What is umami?
Umami is one of the five key taste profiles which also includes sweet, bitter, sour, and salt. Umami foods specifically have a savory flavor, according to Megan Meyer, PhD, the Director of Science Communication at the International Food Information Council Foundation. Others describe umami as a full-bodied, meaty flavor, adds Alicia Rooker, a recipe editor, and tester for the RD.com sister-site Taste of Home. This taste is thanks to the amino acid L-glutamate, according to Mareya Ibrahim, a chef and author of the upcoming cookbook EAT LIKE YOU GIVE A FORK: The Real Dish on Eating to Thrive. The amino acid glutamate is rich in both animal and plant proteins, adds Meyer. “In addition, many foods also contain small amounts of ‘free’ glutamate, usually in the form of sodium glutamate; monosodium glutamate or MSG,” she says. “This free glutamate also gives an umami taste to such foods.” It’s also why MSG is such a popular food additive, especially in Asian cuisine, Ibrahim notes. Enjoy the taste of umami with the following foods that bring the flavor to any dish or cuisine with the help of glutamate and free glutamate.
Meat, and matured beef like beef jerky, have high levels of glutamate. There are 10 mg of free glutamate per three and a half ounces of beef, according to the Glutamate Association. Ibrahim says this is why burgers are the ultimate umami dish, especially since you can pair it with other umami foods on this list. Pork and chicken have decent amounts of glutamate and umami flavor, too. Lean beef, however, is also one of the 5 best types of meat to eat—and 2 to avoid.
This fruit is an awesome plant-source of glutamate and, thus, umami flavor with 246 mg of free glutamate per three and a half ounces of tomato, according to the Glutamate Association. As they ripen, the glutamate levels rise, too, research shows. Tomatoes are also why ketchup is great on a burger, Ibrahim says. If you don’t think tomatoes are fruit, check out the reason behind the tomato debate.