Umami or How to Make More Satisfying Meals

Umami TasteYou know the feeling. You’ve just eaten a full meal but you feel there’s something missing. You might be physically full but you’re not satisfied. In an effort to stimulate your taste buds, you seek out something sweet or salty to get that hit you didn’t have in your bland meal. Next time, try adding more umami-rich foods to your meal. Umami elevates the taste intensity of a dish. It’s your regular meal, on steroids. It adds flavor to an otherwise banal dish. And this is super important because taking full pleasure in what you are eating actually increases nutrient absorption in the body while stopping you from overeating or having cravings later on.

So what exactly is umami?

As you might already know, our tongues have taste buds that detect the following tastes: Sweet, salty, bitter and sour. The Japanese have always known this, but we also have a fifth set of taste buds for the taste of savory or umami. Umami comes from Japanese and means “pleasant savory taste”. Umami foods all have a warm, earthy, deeply satisfying taste. Chemically, these foods all contain an amino acid called glutamate which provides the distinctive umami taste. The man-made imitation of this is a chemical called monosodium glutamate (MSG) which the food industry adds to Asian food, soups, chips etc. to enhance flavor and increase their appeal. Stock cubes like Maggi cubes also use this principle to add taste but again, at the cost of putting an artificial man-made chemical into your body with potentially toxic side-effects. So here’s my solution: Leverage the power of naturally umami-rich foods to add big taste to your dishes.


As humans, we are hard-wired to love the taste of umami. Human breast milk is naturally rich in umami and babies already show a taste preference for sweet and umami-rich foods in their first months of life. It might also be a way of pointing us towards easy to digest protein-rich sources of food since umami is naturally found in proteins that have been partially broken down such as aged cheese, cured meats or soy sauce.  Adding more umami to your meals brings that taste that leaves us satisfied and without cravings after a meal.

Foods naturally rich in umami include:

    • Parmesan cheese & other aged cheese
    • Grilled & cured meat
    • Anchovies
    • Ripe tomatoes, tomato paste and ketchup and sun-dried tomatoes
    • Asparagus
    • Mushrooms
    • Nutritional yeast
    • Olives
    • Garlic
    • Dried sea vegetables
    • Marmite
    • Balsamic vinegar
    • Fermented foods like miso, tamari and sauerkraut
    • Red wine
    • Roasting and grilling food also increases umami


Ways of boosting umami in your cooking:

♦ Combine both red wine and balsamic vinegar in your favorite vinaigrette dressing.

♦ Use soy or tamari sauce to add flavor and saltiness to soup, add taste to a meat or poultry marinade, or to vegetables.

♦ Add blended dried tomatoes (you can buy them without the oil) to a stew or tomato sauce

♦ Add mushroom to soups, stews and sauces.

♦ Add fresh or dried seaweed to soups, stews and sauces.

♦ Add nutritional yeast to anything.

♦ Add green vegetables like asparagus to an omelet or frittata

♦ Sprinkle grated Parmesan on top of dishes.

♦ Add toasted nuts to a salad.

♦ Garlic is a very umami-friendly flavor and even a small amount — not enough to notice the garlic but enough to add complexity — can give whatever you’re cooking more flavor.

Caramelize onions to bring out their flavor and top dishes with them

♦ Roast or grill vegetables to bring out the taste such as in this recipe

♦ Add this easy to make umami sauce to anything from steamed vegetables to salads.  

I would love to hear from you, what umami foods do you use to add more flavor to your food?

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  • Suzy on Oct 31, 2013 Reply

    Great article Hiba – I have always been a marmite fan (just sad it is now produced by Kraft as I try to avoid all big multi-nationals)… tried substitutes but not the same :-(
    My other big fav and new discovery is Umeboshi Plum Vinegar – combine it with olive oil and lemon juice and use for cabbage or kale salads it is AMAZING! …. and also makes cabbage much easier to digest!

    • Hiba on Oct 31, 2013 Reply

      Thanks Suzy! I will definitely give Umeboshi Plum Vinegar a try, thanks for the tip :)

    • Katja on Nov 04, 2013 Reply

      Have you tried Cenovis instead of marmite?

      • Hiba on Nov 04, 2013 Reply

        Cenovis is a good idea – thanks Katja!

  • Audrey on Oct 28, 2013 Reply

    Great article! This is so true! Without even knowing this concept, I know that in order to reduce my cravings for sweet things after a meal, I need to combine specific flavors together. Great to know where that is coming from! :) Thanks Hiba for another great post!

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  • Claudia on Oct 25, 2013 Reply

    Amazing article, i, to be honest, have never heard of UMAMI but I already use a lot of it, to add that little bit of pizzaz to our meals, but sometimes really do have that unsatisfied feeling after a meal, thanks Hiba, very informative as always!

  • julia on Oct 24, 2013 Reply

    YAY! Marmite is part of the list :-)

  • Hiba on Oct 24, 2013 Reply

    I agree, Faris! It feels quite intuitive as a concept which is always a good sign :)

  • Faris on Oct 24, 2013 Reply

    Surprised to know we use many of these in our meals without knowing their beneficial effects! Good to know …

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