13 Foods With Natural Umami

Sour, sweet, salty and bitter have long been considered the four main flavors we can taste. Umami, a Japanese word that describes a meaty or savory taste, is thought to be a fifth flavor. Read on to discover food combinations that work together to create delicious umami flavor.

By Meaghan Cameron
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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 combining certain foods for maximum umami flavor without event realizing it: Bacon and cheese on your hamburger; tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese, and French fries with ketchup. Here are recipes to try from some of the foods that are highest in natural umami.

1. Beef
Matured beef, like beef jerky, has high levels of glutamate. A cheeseburger is an umami pairing of meat, cheese and tomatoes, usually ketchup. Who said American food wasn't exotic?
Levels of naturally occurring glutamate (mg/100g): 107

Try this Thai Style Beef Sandwich recipe
Umami elements: Beef, cabbage, carrots, tomato paste

All glutamate and inosinate levels are from The Umami Information Center.

2. Pork
Umami is the reason we go bonkers for bacon. Add it to your cheeseburger and heaven awaits.
Cured ham: Levels of naturally occurring glutamate (mg/100g): 337

Try this Sausage Grilled- Pepper and Tomato Bruschetta recipe.
Umami elements: Pork and tomatoes

3. Chicken
Chicken is as ubiquitous as beef at every fast-food restaurant. Chicken soup may be so comforting because chicken bones are full of umami.
Chicken bones: Levels of naturally occurring glutamate (mg/100g): 40

Try the Tomato Egg Drop Soup recipe
Umami elements: Chicken and tomatoes

4. Tomatoes
Tomatoes can often stand in for meats because they appeal to our desire for the protein. French fries lacking without ketchup? Umami could be the reason.
Levels of naturally occurring glutamate (mg/100g): 246

Try this Quick & Easy One-Step Spinach Lasagna recipe
Umami elements: Tomatoes and cheese

5. Mushrooms
Mushrooms can substitute for meat because they appeal to our taste for protein thanks to levels of umami-related compounds.
Dried shiitake mushrooms: Levels of naturally occurring guanylate (mg/100g): 150

Try this Spinach, Sweet Potato and Shiitake Mushroom Salad recipe
Umami elements: Mushrooms and sweet potatoes

6. Soy
Japanese and Chinese food is often enhanced by the versatile soy bean. The flavor of fermented soy beans was what sparked the search for umami.
Levels of naturally occurring glutamate (mg/100g): 66

Try the Teriyaki-Style Noodles With Tofu recipe
Umami elements: Tofu, soy sauce and carrots

7. Potatoes
Who can deny the appeal of the French fry? Potato chips are another claim to glutamate fame.
Levels of naturally occurring glutamate (mg/100g): 102

Try this healthy Broccoli-Potato Puree recipe
Umami elements: Potatoes and broccoli

8. Carrots
Carrots are a low-calorie and delicious way to appeal to your umami desire.
Levels of naturally occurring glutamate (mg/100g): 33

Try the Spiced Root Vegetable Wedges recipe
Umami elements: Carrots and sweet potatoes

9. Parmesan cheese
All cheese has the umami taste, but Parmesan cheese can be off the charts.
Levels of naturally occurring glutamate (mg/100g): 1200

Try this Squash and Eggplant Casserole recipe
Umami elements: Parmesan cheese

10. Green tea
This healthy source of umami is becoming more prevalent thanks to the increase in the number of people cooking with green tea. Think Haagen Dazs Green Tea ice cream.
Levels of naturally occurring glutamate (mg/100g): 668

Learn to incorporate green tea in this healthy dinner makeover
Umami elements: Beef, edamame, broccoli, soy sauce and green tea

11. Tuna
We love a tuna fish sandwich and those perfectly formed tuna rolls at sushi bars. Maybe it's because this fish appeals to our umami receptors.
Levels of naturally occurring inosinate (mg/100g): 188

Try the Tuna and Tomato Pizza recipe
Umami elements: Tuna and tomatoes

12. Shrimp
Shrimp cocktail, shrimp scampi, shrimp gumbo...the list of shrimp dishes we love goes on!
Levels of naturally occurring glutamate (mg/100g): 43

Try the Bulgur Wheat and Shrimp Salad recipe
Umami elements: Shrimp and carrots

13. Shellfish
The mystery of why we love shellfish is revealed. All of these bivalves are rich sources of natural glutamate.
Clam
Levels of naturally occurring glutamate (mg/100g): 208

Scallop
Levels of naturally occurring glutamate (mg/100g): 159

Mussel
Levels of naturally occurring glutamate (mg/100g): 105

Oysters
Levels of naturally occurring glutamate (mg/100g): 137

Try the Southwestern Scallops recipe
Umami elements: Scallops

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