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Umami Is a Worldwide Phenomenon

umami worldwide

Umami is a culinary treasure that transcends borders and unites palates worldwide. As one of the five basic tastes (savory), it is incorporated into the dishes of every food culture around the world.

This flavor that is universally liked shows up in diverse ways across the globe. Let’s explore how umami has been incorporated into cuisines worldwide.


In Asia, many umami-rich ingredients are liquids or pastes created by fermenting seafood, legumes, or grains. The fermentation process breaks down proteins into amino acids. One of these amino acids, glutamate, is what imparts umami flavor. Fish sauce, shrimp sauce or paste, oyster sauce, soy sauce, miso, and doenjang (soybean paste) are all examples of fermented sauces/pastes with a lot of umami flavor.

umami soupSeaweed like kombu is another umami-rich ingredient found in Asian cuisine as are bonito flakes (smoked dried fermented fish). Dashi (a seaweed-based stock) is an umami powerhouse made with both kombu and bonito.

In addition to using umami ingredients, many Asian households season their food with MSG, a dried powder form of glutamate. It is often kept in a shaker on the table along with the salt and pepper shakers.

North America

In the United States, many beloved condiments like ketchup, chili sauce, and barbeque sauce are rich in umami. Bacon is another umami-containing favorite.

The gravy in Canadian poutine (French fries and cheese curds covered in gravy) is full of umami.

Dried meats and mole sauce are examples of foods common to Mexico that are abundant in umami flavor.

South America

Many umami-rich vegetables such as tomatoes, potatoes, sweet potatoes and corn originated in South America. Dried meat and dried fish, which are high in umami, are also eaten in some South American food cultures (Peru: dried alpaca meat, Brazil: dried cod).

sofrito sauceMany common South American seasoning blends and sauces like adobo, sofrito, and chimichurri taste even better with an umami boost from adding a pinch of MSG, the purest form of umami. (Find the recipes here.)


Across Europe, long-aged cheeses, cured hams, and smoked or salted fishes are common umami-rich foods. Other foods high in umami are more regional, like Worcestershire sauce in the UK or bouillon and consommé in France.

ParmesanMany of the foods Italy is known for like tomatoes, parmesan cheese, and anchovies contain high amounts of umami. Parmesan cheese is one of the most umami-rich foods there is.


In West Africa, dawadawa (fermented locust bean seeds) and soumbala (fermented néré seeds), are used to impart umami flavor in dishes. Dried fish and shrimp are also used. In Ghana, fermented corn patties (kenkey) are an umami packed dish often served as part of the meal. In Nigeria, ground crayfish/shrimp paste is used to contribute umami flavor.


Marmite and Vegemite (yeast extracts) are two umami-rich spreads unique to Australia.

umami seasoning worldwideClearly, umami cuisine comes in various forms around the globe, but is a worldwide phenomenon. Try some of the umami dishes from other cultures that you may not have had before. Or try adding MSG to any of the dishes from these cuisines to enhance flavor. Celebrating and savoring umami will take you on a global gastronomic journey.

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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