!
Some sea vegetables are also rich in omega 3 fatty acids.
17. Roasted Nuts
Roasted nuts taste delicious and they also boost the flavor of umami! If you need a few tips on how to roast those nuts without burning them, here is a great tutorial how to do it! Below is a great pizza recipe with arugula, pear, blue cheese with toasted walnuts, what is not to love with that combo?
Learning how to add a savory depth to meals is an important part of making our healthy meals tastier, satisfying and more appealing. I especially love that umami flavor is not just meet but that there are a lot of vegetarian umami foods and when this seasoning is added, it can make vegetarian meals much more satisfying.
I would love to hear how you add a taste of umami to your healthy menu ideas in the comments below. It is always fun to learn from you. There are lots of was to make plant-based umami flavored foods. I hope that you enjoy my umami recipes in this post and take a look at many more on the Vine Ripe Nutrition blog.
Working with a registered dietitian nutritionist can help add a little more interest to your meals and help improve your eating habits. I love to help my clients create their own delicious meal plan! You can find out a little bit more about me on my Bio page!