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How to add umami to your cooking

How to add umami to your cooking

For many years, there were four recognized basic taste groups: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Umami, or the "fifth taste," is a relatively recent discovery. Officially named as a separate taste in the 1980s, umami is true savoriness. Breast milk is high in the amino acids that deliver the taste of umami, which may prime a person to seek out this flavor profile throughout life.

Umami Taste

Umami translates to “pleasant savory taste” and has been described as brothy or meaty. You can taste umami in foods that contain a high level of the amino acid glutamate, like Parmesan cheese, seaweed, miso, and mushrooms.

Glutamate has a complex, elemental taste. Monosodium glutamate, or MSG, is often added to foods to add an umami flavor. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has designated MSG as a safe ingredient, causing only minor adverse events, such as headaches or nausea, in a very small percentage of consumers.  

Umami has been described as having a mild but lasting aftertaste associated with salivation and a sensation of furriness on the tongue, stimulating the throat, the roof, and the back of the mouth. It is not considered desirable as a standalone flavor but adds complexity when paired with other tastes.

History of Umami

Umami means "pleasant savory taste" in Japanese. The popularity of umami has been rising since the 1980s when research about the fifth basic taste began to increase.

In 1985, the Umami International Symposium held in Hawaii determined umami was the scientific term for this fifth taste. In order for it to stand on its own, it had to meet certain criteria. Researchers proved that umami was not produced by any combination of other basic tastes, but was an independent taste.   It also has its own specific receptor for its taste.

The use of glutamate in cooking has a long history. Fermented fish sauces, which are rich in glutamate, were used widely in ancient Rome. Glutamate-rich fermented barley sauces were used in medieval Byzantine and Arab cuisine, and fermented fish sauces and soy sauces have histories going back to the third century in China.

Umami has become popular as a flavor with food manufacturers trying to improve the taste of low-sodium offerings. Chefs enrich their cuisine by creating "umami bombs," which are dishes made of several umami ingredients like fish sauce, mushrooms, oysters, and dry-cured hams. Some suggest that umami may be the reason for the popularity of ketchup.

Umami Foods

The umami taste can be found widely in a great number of foods, so you do not have to go to a specialty store to enjoy the taste of umami. Foods with umami elements that can be found at your local grocery store include beef, pork, gravies, broths, tomatoes, cheese, and soy sauce. Fermented foods like fish sauce and miso are especially high in umami flavor.

Some umami-rich foods, such as kombu seaweed or the yeast extracts Vegemite or Marmite, may be a little harder to find if you do not have a specialty market nearby.

How to add umami to your cooking

What if I were to tell you that there is a secret to making your food taste really mind blowing? What if I told you that it was right under your nose and even is one of our basic tastes? You may have guessed by now that it’s umami.

How to add umami to your cooking

When I started cooking professionally over 4 decades ago, I knew nothing about umami. For years, I cooked and analyzed dishes based on their flavors and the four basic tastes. I probably sought out umami without knowing it. But when I learned about umami and how to recognize it, my cooking changed. By consciously considering umami levels and how it balances with the other basic tastes, my food tasted deeper, richer, and more satisfying. As a chef, I now understand the power of umami.

What Does Umami Taste Like?

The first step in upping your umami game is to know what it tastes like. This is a stumbling block for enthusiasts and professionals alike. The reason is that many of us grew up in a world where we were never taught about umami. To learn what umami can do in food, simply start adding MSG to different recipes. If you can, try to keep some of the original, MSG-free recipe off to the side for a comparison. As MSG is pure umami, adding it allows you to taste the same preparation with and without the umami boost. Over time, you will be able to easily recognize the taste of umami and what it contributes to food. This is how I learned to use umami.

Does Your Dish Have Enough Umami?

The next step is to analyze the food you make not only for appropriate levels of salt, acid, sweet, and perhaps bitter, but also for umami. In another words, ask yourself if the recipe has enough umami or could benefit from a bit more. If your conclusion is to up the umami, you then have another question to consider. Should you use an ingredient rich in umami or just add pure umami? The answer depends on what you are making and your creativity. There are many ingredients loaded with umami such as aged cheeses (Parmesan in particular), dried mushrooms like shiitake, cured hams and sausages, sun-dried tomatoes, fermented soy products (soy sauce and miso), fermented fish sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and even ketchup. While these ingredients add varying levels of umami, they also add other flavor profiles that may or may not improve the dish.

