I first learned about “umami” at a national meeting of the American Dietetic Association (now Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics). Umami was such a funny-sounding word, but I liked what it referred to. An indescribable deliciousness or “mouth-filling” flavor.
According to the official Umami Information Center, “umami is a pleasant savory taste imparted by glutamate, a type of amino acid, and ribonucleotides, including inosinate and guanylate, which occur naturally in many foods including meat, fish, vegetables and dairy products.” Chances are you’re already enjoying super umami foods without even realizing it.
My specialty is soup. And February’s cold weather is just the time for incorporating one of these foods or ingredients loaded with umami. Here are some umami-ful suggestions for connecting their flavors in a bisque, chowder, or potage for a savory soup that’s sure to please.
- Tomatoes. Along with my favorite cream of tomato (with grilled cheese, of course), there are dozens of other soups that use the bright, bold taste of ripe tomatoes as a base.
- Mushrooms. Fresh mushrooms are wonderful, and dried are easy to keep on hand for quick cooking adventures. Loaded with umami they add a slight smoky flavor and satisfying bulk. There’s the standard cream of mushroom soup or you may want to try mushroom-barley. Yum!
- Soy sauce. Soy sauce gives depth and a salty tang to Asian foods. Try it in a hot and sour soup.
- Miso. This is a traditional Oriental seasoning used to make miso soup (or misoshiru), a Japanese culinary staple. I spoon just a little bit of this supercharged umami food on top of my favorite carrot soup.
- Parmesan cheese. All cheese has the umami taste, but Parmesan cheese can be off the charts. There is nothing better than fresh Parmesan grated on top of a steaming bowl of minestrone!
- MSG. Monosodium glutamate, or MSG, can be added to soups to enhance their flavor. MSG improves the tastiness of low salt (sodium) recipes by boosting the umami savory taste. I add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon MSG to my big pot of home-made chicken soup to “pump up” the flavor volume.
Althea Zanecosky is a registered dietitian and an advisor to The Glutamate Association. Her full bio can be found on our About page.