Skip to main content

Umami Ingredients to Always Have in Your Pantry

By September 15, 2023February 26th, 2024Featured, The Umami Connection
umami ingredients for cooking

There’s no denying the importance of umami in great-tasting food. As one of the five basic tastes, it contributes a savory, rich, satisfying flavor to dishes.

This is largely in thanks to the amino acid glutamate, the compound responsible for umami flavor. To boost the umami in your food through ingredients with glutamate, there are several ingredients to always have in your pantry (and use!).

Tomato paste / sun dried tomatoes

Tomatoes are naturally rich in umami, and when you concentrate that flavor in paste or dried form, they really pack a punch. Plus, tomato paste and sundried tomatoes are versatile ingredients. Tomato paste can be used in sauces, stews, and marinades. Sun dried tomatoes can be used in sandwiches, pasta dishes, or on top of an endless array of dishes.

umami soupMiso paste

Americans might know the miso flavor best from miso soup. This versatile paste made of fermented soybeans is packed with umami. It can be used in soups, dressings or as a marinade.

Soy sauce

The salty savory flavor of soy sauce is a staple in many Asian cuisines. It is also in many American kitchens, and for good reason. Soy sauce can be used as an ingredient in marinades, sauces or Asian dishes.


MSG is the purest form of umami as it is a dried powder form of glutamate. It can be added to dishes while cooking or sprinkled on food at the dinner table.

ParmesanAged cheeses

During the aging process, the proteins in cheese break down. This releases glutamate, the compound responsible for umami flavor. The longer the cheese is aged, the more umami flavor it will have. Eat aged cheeses on their own, incorporate them into dishes, or sprinkle them on top of food to enjoy their umami.


Potatoes are not the first food a lot of people think of when they think of savory, but potatoes do have umami flavor. They last for a while when stored in a dry dark pantry, which makes them the perfect vegetable to keep on hand for an umami boost. Eat them roasted, fried, or mashed, on the side or in a dish. Top them with ketchup for even more umami.

mushrooms for umami taste

Photo courtesy of the Mushroom Council and

Dried mushrooms

Mushrooms are umami powerhouses, and the dried version of them are a great pantry staple. The drying process concentrates the umami flavor. Use them to give your stock, soup, or glaze a more complex flavor.


These tiny saltwater fish pack a lot of umami punch. Opt for the water-packed type over the oil-packed ones for a milder flavor. They dissolve when you cook them, leaving the umami flavor behind. Devour them whole on top of your next pizza or Caesar salad, or add them to your favorite pasta dish.

Fish sauce

Fish sauce is made from fermented fish, usually anchovies. The proteins in the fish break down during the fermentation process, releasing glutamate and creating a rich umami flavor. Fish sauce is generally associated with Asian cuisine, but it can be used to give a dash of salty umami flavor to many things. Use it in sauces, soups, marinades, stir fries, or pasta sauces.

These umami-rich ingredients will elevate the flavor of your dishes, making them more complex and well-rounded. They’re especially valuable for vegetarian and vegan cooks looking to add depth to their plant-based meals. By having these staples in your pantry, you will be better equipped to create decadent savory dishes any night of the week.


Chef Chris Koetke, MBA, CEC, CCEFor further reading: Building an Umami Pantry, by Chef Chris Koetke
Once your umami pantry is built, you can start to purposely incorporate umami into your favorite foods. In another words — play and have fun. Along the way, you will learn where umami-rich ingredients in your pantry work great.

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.

Leave a Reply