Adding pure umami in the form of MSG is the other strategy for increasing umami. I always have it on my kitchen counter along with salt and pepper.

MSG contributes umami without additional flavor profiles. As such, I find it very useful when I only want to add umami. Also, unlike some of the umami rich ingredients, MSG is a crystal that instantly dissolves into your food for an instant increase in umami. It makes a great last-minute addition to perfect your dish.

Umami is also Important in Vegetarian Dishes

Before signing off on this post, I also want to specifically call out vegetarian and vegan cuisine. So often, I find that many of these dishes lack umami and thus flavor. For me, the addition of umami to vegetarian and vegan dishes is almost more important than it is in animal protein-based dishes. When I cook vegetarian and vegan cuisine, I find myself reaching for a pinch of MSG to give me the umami bump I want. The result is vegetarian and vegan foods that taste fuller and more complete—and most importantly more delicious.

About Chef Chris Koetke

Christopher Koetke is Founder/Chief Consultant at Complete Culinary, LLC, and Dean of the Sun Valley Culinary Institute. He is a past Vice President of both the Kendall College School of Culinary Arts and Laureate International Universities Center of Excellence in Culinary Arts. “Chef Chris” joined the Kendall College School of Culinary Arts in 1998, serving first as a culinary instructor and later as associate dean, dean and executive director. Chef Chris began cooking professionally in 1982, and has worked in some of the world’s finest kitchens. He is a certified executive chef and certified culinary educator by the American Culinary Federation. Read more about his background on the About page.

That, at least, was my takeaway from a lecture on umami that I attended a few weeks ago. When Kiyomi Mikuni, the Japanese chef who gave the lecture, revealed that umami isn't just one flavor but three flavors, I knew I had a lot of learn about the trendiest taste.

SoI reached out to Ole G. Mouritsen, a professor of biophysics at the University of Southern Denmark and the author of Umami: Unlocking the Secrets of the Fifth Taste. He clarified Mikuni's statement a bit. "There is only one umami," he said. "But there are several compounds that can elicit the taste."

The Ultimate Broth Comes From Something You Throw Away

Over the course of the next hour, Mouritsen broke down those compounds and explained his concept of umami synergy, a way to maximize the amount of umami in any dish. I won't lie to you—the science is a little overwhelming and hard to parse. But because umami synergy is actually pretty simple once you break through the science—and because it can change your cooking—it's worth getting into. Let's start slow.

Simply speaking, umami is the fifth taste (after sour, sweet, salt, and bitter). It is a complex, lingering flavor—often described as "savory deliciousness"—that's often associated with Japanese cuisine (think dashi, a soup stock of kelp).

When it was first discovered in Japan in 1908, umami was identified as glutamate, aka MSG, aka one of the most common amino acids, found in large quantities in kombu seaweed. It was later found that umami also exists in compounds called nucleotides, which are found in common ingredients like soup stocks, preserved fish, aged cheeses, cured meats, and oyster mushrooms.

Those nucleotides explain why chef Mikuni said there are three types of umami—other than glutamate, the nucleotides that contribute the most umami taste are inosinate and guanylate.

Liquid umami bomb or dashi? IT’S BOTH.

It's actually pretty simple. In order to get maximum umami, you need to combine glutamate umami with nucleotide umami. "That's the secret of umami synergy," says Mouritsen.

How much does combining those two types of umami matter? According to Mouritsen's book, umami that is equal parts glutamate and nucleotide is eights times more flavorful than glutamate umami alone. (This is the logic behind Mouritsen's slightly confusing umami math equation: 1 + 1 = 8.)

Glutamate umami and a nucleotide umami co-exist in only two foods: tomatoes and nori. All other foods just have one type of umami (if they have umami at all.)

So if you want to achieve maximum umami, you have to start cooking.

Japanese cooking is a good place to start. The Japanese excel at highlighting umami by using dashi as the base for many of their dishes, wrapping rice in nori, and using a lot of fermented products like miso.

