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What is Umami Seasoning?

Let’s discuss umami foods and some of my favorite umami recipes. You may already be familiar with the term, but I am sure there are a few things 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 include salty, sweet, sour, and bitter. Umami is the savory flavor many of us crave, especially when moving towards a plant-based diet.

Most of the time, meat comes 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 slightly surprised when I heard that we can taste umami! As a registered dietitian, I had to learn where on the tongue we perceived the other four flavors: sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. 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, how it is described, and how to get it.

Over the years, I have found that there is always something new to learn in the field of food and nutrition. That makes it so interesting and keeps me on my toes!

The word “umami” is a Japanese term that means “pleasant savory taste.” It may also be described as a meaty taste. Meat broths, fermented foods, meats, and fish, especially if they are smoked, have an amino acid called glutamine that gives them 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 discovered long ago that we craved this savory taste even before most of us had a name for it. Part of their knowledge included the fact that they realized that monosodium glutamate, or MSG, a food additive, had a savory flavor and enhanced the flavor of many foods.

MSG is a controversial additive because it is not always labeled in processed foods. There are some health concerns when this is added to so many foods, including excess sodium in the diet. Some people 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 essential for additives in our foods to be labeled so people know what they are getting if they are sensitive to them. 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 that if you want to decrease excess saltiness or sweetness in foods, add a little vinegar and lemon juice for a bit of sourness to balance it.

You can also add walnuts or lemon rind for a little bitterness that can provide additional interest and balance to foods. Seasonings and flavorings can enhance our meals and make something plain much more interesting.

How Do You Add Umami Flavor?

I have included some delicious tips on how to add umami seasoning to foods to add more of this rich and savory flavor. I have also 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!

Umami Recipes

Below, in addition to vegetarian umami foods, I have included a few of my favorite savory vegetarian umami recipes and umami vegan recipes! You may be shocked to learn that some of those foods that you love and the way that you like to prepare them give you some of that delicious umami seasoning to your palette.

I also love the fact that many plant-based foods are rich in umami flavor, so if you are eating vegetarian, you don’t have to miss out on that delicious, savory flavor!

  1. Mushrooms  

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 or add it to a stir fry, pasta, or risotto. The fact that there are so many different types of mushrooms means many delicious twists 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


2. Tomatoes

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. They also have a distinct, delicious flavor, even more so when concentrated like a sundried tomato or a tomato paste. Whether on a sandwich, a pasta, a soup, or many other recipes, this tiny fruit has a little umami flavor. Here is a recipe using tomatoes Grandma Ida’s Famous Vegetable Soup

Bok Choy

3. Chinese Cabbage

It is no wonder that most of us love stir-fries! They have an extra unique 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


4. Spinach

Many of us enjoy the umami flavor of spinach, and because it is less bitter than some of the other greens, it may be a favorite green for many of us. I love it in salad, lasagna, and pizza. Check out some different recipe ideas where they taste great also Tempeh Sweet Potato Spinach Burrito and Spinach Beet and Walnut Salad



Celery’s bitterness, saltiness, sweetness, and savory qualities make it a very flavorful vegetable for stir fries, soups, and grains.

Green tea

6. Green Tea

Green tea has always tasted bitter and had a flavor that I could not describe. Could it be savory? 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 how to steep it in less time, the bitterness has decreased, so the umami flavor shines through. It even has a little bit of smokiness.

Many different green teas from all over the world are good for exploring the taste of umami! It would be fun even to plan a green tea-tasting party!


7. Carrots                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

I love carrots’ sweet flavor, but it may be their “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: 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 a savory flavor. This Creamy Parmesan Salad Dressing is a great way to get a taste of umami! If you want an umami vegan parmesan recipe, scroll below under nutritional yeast.


9. Potatoes                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

  Potatoes are America’s favorite vegetable! We love its savory taste! Try my Southwestern Potato Salad for a great plant-based taste with umami flavor. Grilling the potatoes gives them a great zesty flavor that brings out the umami seasoning!


10. Fermented Foods

Fermented foods like tempeh, soy sauce, miso, sauerkraut, pickles, olives, etc have a savory flavor that many of us love! These Plant Protein Bowls are full of tasty, umami flavor, and many more recipes are on the blog for 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 comes out!


11. Caramelized Onions      

The caramelized flavor tastes savory to me! There is a flavor change when onions get soft and brown; there is a sweetness there, but I also taste the savory flavor of umami.


12. Roasted Eggplant                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

field peas

To me, eggplants really do have a smoky, 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! The potatoes also add a double dose of umami!

13. Lentils and Field peas

Brown lentils (not the red ones) and field peas have a unique “savory and umami” flavor when added to a soup or salad; they are also high in protein! 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 an excellent 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 recipe for topping pizzas or pasta. It is a perfect vegan umami recipe, and it gives you a chance to try nutritional yeast!

Roasted Beet Risotto

15. Beets

Beets, especially when roasted or grilled, give foods a savory, umami flavor. 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, too!

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?

More Ways to Add Umami to Foods

I mentioned I do not use MSG in my recipes and try other ways to add a savory taste to foods. Michelle Redmond is a registered dietitian and trained culinary chef. I love the ideas she shares about adding umami flavor to recipes. Here is an article on how she adds this flavor to vegetarian meals, and here is one where she adds umami flavors to help reduce sodium in meals.

You can read more about her work helping others create delicious meals.

Adding Umami to Your Menus

Learning how to add a savory depth to meals is integral to making our healthy meals tastier, more satisfying, and more appealing. I especially love that the umami flavor is not just meat but also many vegetarian umami foods. When this seasoning is added, vegetarian meals can be much more satisfying.

I would love to hear how you add a taste of umami to your healthy menu ideas. It is always fun to learn from you. There are lots of ways to make plant-based umami-flavored foods. I hope you enjoy my umami recipes in this post and 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 plans! You can find out a little bit more about me on my Bio page!

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