Food & Nutrition

What Is Umami? 14 Foods with Natural Umami Flavor

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.

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What is umami? 

what is umamiwrangler/Shutterstock

Umami is one of the five key taste profiles which also includes sweet, bitter, sour, and salt. Translated from Japanese, the word means “pleasant, savory taste,” a definition of umami with which Megan Meyer, PhD, the Director of Science Communication at the International Food Information Council Foundation, has to agree. But exactly what does umami taste like, more precisely? Others describe it as a full-bodied, meaty flavor, adds Alicia Rooker, a recipe editor, and tester for Reader’s Digest‘s sister site Taste of Home. This flavor is thanks to the amino acid L-glutamate, according to Mareya Ibrahim, a chef and author of the 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. While we’re discovering umami, here are other words that don’t have an English translation.

Meat

beef jerky and spice on old tableJiri Hera/Shutterstock

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. This is how long meat should be stored in the fridge.

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