But Japanese cooking is not the only option. "This principle of synergy for most Westerners feels a little alien, but that principle is exactly the same principle used in cuisines around the world," says Mouritsen, who called out dishes like classic Italian ragu and ham-and-cheese sandwiches as examples of perfect umami combinations.

Want to add a little umami into your cooking? Here are just a few classic combinations to try out. (For a much more comprehensive list of umami ingredients and umami-packed recipes, check out Mouritsen's book)

Bacon + Eggs

Simple and sweet, bacon and eggs is the go-to breakfast for a reason: it's protein-packed, easy to cook, and full of savory deliciousness. The eggs bring the glutamate, the bacon brings it home with the nucleotide.

How to add umami to your cooking

Cheesy Grits With Poached Eggs, Greens, and Bacon

Asparagus + Cheese

This risotto brings the umami with glutamates like parmesan, and nucleotides like asparagus and shrimp. Other ways to try out this classic asparagus-parmesan combo: roast asparagus, asparagus salad, or frittata.

Lemony Risotto with Asparagus and Shrimp

Shellfish + Vegetables

A classic combination, the peas provide the glutamate, while the scallops add the nucleotide. This specific recipe goes one step further, adding in bacon for even more umami deliciousness.

How to add umami to your cooking

Seared Scallops with Mint, Peas, and Bacon

Meat + Mushrooms

A stew made with meat—ideally more than one type—and vegetables is a glutamate umami bomb in itself. Add in mushrooms for the nucleotide double whammy. This chicken and dumplings stew packs in umami, and tons of flavor, with chicken, bacon, and mushrooms in the broth.

A happy and yummy meal is always one of the great reasons for that smile on your face. Relishing on a flavorsome meal, even after a very long day, running around the clock, feels extremely blissful! Wondering how to amp up your own cooking with umami goodness? It’s simpler than you think. Follow our easy tips and you can have an umami-rich experience with every meal!

1. Use umami rich ingredients

How to add umami to your cooking

Some foods naturally pack a ton of umami. Ripe tomatoes, dried mushrooms, kombu (kelp), anchovies, parmesan cheese, etc..— all of these bring the savory deliciousness of umami to recipes.
Here’s a flavorful Mediterranean dish that uses tomato for the extra umami boost.

2. Use fermented foods

How to add umami to your cooking

Fermented foods have high umami content. Try using ingredients such as miso paste and soy sauce in your cooking. Be experimental!
Adding this miso twist to your usual pasta will create some umami heaven.

3. Use cured meats

How to add umami to your cooking

Aged or cured meats abound in umami. Bacon, aged sausages and salami will all bring an umami boost to any recipe.
Try this refreshing carpaccio, which gets its umami from cured ham.

4. Use aged cheeses

How to add umami to your cooking

Parmesan isn’t only for pasta —Check this vegetarian pizza made with four types of cheese, each adding a punch of umami making you want more!

5. Use umami-rich seasonings

How to add umami to your cooking

Using umami-rich seasonings such as ketchup, molasses, tomato paste, fish sauce, soy sauce, oyster sauce, Worcestershire sauce, Marmite, or miso paste is a quick fix of umami. Don’t be afraid to innovate. Give this Umami Meatloaf Burger a try and experience for yourself.

6. Use pure umami aka MSG

How to add umami to your cooking

Or you can simply achieve an umami boost by adding monosodium glutamate, aka MSG. Next time you’re cooking, put a pinch of MSG into your soups, pasta sauce, salad dressings, meat marinades, and stir-fries. MSG does not add extra calories, unnecessary color or unwanted, complex tastes. It just brings pure umami depth of flavor. Try this Beef and Vegetable Stir-fry to experience the power of umami!

Umami discovery tour in Japan; Nick Lee, award winner in the 1st World Umami Cooking Competition

Professional recipes to enjoy umami

How to add umami to your cooking

Nick Lee’s World Umami Cooking Competition winning recipe combined ingredients naturally rich in umami, such as kombu, Parmigiano Reggiano, tomatoes, and shiitake mushrooms. The dish reflected the influence of both Western and Eastern cultures.

