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How Do You Get More Umami in Foods?

By December 31, 2019July 15th, 2023Savory Cuisine Corner, Savory Recipes
umami in foods

Adding umami to what you’re eating is easy. You can use ingredients that contain glutamate, or add glutamate as a seasoning (MSG).

Umami is a rich meaty flavor that people find inherently delicious. Also known as savory, it balances other flavors and adds complexity to dishes. This ability is the result of one amino acid, glutamate, which signals umami flavor in the mouth. Foods that contain free-glutamate – glutamate not bound to other amino acids such as in a protein – carry umami flavor.

Adding umami to what you’re eating is easy. You can use ingredients that contain free-glutamate, or add free-glutamate as a seasoning (MSG).

Ingredients that pack a lot of umami punch are aged meats and cheeses. The aging process breaks down proteins, freeing glutamate. So, meats and cheeses that are aged longer will impart more savory flavor than their younger counterparts.

Foods High in Umami

Other foods high in umami include tomatoes, mushrooms, and potatoes. The riper the vegetables are, the more savory they will be. And, leaving the seeds in the tomatoes will boost the umami flavor.

Soy sauce, miso paste, and fish paste/sauce also rank highly in umami. Adding as little as one tablespoon of them will crank up the flavor.

For a more complete list of foods high in umami, explore What Foods Naturally Contain MSG.

Another way to boost the umami of a dish is to use MSG seasoning. MSG works best with foods that inherently have some umami flavor, so consider using it when making meat, poultry, fish, seafood, vegetables, soups, or gravies.

About ½ teaspoon of MSG is enough to season a pound of meat or a dish that serves 4 to 6 people. [Chef’s note: You may need less salt in your dish when using MSG. MSG can be used to lower the amount of sodium in a food by up to 40% without making the food taste bland.]

Creating an umami-rich dish can be done by basing the dish around an umami food like the cheese in a grilled cheese sandwich. Or, it can be done by adding a savory ingredient such as cooking green beans with a piece of ham hock.

Savory ingredients can be layered to up the overall umami flavor of a final dish. MSG can also be used to boost the umami flavor of a dish that already contains some umami-providing ingredients.

If you’re ready to get more umami in your food, check out this recipe roundup for umami-abundant dishes perfect to cozy up to in cold weather. Or consider entertaining your holiday guests with these comforting casseroles or savory appetizers and side dishes.


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Wishing a very happy and healthy New Year to all our MSGdish readers!
— the MSGdish Team

Theresa is a dietitian in private practice who specializes in GI disorders and food allergies and intolerances. She is passionate about making nutrition fit within the constraints of the real world. Theresa previously spent years coaching heart patients at Emory University Hospital Midtown through lifestyle changes as well as teaching students at Oregon State University and Georgia State University the basics of nutrition. Read more about her background on the About page. Note: MSGdish bloggers are compensated for their time in writing for MSGdish, but their statements and opinions are their own. They have pledged to blog with integrity, asserting that the trust of their readers and their peers is vitally important to them.

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