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.
    Levels of naturally occurring glutamate (mg/100g): 208

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

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

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

    Try the Southwestern Scallops recipe
    Umami elements: Scallops


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