How to add umami to your cooking

Ryohei Hayashi, chef-owner of Tenoshima, a one-star Michelin restaurant in Tokyo demonstrates how to make orizume bento.

What is MSG?

A popular seasoning and flavor enhancer, MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is the purest form of umami, the fifth taste. MSG (monosodium glutamate) is widely used to intensify and enhance umami flavors in sauces, broths, soups and many more foods. Originally associated mainly with Asian cuisines, MSG (monosodium glutamate) is now used around the world to bring out the delicious flavor of foods.

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How to add umami to your cooking

Umami is found in every world cuisine

Umami (“essence of deliciousness”) may be a Japanese word, but the taste is not limited to Japanese cuisine. You can find umami in foods prepared .

How to add umami to your cooking

What are 5 basic tastes?

5 basic tastes—sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami—are messages that tell us something about what we put into our mouth, so we can decide whether .

If you've reduced the amount of meat you eat but are still missing that meaty flavor, here's a quick way to add in a umami flavor. The umami taste is a slightly salty, rich one that resembles meat. Meat proteins have amino acids which lend it a particular flavor. But you can mimic the taste of meat and benefit from additional nutrition by making a quick broth with shiitake mushrooms.

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To make a shiitake broth:

Wash and trim half a cup of shiitake mushrooms. Slice, but leave the stems on; they add a rich flavor.

Place in a pot with water to cover, along with salt and pepper.

Bring to a simmer and cook 20-30 minutes.

You can strain the broth and use the mushrooms in another dish. If you do not strain the broth, cut the stems off, as they tend to be tough to chew.

West Los Angeles

Tamar Rothenberg

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

Umami was finally validated in 2001 as a fifth basic taste when two researchers at the University of Miami Medical School successfully identified receptors for it on the tongue. It’s that savory, round flavor that occurs naturally in lots of foods—tomatoes, parmesan cheese, and some nuts.

In cooking, there are a variety of ways to add umami. Here are a few of our favorites.

MSG
It’s the acronym for monosodium glutamate. It’s totally safe to eat—despite some claims over the years. Also, it’s delicious.


Onion Powder
Onion powder shows up in everything—if you’ve ever eaten a canned soup, it’s extremely likely it has onion powder in it. It’s often more onion-y tasting than an actual onion and adds a serious depth of flavor to whatever you’re cooking.


Granulated Garlic
It’s more coarsely ground than garlic powder so it’s actually a better substitute for fresh garlic than the powder. It doesn’t clump and mixes better in salad dressings and seasoning rubs and more.


Tamari
Like soy sauce, tamari is made from fermented soybeans—but it’s more traditionally Japanese and it’s much thicker than soy sauce. It’s also packed with umami that’s released in the brewing process.


Nutritional Yeast
Everyone’s using nutritional yeast these days—people love it for it’s almost cheese-like savory flavor. It’s a great way to add a kick of umami to salads and vegetables or pasta or whatever else you might typically add grated cheese to.


Mushroom Powder
You can buy dried mushrooms and make mushroom powder yourself—you can also buy it already pulverized. It adds an instant depth of earthy, round flavor to whatever you’re cooking.

We independently select all of our editorial products. If you buy something through our links, Momofuku may earn an affiliate commission.

How to add umami to your cooking

Ever wondered why your mouth starts watering when the smell of chargrilled steaks begins to waft out of the kitchen? Why you have the sudden urge to cover it with tomato sauce?

It’s a flavour found in many of our favourite foods, including pizza, lasagna, and fried mushrooms. Umami is the intense, earthy, meaty, deeply satisfying taste you find in seared beef, tomatoes, ripe cheese, mushrooms, anchovies, soy, and more.

It’s known as the fifth taste, after salty, sweet, sour, and bitter, although scientists now know it’s perceived differently by our nervous system compared to the others. They’ve also found it’s probably the way humans detect protein in food. “Our brains perceive umami as taste, smell, and even physical sensation,” says Dr Nancy Rawson, who wrote a white paper on umami in 2019 (khni.kerry.com).

