Umami, a Japanese word describing meaty or savory tastes, is one of the five flavors our tongues can detect. While we certainly crave the other four flavors – sweet, salty, sour, and bitter – it is the umami flavor that makes us feel most satisfied with our food. It isn’t surprising that “umami” translates to “delicious” in Japanese.
Glutamate is the amino acid associated with umami flavors. Sadly, foods high in glutamate are usually animal-based: beef, chicken, pork, seafood, and cheese.
It is possible to create umami without animal products. Here are 10 plant-based foods high in glutamate that can satisfy your umami craving:
- Soy sauce or tamari: A key ingredient to most Asian dishes, soy sauce or tamari (a gluten-free substitute for soy sauce) is a great addition to stir-fries, tofu, spring rolls, and sushi. But don’t stop there. Soy sauce can also be added to baked beans or roasted nuts. Choose the healthier low-sodium varieties of soy sauce and tamari. Don’t worry about all the fear-mongering around soy products: moderate consumption is repeatedly found to be safe in studies like this.
- Root vegetables: Potatoes and carrots add umami to your meals. Bake whole potatoes, make a plant-based potato salad, or slice and bake for healthy french fries. Carrots can be added to stir-fries, roasted and served as a side dish, blended into smoothies, or spiralized into carrot “noodles“.
- Mushrooms: A great source of vitamin D, mushrooms can be added to stir-fries, homemade, plant-based pizzas, or added to pasta and rice dishes. For a healthy twist on a burger, try replacing the meat patty with a large portobello mushroom. The mushroom can be marinaded and grilled just like a beef patty.
- Tomatoes: Whether they are sliced, diced, or pureed, tomatoes are a delicious way to add flavor to meals. Add a few slices to a sandwich, dice a few to use on a salad, or cook down for a tomato sauce for pasta and pizzas.
- Nutritional yeast: An excellent source of B12, nutritional yeast can be sprinkled on anything to add a cheesy flavor. Try it on kale chips or zucchini fries.
- Nuts and seeds: Full of heart-healthy fats and protein, nuts and seeds pack an nutritional punch along with delicious flavor as a snack or in sweet and savory recipes. Try different nut and seed butters on sandwiches and in baking, add a few tablespoons to oatmeal, or use in Asian-inspired sauces.
- Avocado: One of the most popular super foods has yet another benefit of adding umami flavor to your meals. Spread some avocado on toast or a sandwich, add a few slices to salad, potatoes, or pasta sauce, or eat plain with a little salt, lemon, pepper, and soy sauce.
- Seaweed and Kelp: A good source of vitamin A, sea vegetables can be part of a nutritious, satisfying meal or snack. Munch on dry roasted seaweed as as snack, put together a plant-based sushi with brown rice and sweet potatoes or sprinkle some kelp on a salad.
- Olives: Olives are more than just a garnish for cocktails. Try adding a few to salads pastas, pizza, and chili, make a dip with olives and mushrooms, or simply eat them right out of the jar.
- Green Tea: Green tea adds antioxidants to your diet along with some umami flavor. Feeling adventurous? Freeze green tea and mango to make popsicles or try matcha, a green powder made from ground green tea leaves, in a smoothie.