Healthy Foods With Natural Umami Flavor

 

Despite having been discovered over a century ago in Japan, Umami has recently gained footing on the global stage with chefs, home-cooks, and foodies alike. This irresistible je-ne-sais-quoi flavor punches up the volume on some of the most crave-able consumables out there – including aged cheese, bacon, and rich broth.


Back up...What exactly is Umami?

Umami is the fifth “taste” alongside sweet, bitter, sour, and salty. Much like the primary colors of the food world, these five basic tastes are the building blocks of flavor. Umami is a delightful savory taste that occurs naturally in many foods including meat, fish, vegetables, and dairy products.

The word “umami” has been translated from its original Japanese origins to mean “deliciousness” or “pleasant savory taste.” Scientifically, umami flavors come from substances combining the amino acid glutamate – or glutamic acid – with minerals such as sodium and potassium.

Why Do We Crave Umami in Our Food?

Much like our ancestral sweet tooth pushes us to access easy energy from sugars and avoid toxins associated with bitter flavors, our fervor for Umami is based in biology. Umami flavor signals the presence of protein in food, which is essential to our survival.

Are foods with Umami bad for you?

Glutamate has been saddled with an unsavory reputation due to its association with the food additive Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), which some consumers claim to cause headaches, tingling, and sweating. Scientific studies have not found a relationship between these symptoms and the presence of MSG in food, and the FDA has classified the additive as “safe for consumption”. In fact, naturally-occuring glutamates have been shown to be an effective flavor enhancer for consumers, thus reducing the need for added sodium in our diets.

Let’s Get To It – What are Some Healthy Foods Naturally High in Umami Flavor?

1. Tomatoes

The sweet-umami pairing in tomatoes may explain why the average American consumes 71 pounds of ketchup annually. Highly concentrated forms of tomato (i.e. tomato paste) are responsible for the craveable flavor in some of our favorite comfort foods (spaghetti, pizza, and the like).

For a beautiful summer picnic staple bursting with umami flavor, try this    Tomato Feta Salad    from the Barefoot Contessa.

For a beautiful summer picnic staple bursting with umami flavor, try this Tomato Feta Salad from the Barefoot Contessa.

2. Meat

Since umami signals the presence of protein, it makes sense that meat is naturally rich in glutamates. You’ll find the most powerful umami flavor in cured and aged meats (fancy steak, anyone?), and slow-simmered broths.

For a chemical-free homemade beef jerky with a kick, try    this recipe    from The Healthy Foodie.

For a chemical-free homemade beef jerky with a kick, try this recipe from The Healthy Foodie.

3. Mushrooms

Mushrooms are a wonderful plant-based option to mimic that “meaty” flavor our tastebuds adore. Dried mushrooms (like shitakes, porcinis, and more) have a significantly higher concentration of glutamates due to the reduction of moisture. Adding dried mushrooms to your soups and noodle bowls is a sure-fire way to boost flavor without loading up on salt.

This    Garlic Mushroom recipe    from Simply So Healthy is the stuff of our umami-loving dreams.

This Garlic Mushroom recipe from Simply So Healthy is the stuff of our umami-loving dreams.

4. Green Tea

Bitter catechins and tannins collide with savory umami and natural sweetness for that magnificently memorable green tea taste. Studies show that drinking green tea can boost antioxidant levels, burn fat, and promote longevity, amongst a variety of other health benefits.

Green tea has been linked to heart health, improved brain function, and weight loss.

Green tea has been linked to heart health, improved brain function, and weight loss.

5. Kimchi

This probiotic-rich traditional Korean dish is made from fermented cabbage and spices, and boasts an impressive glutamate content. The fermentation process breaks down proteins into free amino acids, including glutamic acid that triggers our umami flavor receptors.

For a delicious, gut-healthy addition to noodle bowls, rice dishes, and more try this DIY Vegan Kimchi recipe from Minimalist Baker.

6. Bonito Flakes

Like many other varieties of seafood, bonito flakes (also called Katsuobushi) contain high levels of glutamates. This smoked, dried tuna is often used to make rich fish broths (called Dashi), or as a seasoning to add instant flavor to vegetables and other sides.

East meets West in this    umami-rich recipe    for Grilled Corn with Miso Butter and Bonito Flakes from Good Food.

East meets West in this umami-rich recipe for Grilled Corn with Miso Butter and Bonito Flakes from Good Food.

7. Seaweed

Aside from being one of our all-time favorite additions to a fresh bowl of ramen, seaweed is nutrient-rich and abundant in umami flavor. For a tasty, healthy snack made with clean ingredients, we always reach for Seasnax.

Image via    Brit + Co

Image via Brit + Co

Try incorporating some of these umami-rich foods into your diet for their fabulous flavor and health benefits!