How to add umami to your cooking

Every culture in the world has its umami tool kit. In the Western diet, umami is often a bold flavour explosion, such as concentrated tomato-based sauces, grilled steaks, and aged cheese. In others, umami is subtle and more complex, allowing the flavours of other ingredients to shine without being overwhelmed by ‘umami-ness’.

WHAT IS UMAMI?

In 1908, Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda wondered why dashi – a stock commonly used in Japanese cuisine – tasted so meaty and luscious, despite being made from seaweed (Laminaria japonica) and dried fishmeal. He examined the molecular structure of the seaweed, a common base ingredient in Japanese cooking.

He discovered that glutamic acid was responsible for the taste sensation he called umami (which means ‘deliciousness’ or ‘pleasant savoury taste’).

Ikeda then developed MSG, a crystalline form of glutamic acid. Today, it’s still a common flavour enhancer in bouillon (stock) cubes, soups, instant noodles, gravy, condiments, and savoury snack foods. Although it’s often described as a ‘meaty’ taste, there are plenty of non-meat ingredients that add umami to dishes.

9 FRESH INGREDIENTS TO GIVE DISHES MORE UMAMI

Seaweed: Many seaweeds are high in glutamic acid. Can be used to add depth to broths and sauces, or dried and sprinkled over a meal.

Tomatoes: Great source of umami flavour, more concentrated if tomatoes are dried.

How to add umami to your cooking

Mushrooms: Excellent plant-based source of glutamic acid, especially when dried.

Walnuts, almonds: Excellent for vegetarians and vegans as they also provide protein; stronger umami flavour when roasted.

Green peas: High in umami flavour if eaten as soon as picked, decreases over time.

Celery & celery seeds: Add to stir-fries, stews, and soups.

Chinese (Napa, wong bok) cabbage: Fermented to make kimchi, or can be used in stir-fries, soups, or sliced thinly to eat fresh in salads.

Recipe: Dashi

How to add umami to your cooking

You’ll find packs of high-glutamate, dried hanadonko or donko shiitake mushroom varieties in Asian food stores, and kombu seaweed in health food or organic stores. You’ll need two large Agee-like jars, and a stick thermometer.

Makes: 1 litre
Time: 6-8 hours (includes soaking time)

INGREDIENTS

10g kombu seaweed
4 large, whole, dried shiitake mushrooms
1 litre non-chlorinated water

METHOD

In Jar 1, soak the shiitake mushrooms in 500ml of cold, non-chlorinated water for 6-8 hours.

In Jar 2, soak 10g of kombu seaweed in 500ml of cold, non-chlorinated water for 1 hour. Don’t wash the white powder off, as it contributes to the umami flavour.

Put the seaweed and its soaking water in a small pot. Heat and bring up to 60°C for 30 minutes, then leave to cool. Once cool, remove the seaweed. Add the liquid to the mushroom and its soaking water.

Don’t throw the kombu away as you can use it in soups, salads, and stir-fries. Store in an airtight container or resealable bag for up to 3 days in the fridge.

Remove the mushrooms. Squeeze the liquid out of them into the seaweed liquid. Store dashi in the fridge for up to a week or freeze it for up to 3 months. The mushrooms can also be re-used in soup, stews, or stir-fries. Store in an airtight container or resealable bag for up to 10 days in the fridge.

HOW TO USE DASHI

Everyone has a personal dashi taste preference. Experiment to find the right combinations of dashi and other ingredients to suit your palate. Here are some tips:

Simmer vegetables and tofu in dashi to make a satisfying, warming broth.
Marinate tofu or tempeh in dashi before cooking.
Poach eggs in dashi (tastes amazing!).
Use dashi as a dipping sauce for tempura, grilled eggplant, fried tofu, or tempeh.

Umami. Anyone who's eaten a tomato has tasted it, but what exactly is it?

Next time you eat tomatoes, asparagus or cheese, perhaps you'll think of Japanese scientist Kikunae Ikeda who in 1908 travelled to Germany, where he ate these for the first time.

If not for his overseas dining experience, perhaps we wouldn't be talking about umami, a term that's often used to describe a delicious taste.

While the foods he sampled certainly are delicious, what Ikeda experienced was life-changing in another way. When he got home to Japan and drank dashi (a stock made from dried seaweed), he tasted something that reminded him of the foods he'd eaten overseas.

