Question of the Day
How Do You Add Savory Flavor Without Adding Meat?
First, let’s talk about umami.
05-13-2022
America's Test Kitchen

Yes, you can add umami—that is, “meaty” flavor—to your dinner without adding meat. But what ingredients give off this rich and savory flavor? The key is to use ingredients rich in glutamates and nucleotides, which are naturally occurring amino acids that contribute a savory flavor to food.

In the video below, Cook’s Illustrated’s executive food editor Keith Dresser and America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Country TV shows’ tasting lab expert Jack Bishop share some ideas for adding savoriness to your dishes, without adding meat. (You can find all of their suggestions in your local supermarket, but if you can get your hands on some British Marmite or its similar-tasting Australian cousin, Vegemite, those are great sources of glutamates.)

Umami-Rich Ingredients

Miso

White Miso

Miso paste is a fermented condiment made from soybeans, grains like rice or barley, salt, and koji mold. It comes in a range of colors, from milder, sweeter white miso to more intense red and brown misos. We use this powerhouse Japanese ingredient to add complex, savory flavor to dressings, sauces, and dishes including broiled salmon, braised potatoes, and sautéed broccoli. Our favorite white miso is Hikari Organic White Miso.

Anchovies

King Oscar Anchovies – Flat Fillets in Olive Oil.

As anchovies age, their flavor develops into the complex, umami-rich product we love. Our favorites are the King Oscar Anchovies – Flat Fillets in Olive Oil.

Soy Sauce

Kikkoman Soy Sauce

Soy sauce is made from fermented soybeans, salt, water, and sometimes roasted grains (wheat, rice, or barley). Thanks to its relatively long fermentation time, our favorite soy sauce came across as “rich,” “well-balanced,” and “complex,” with a level of saltiness that was “just right.”

Dried Mushrooms

Dried Shiitakes

Drying mushrooms concentrates their umami content, so look to pantry-friendly dried mushrooms such as shiitakes that are full of flavor-building nucleotides, and they’re half the price of dried porcini mushrooms.

For ideas on how to use umami-rich ingredients, check out these recipes: