“Savor the Flavor” is this year’s theme for National Nutrition Month and one flavor that is mysterious to many of us is “umami”! If you are not familiar with this term, I am excited to share what it is with you! When we were kids, we learned that we had four types of tastes that we could translate on our tongue which included salty, sweet, sour and bitter. As a registered dietitian, whose wants to help make healthy eating tasty for clients, this was an important part of my training. For example if someone is trying to decrease excess salt or sweet in their food, adding a little vinegar, lemon juice for some sour or adding walnuts or lemon rind for some bitter can additional interest to foods. Several years ago I was more than a little surprised with some scientist discovered that we actually have an ability to taste “umami”! 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”. Food companies discovered long ago that we had the craving for this flavor even before there was even a name for it because they realized when monosodium glutamate or MSG which is a food additive was added to many processed foods because it enhanced the flavor of foods. MSG is a controversial thing because many times it is not always labeled in processed foods and there are health concerns when this is added to so many foods including excess sodium in the diet.
As a nutritionist, I want to share some of my favorite foods to get the “umami” flavor. You don’t have to use meat, meat broth or MSG to do it! I have also shared some of my favorite savory plant based recipes also!
- Mushroom The ultimate vegetable meaty flavor. They are delicious almost everywhere. Try one grilled on a sandwich, in a stir fry, pasta or risotto. Check out some here at Roasted Mushroom Potato Squash and Pepper Over Grits andMushroom Tempeh Lo Mein
No wonder I love these so much! Whether it is on a sandwich, a pasta, a soup and many other recipes, this little fruit is savory. One recipe here at Vine Ripe Nutrition using tomatoes Grandma Ida’s Famous Vegetable Soup
- Chinese Cabbage
No wonder, I love stir fries! They have the extra special savory flavor with bok choy. Substitute it for regular cabbage in a variety of recipes. Check this one out at Kale Cabbage and Apple Slaw
- Spinach The meaty flavor of spinach and because it is less bitter it may be a favorite of many of us. I love it is salads, lasagnas and pizza. Check out some of these recipe ideas Tempeh Sweet Potato Spinach Burrito and Spinach Beet and Walnut Salad
- Celery The little bit of bitterness, saltiness, sweetness and meatiness of celery make it very flavorful to add to recipes like stir fries, soups and grains.
- Green Tea
Green tea always tastes a little bitter to me and there was a flavor that I could not describe. Could it be “meaty”?
- Carrots 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. Here is a recipe to use them Thai Broccoli Salad .
- Parmesan Cheese Adding a sprinkle of parmesan cheese to your favorite veggie recipes will give it that added savory flavor.
- Potatoes Potatoes are America’s favorite vegetable! We just love its savory taste! Try my Southwestern Potato Salad for a great “umami” flavor.
- Fermented Foods Fermented foods like tempeh, soy sauce, miso, sauerkraut, pickles, olives, ect have a savory flavor that many of us love!
You might not totally agree with me on the these three foods but I feel that they have a “umami” flavor too!
- Sauteed Onions The caramelized flavor tastes savory to me! There is a flavor change when onions get soft and start to brown, there is a sweetness there but I also taste “umami”.
- Roasted Eggplant This is my favorite and almost only way to eat eggplant unless I grill it. To me it really does have a smoky, savory, meaty taste. Try this savory eggplant and potato dish Grilled Roti with Eggplant and Potatoes
- Lentils and Field peas Brown lentils not the red ones and field peas have a “savory and meaty” flavor in a soup or lentil salad, they are also high in protein too!
I hope that you find learning about the “fifth taste” as much as I have. I think that it is an important piece of making our healthy meals tastier and more appealing. I would love to hear how you have added “umami” to your healthy menu ideas! If you feel that working with a registered dietitian nutritionist in Asheville would help add a little more interest to your meals and improve your eating habits, I would love to help others create healthy menus! You can find out a little bit more about me here!