It was a taste beyond the four taste qualities of sweet, sour, salty and bitter — a fifth, rich and lingering flavour, which he named umami.

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Lesson 1: What is umami?

What Ikeda identified was that foods high in glutamates impart an umami taste.

Glutamates are amino acids that alert our taste receptors to the presence of protein, says Russell Keast, a chef and Professor at the School of Exercise and Nutrition Science at Deakin University.

They can be found in breast milk and in all sorts of foods from around the world. Each culture has its own way of making food more delicious and umami-rich, often by drying, fermenting or salting.

Baked puttanesca risotto

Baking risotto delivers a pot of creamy, luscious rice with half the effort.

"[Umami] is absolutely universal and does not belong to any single culture. It can be shared, enjoyed and appreciated by all those in possession of a tongue," writes Laura Santtini in her book about cooking with umami.

"Everyone has experienced it — the salted anchovy that melts into the tomato of a pizza, the irresistible marriage of pancetta and parmesan in a creamy spaghetti carbonara, or the rich, caramelised chorizo in a pan-fried calamari and chorizo salad."

One way to think of umami is to compare the difference between eating buttered toast and toast with Vegemite.

Think of that deep, full, savoury flavour that stays in the mouth after a bite of Vegemite toast — that's umami. It comes from yeast extract, the main ingredient in Vegemite, which is high in glutamates.

Umami-rich foods

Natural

  • Vegetables: Tomatoes, asparagus, onions, broccoli, peas, mushrooms and beetroot
  • Fish: Sardines, bonito (a fish similar to mackerel)
  • Meat: Poultry, pork, beef

Dried, fermented or salted

  • Dried: Porcini mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, kombu (seaweed)
  • Sauces: Fish, oyster, soy, Worcestershire sauce
  • Fermented: Soybeans (like miso), shrimp paste, kimchi
  • Salted: Vegemite, cheese (especially long-aged ones such as parmesan), cured hams

Lesson 2: How to add more umami to your cooking

To give your cooking greater depth of flavour, you can add or combine foods that are umami-rich. For anyone cooking at home, it doesn't take much to enhance a dish and create a more complex flavour profile.

"If I'm making a simple vegetable soup which is carrots, leeks, celery and stock — a nice, simple homely sort of soup — I slice up some sun-dried tomatoes and put them in. It changes it completely," says Barbara Santich, culinary historian at the University of Adelaide.

"It's much richer, denser, succulent, more satisfying in a way. It's an enormous difference what half a dozen sun-dried tomatoes will add to the soup."

Is sea salt a healthy option?

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Professor Keast is also a huge fan of making umami-rich foods to create a more satisfying flavour.

"When I'm cooking, I often find myself adding tomato paste, soy sauce, fish sauce, parmesan, or Grana Padano if I want to add umami to evening meals."

There's also some suggestion that using flavour enhancers such as MSG to add umami has the potential to reduce sodium intake.

Currently, this is more likely to apply to processed foods such as stock cubes, instant noodles and meat products.

Which brings us to…

Lesson 3: What about MSG?

You can't talk about umami without bringing up monosodium glutamate (MSG) because after identifying glutamates in food, Ikeda came up with a way to mass-produce umami. The chemical compound for umami is called monosodium glutamate.

"There is a really large-scale consumer backlash to MSG which is completely unwarranted," says Professor Keast.

Mushroom dan dan noodles

Try these spicy and nutty noodles served with a crunchy mushroom sauce.

The reason why MSG has had a bad reputation ('Chinese Restaurant Syndrome') is because in 1968, a Chinese doctor wrote a paper in the New England Journal of Medicine detailing the symptoms he experienced after eating American Chinese food. The negative effects of MSG have since been refuted in many studies.

"That's really the origin of how supermarkets today advertise things that are MSG-free and that's just propagating a myth, which is very unfortunate if we think about health aspects and what food producers could do to effectively reduce sodium by replacing it with a component of MSG," says Professor Keast.

For the home cook though, whether it's MSG sprinkled from a jar or some extra sun-dried tomatoes in soup, an umami boost of deliciousness can be achieved quickly and with little effort.

