Healthy Eating Tip: Enhance Taste with Umami

Christine Rosenbloom

To celebrate  National Nutrition Month®, my colleague Christine Rosenbloom shares her tips to boost taste and help you savor the flavor of eating right.

Taste rules!

Taste is the number 1 reason why we choose the foods we love to eat. Sure, good health and nutrients are important to a dietitian, but taste rules. This dietitian savors the flavors of food by enhancing the taste of foods with umami (oo-mom-ee). Most of you know about the basic tastes of sweet, sour, salty and bitter, but umami is the 5th taste, with specific receptors on our tongue for this flavor enhancer. Glutamate, an amino acid, is the trigger for umami taste receptors. When we eat foods with high levels of free glutamate, we stimulate the receptors for a real taste treat. OK, enough chemistry, what can you do in the kitchen or when dining out to get umami?

Use ingredients that pack a glutamate punch

What I do, and what you might do without knowing the reason, is use ingredients that pack a glutamate punch. Parmesan cheese is an “umami bomb,” says Chef Chris Koetke, Vice President of Culinary Arts at Kendall College is Chicago. So, when the wait staff asks if you want Parmesan cheese shredded or grated on your Caesar Salad or pasta, Chef Koetke suggests you say, “yes, please!” Foods that are aged or ripened are also great sources of umami: think of aged cheddar cheese or a vine-ripened tomato. Mushrooms are also umami-rich; I make a meat blend of 2/3 ground beef or turkey with 1/3 chopped mushrooms for a delicious burger or meat mixture for tacos, chili or pasta sauce. Not only does the umami-rich mushrooms bump up the taste, they also cut the fat, calories and sodium of the dish while adding a serving of veggies. (Some restaurants serve “Umami Burgers” that are made with a meat-mushroom blend).

Fermented foods also boost flavor

Many Asian cuisines use fermented ingredients, like fish or soy sauce, to add umami. Another trick is to use monosodium glutamate (MSG) at home to enhance flavor and reduce sodium intake. MSG is simply a sodium salt of glutamate. “Using 2/3 salt and 1/3 MSG means a 25% reduction in sodium,” says Chef Koetke. While MSG has gotten a bad rap, Katherine Zeratsky, RDN, LD, from the Mayo Clinic says MSG has been used as a food additive for decades. “Over the years, the FDA has received many anecdotal reports of adverse reactions to foods containing MSG. However, researchers have found no definitive evidence of a link between MSG and these symptoms.” For those who choose not to use MSG, labels clearly identify it.

So, this month, and every month, savor the flavor with umami!

Chris Rosenbloom, PhD, RDN, CSSD is a nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University in Atlanta. She loves to write about her favorite topics: food and nutrition for a variety audiences. Check out her website, and follow her on Twitter.

Dr. Rosenbloom has the following disclosure: I recently attended a nutrition conference in London and some of the information for this article was obtained at a session sponsored by Ajinomoto North America, Inc. My travel and accommodations were partially provided by the event’s many sponsors. I was not asked to write this article and was not paid for my time. I have no consulting or financial interest in Ajinomoto North America, Inc.

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Jill Weisenberger

I'm Jill, and I believe simple changes in your mindset and health habits can bring life-changing rewards. And I don't believe in willpower. It's waaaay overrated. As a food-loving registered dietitian nutritionist, certified diabetes care and education specialist and certified health and wellness coach, I've helped thousands of people solve their food and nutrition problems. If you're looking for a better way to master this whole healthy eating/healthy living thing or if you're trying to prevent or manage diabetes or heart problems, you'll find plenty of resources right here.

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