Using Umami in Your Holiday Cooking

umami holiday recipes

It’s a pandemic-style holiday season this year, which means less people may be traveling to eat with relatives and instead taking on cooking a holiday feast of their own.

For those new to managing holiday traditions in the kitchen, check out the tips below on creating flavorful umami-rich holiday dishes.

Umami in the Main Dish

For many people, some type of meat will be the main dish. The type of meat you choose will have an impact on how much umami it has.

umami holiday recipesTurkey is a fresh meat from young birds, so it won’t have a lot of umami on its own. Some overcome this by seasoning the bird with MSG as part of a dry spice rub before cooking. (Use about a ½ teaspoon per pound of meat.) Others like this Umami braised-roasted turkey recipe use umami-rich ingredients to create a seasoning rub for the inside and outside of the turkey. And others will boost the umami in their turkey by wrapping it in bacon (Umami Turkey recipe).

Ham, on the other hand, naturally has umami and likely won’t need any more added. In general, aged meats pack a lot of umami punch. The aging process breaks down proteins, freeing the amino acid glutamate to signal umami in your mouth. The longer a meat is aged for, the more umami it will have.

Brisket, a tough cut of beef that’s normally cooked slowly to tenderize it, doesn’t have a lot of umami on its own. People will often season it with miso, soy sauce or shiitake mushrooms to add umami to it like in this Umami Bomb Brisket recipe. Others use ingredients like ketchup and Worcestershire sauce like in this Spicy Beef Brisket recipe.

Umami in Side Dishes

umami holiday recipesAdding umami to holiday side dishes is easy. You can use ingredients that contain glutamate, or add glutamate as a seasoning (MSG).

Foods that may be on your holiday table that are naturally rich in umami are: broccoli, dried shiitake mushrooms, walnuts, green peas, corn, and potatoes. For a more complete list of foods high in umami, explore What Foods Naturally Contain MSG.

Combining two foods naturally high in umami will boost the savoriness even more. This is done naturally in dishes like broccoli with cheddar cheese, green bean casserole, and macaroni and cheese.

Some people put an umami twist on holiday classics like these recipes for green bean casserole that include soy sauce (Japanese-Meets-American Green Bean Casserole) or mushrooms and Parmesan cheese (BA’s Best Green Bean Casserole).

Seasoning foods with MSG is another way to increase their umami. About ½ teaspoon of MSG is enough to give flavor to a dish that serves 4 to 6 people. You may need less salt in your dishes if you season them with MSG. MSG can be used to lower the amount of sodium in a food by up to 40% without affecting its flavor.

Umami in Gravy

Gravy is another holiday food where it’s easy to boost umami. At its core, gravy is the drippings from meat combined with flour to thicken it. But people often add ingredients like mushrooms, broth, or soy sauce to make it more savory. Those are what these Umami Gravy and Vegetarian Gravy recipes do. Of course, MSG can be used as well.

Tried and True Umami Holiday Recipes

Seasons GreetingsHere’s a list of all of the umami holiday recipes mentioned in this blog post, plus a few more. While the holidays may not be quite the same this year, we can all enjoy delicious and savory home-cooked meals!

About Theresa Hedrick, MS, RD

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.

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