In our Food Files series, ABC Everyday takes a close look at a seasonal ingredient. From how we eat it, where to find it, and the best ways to enjoy it at home.

A happy and yummy meal is always one of the great reasons for that smile on your face. Relishing on a flavorsome meal, even after a very long day, running around the clock, feels extremely blissful! Wondering how to amp up your own cooking with umami goodness? It’s simpler than you think. Follow our easy tips and you can have an umami-rich experience with every meal!

1. Use umami rich ingredients

Some foods naturally pack a ton of umami. Ripe tomatoes, dried mushrooms, kombu (kelp), anchovies, parmesan cheese, etc..— all of these bring the savory deliciousness of umami to recipes.
Here’s a flavorful Mediterranean dish that uses tomato for the extra umami boost.

How to add umami to your cooking

2. Use fermented foods

Fermented foods have high umami content. Try using ingredients such as miso paste and soy sauce in your cooking. Be experimental!
Adding this miso twist to your usual pasta will create some umami heaven.

How to add umami to your cooking

3. Use cured meats

Aged or cured meats abound in umami. Bacon, aged sausages and salami will all bring an umami boost to any recipe.
Try this refreshing carpaccio, which gets its umami from cured ham.

How to add umami to your cooking

4. Use aged cheeses

Parmesan isn’t only for pasta —Check this vegetarian pizza made with four types of cheese, each adding a punch of umami making you want more!

How to add umami to your cooking

5. Use umami-rich seasonings

Using umami-rich seasonings such as ketchup, molasses, tomato paste, fish sauce, soy sauce, oyster sauce, Worcestershire sauce, Marmite, or miso paste is a quick fix of umami. Don’t be afraid to innovate. Give this Umami Meatloaf Burger a try and experience for yourself.

How to add umami to your cooking

6. Use pure umami aka MSG

Or you can simply achieve an umami boost by adding monosodium glutamate, aka MSG. Next time you’re cooking, put a pinch of MSG into your soups, pasta sauce, salad dressings, meat marinades, and stir-fries. MSG does not add extra calories, unnecessary color or unwanted, complex tastes. It just brings pure umami depth of flavor. Try this Beef and Vegetable Stir-fry to experience the power of umami!

How to add umami to your cooking

My journey into cooking with umami and my understanding of MSG started in a surprising way.

I was teaching charcuterie at a top culinary school. My class started at 6 AM with a short lecture in that first early hour of class. It was the day when the lecture covered various food additives that find their way into meat systems. Along the way, I made the comment that we were not going to be cooking with MSG. It was a “fact” that I had heard and simply accepted as such. After class, a Filipino student asked me what was wrong with MSG. I said something like “Well, you know it is not good for you.” (How I wish that I had been a better teacher on that day as I was teaching from a lack of knowledge—never a good idea.) My student responded that she did not understand as her mother used MSG every day in their kitchen at home.

Then she asked me the key question, “Chef, have you tried MSG in scrambled eggs?” I then proceeded to do the only thing I did right that day—I asked her to make it for me. When I tasted it, it was one of those key moments in my development as a chef. I couldn’t believe how exceptional it tasted. It was certainly not like the scrambled eggs that I grew up eating. Instead, the flavor of the eggs was deeper, more savory, and delightfully more complex and interesting. And that began my journey into cooking with umami and MSG.

When I talk to people who are unclear of the flavor benefits, or even the taste of umami, I recommend the same scrambled eggs. They are easy to make and the flavor boost and umami hit are unmistakable.

As MSG is umami in its purest form, it is easy to add to other preparations that equally benefit from a boost of the fifth taste.

From my first trials with scrambled eggs, so many other dishes followed suit and were vastly improved by focusing on the umami content in them. I used a 2/3 salt and 1/3 MSG mixture to season the outside of various proteins before cooking them. I added MSG to grains, vinaigrettes, sauces, stews, soups, and vegetables. The results continued to impress as the umami notes grew to create a balanced and complex flavor profile alongside the other four basic tastes.

So, try some of the recipes below or try cooking with umami by adding umami to your favorite recipes—and watch the taste fireworks happen!