Everyone knows there are four basic tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. We even label ourselves as being ruled by one these tastes – some people have a “sweet tooth” while others, like myself, crave more salty food. But there is a fifth flavor that has been identified and it’s called umami.
Umami is the taste sensation that makes foods savory, deeply flavorful, and satisfying. Without umami, food might taste bland and boring. Scientists have even discovered a taste receptor for umami that makes us crave certain types of foods. Let’s learn more about umami and find out how to get it in plant-based dishes.
1. Foods with Umami
Umami is found in foods that contain a high level of glutamate, a naturally occurring amino acid. These foods include many animal foods such as meat, aged meat, cheeses, salted fish, and foods that have been caramelized or cooked at high temperatures.
2. Nutritional Yeast
One of the most popular ingredients among plant-based eaters is nutritional yeast. It adds a cheesy, salty taste to food as well as a bunch of important vitamins and minerals including vitamin B12. You can use it in tofu scrambles, mac and cheese, baked kale chips, and dips. It can also be used as a substitute for parmesan cheese. Find out more about it in 5 Reasons Why Nutritional Yeast Rocks and Benefits of Nutritional Yeast for Your Blood Sugar.
Try using nutritional yeast to make these Cheezy Beanballs, Green Chile Nacho Cheese Sauce, Creamy Chia Cheddar Sauce, and this Cheesy Cauliflower Popcorn. Check out 10 Recipes that Can Be Transformed with Nutritional Yeast for more recipe ideas.
3. Sea Vegetables
Umami can be found in sea vegetables and seaweed such as kombu, kelp, and nori. Sea veggies are also beneficial to our health. Check out All You Ever Wanted to Know About Sea Vegetables: Kelps, Noris, Oh My to learn more about seaweed.
If you’re not sure how to use sea veggies in your dishes, read Cooking With Sea Veggies Can Transform Your Meals (and Health)! Here’s How to Do it the Right Way to get great tips and recipes. Then try this Seaweed Salad with Toasted Sesame Dressing, Raw Pad Thai with Coconut Chickpea Tempeh, Super Easy Nori Hand Rolls with Avocado Dressing, and Nori Wraps with Sweet Potato, Avocado and Miso Dressing. If you’re a sushi-lover, read How to Make Vegan California and Teriyaki Tofu Sushi and make your own rolls.
4. Fermented Foods
Fermented foods are rich in umami. These would include soy sauce or tamari, liquid aminos, vegan Worcestershire sauce, balsamic vinegar, umeboshi plum vinegar, miso, wine, beer, and tempeh. Fermented foods are healthy for us since they have lots of good bacteria. Learn which are the Top 5 Fermented Foods to Build a Healthy Gut, Fermented and Pickled Foods are Healthy and Delicious – Try These and 5 Fun Ways to Get Started Fermenting so you can make your own fermented foods.
There is lots of umami to be found in dishes with miso like this Miso Zoodle Soup with Fava Beans and Greens, Moroccan Miso, Lentil and Pumpkin Soup, and Miso Kimchi Nachos with Cashew Cheese. Other fermented dishes include Tempeh Marsala, Tempeh Tagine Bowl, Seitan in a Balsamic Wine Reduction, Korean Kimchi BBQ Burgers, and Kimchi Tofu Tacos with Cashew Crema.
5. Mushrooms and Tomatoes
Mushrooms (especially shitakes and porcinis) and tomatoes have naturally occurring umami, and drying them concentrates it even more so dried mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, tomato paste, and ketchup are flavor-packed choices. If you love meaty mushrooms, you definitely want to try this Truffled Mushroom Risotto, Garlic and Thyme Pan-Seared Mushrooms, Creamy Mushroom Fricassee, and this Hot and Hearty Mushroom Curry.
Dishes with umami-filled tomato ingredients include these Sundried Tomato and Zucchini Tarts, Tempeh Burgers with Sundried Tomato Pesto, Seitan Meatballs with Homemade Tomato Sauce, and Sundried Tomato and Olive Crackers.
6. Green Tea
Green tea has lots of health benefits such as boosting immunity, lowering blood pressure and reducing certain cancer risks. Besides drinking a cup, green teas can also be used in recipes to add umami to dishes. Learn How to Use Tea as an Ingredient in Cooking and then take a look at these 10 Recipes with Matcha Tea.
Recipes you need to try with green tea include this Green Tea Soup With Roasted Eggplant (Ochazuke), Matcha Green Tea and Mint Cheesecake, Green Tea and Mango Sandwiches, and these Coconut Matcha Energy Bars.
7. Savory Spices
Several of my favorite spices are high in umami which isn’t surprising since I crave savory foods all the time. Toasted cumin seeds are savory and add a deep, almost meaty accent to food. I use cumin and smoked paprika whenever I am trying to replicate a meaty dish. Check out The Ultimate Guide to Spices in Vegan Cooking and learn How to Make Your Own Spice Blends and Curry Pastes. Recipes with savory cumin and smoked paprika include this Black Bean Chili Pot Pie with Cumin Sweet Potato Crust, Cuban Black Beans, Eggplant Slices with Tahini Cumin Sauce, Paprika and Oregano Polenta Fries, Paprika Cheese, and Smoky Paprika Beet Burgers with Spicy Tahini Sauce.
Other spices which contain umami are rosemary and thyme. Try these Rosemary Buttermilk Biscuits, Rosemary Black Pepper Foccacia, Baked Shoestring Fries with Garlic and Thyme, and Lemon and Thyme Mushroom Dirty Fries.
8. Toasted Nuts and Seeds
When nuts and seeds are toasted, their flavor gets stronger and so does the umami. The Ultimate Seed Guide has everything you need to know about nuts and seeds. Learn why you should never toss the seeds but cook with them instead like these 12 Recipes with Pumpkin Seeds.
Recipes with umami-filled toasted nuts and seeds include this Wild Rice Salad with Orange, Sweet Potato, Cherries and Pecans, Toasted Pepita Breakfast Hash, Toasted Hazelnut and Eggplant Pasta, and Creamy Pumpkin Risotto with Sweet and Spicy Roasted Pepitas.
10. Vegetables and Vegetable Broth
Many vegetables have varying levels of umami and some have more when they are cooked. The veggies that pack the most umami are asparagus, peas, potatoes, onions, sweet corn, beans, carrots, sweet potatoes, soybeans, cabbage, avocados, spinach, and winter squash. Roasting, browning, grilling, sautéing, and caramelizing foods increases the amount of umami in foods. The cooking releases glutamate from the proteins. Learn how to cook veggies right with The Ultimate Guide to Roasting Vegetables, Tips for Cooking Vegetables So They Don’t Wilt, and No More Mushy Gray Vegetables! Tips for Cooking Veggies to Preserve Their Natural Flair and Flavor.
Then use all your new cooking knowledge to make these Roasted Broccolini and Balsamic Quesadillas, Delicious Roasted Veggie Moroccan Tagine, Roasted Vegetable Phyllo Bundles, and this Saffron Risotto with Roasted Vegetables. Vegetable broth also has lots of umami. Learn How to Make the Best Vegetable Stock and use it for soups, stews and sauces.
If you crave savory foods, you’re probably craving umami and there are plenty of ways to get that savory, mouthwatering taste in plant-based dishes.
Lead image source: Hot and Hearty Mushroom Curry