Insider’s Viewpoint: Umami. Say What?

Move over sweet, salty, bitter, and sour! Make way for the new kid on the tongue – umami! Technically, umami has always been present, but scientists confirmed its existence earlier this century. Umami, a Japanese word pronounced oo-MAH-mee, is most often described as providing a meaty or savory taste sensation produced by the amino acid, glutamate. Glutamate is high in foods like meats and cheeses (interesting that umami rhymes with pastrami and salami). But, do not underestimate the power of vegetables to provide umami. As we button up for November, many of our favorite seasonal vegetables contain high glutamate levels to deliver a high dose of that savory umami flavor. It makes me warm just thinking about it.

4 Ways to Enjoy that Savory Umami Flavor

Tomatoes are usually a summertime staple, but winter-friendly varieties such as tomato sauce, tomato paste, and canned tomatoes pack an even bigger umami punch because they utilize tomatoes that are more ripened. The tomato gains more umami flavor as it ripens.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that mushrooms trigger the umami taste buds considering they are often used in place of meat in many recipes. Generally, the darker the mushroom, the more umami flavor it contains. Dried mushrooms pack the most umami and will boost flavor when added to soups and stews this winter.

When we think of sweet potatoes, a sweet taste usually comes to mind along with being rich in vitamin A, fiber, and antioxidants. But just like regular potatoes, sweet potatoes contain glutamic acid to activate those umami taste receptors. Sweet potato fries, homemade or from the freezer, are any umami lover’s delight.

Carrots are not only rich in carotene, but they also have umami properties making them a wonderful winter side dish or addition to those savory comfort foods like soups, stews, or even other umami-rich foods like spaghetti and lasagna. It doesn’t matter the form of carrots – fresh, frozen, or canned – they all provide umami.

Melissa Hehmann, RD CDE
Healthy Living Advisor
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