What is Umami and how do we add more of it into Plant-Based Meals?
Umami is a rich, savoury, deep flavour that makes a meal satiating, satisfying and incredibly enjoyable. Meat and seafood are particularly rich in umami which is one reason why a lot of people prefer the taste of meat-based dishes. But what about plant-based meals?
A plant-based dish without umami can often feel like it's lacking something. It can leave you unsatiated and mentally wanting something more, even if you're not physically hungry.
The good news is, plants do have naturally occurring umami in them, and once you know how to harness and amplify this flavour it can really unlock the whole potential of the dish.
1. Use miso paste instead of salt
Miso paste packs a major umami punch. It's also nice and salty so instead of using salt in a recipe, substitute it with miso paste. 1/2 tsp salt = 1tsp miso paste.
Adding some miso paste to your risottos, salad dressings, soups, casseroles and even sweet treats (miso goes particularly well with dates, vanilla and caramel) will take them to the next level. You could also toss cubes of kumara in miso paste, a pinch of onion powder and some finely chopped garlic before roasting in the oven for a delicious umami rich version of roast kumara.
Added bonus: miso paste is fermented soybeans - so you're also getting healthy gut bacteria which your gut flora, immune system and mental health will thank you for!
2. Use veggie stock instead of water
Using veggie stock in place of plain water will bring a subtle, rounded and full flavour to your dish. This could be as simple as simmering rice or potatoes in stock, or adding stock to your risottos, purees and sauces.
A sustainable way to save food waste, save money and save packaging is to make your own stock: Each time you cook add all your off-cuts to a container in the freezer (for example carrot tops, onion skins, cabbage cores, broccoli stems). Once you have a lot, add these in a large pot of water with a couple of bay leaves and simmer for 30 - 40mins. Strain and voilla - you now have veggie stock to last you the next few weeks.
3. Toast ingredients
Lightly toasting your nuts and seeds in a dry pan before adding them to salads will increase the umami profile. Once they're done and the heat is turned off, add a few drops of tamari to the pan to provide even more umami.
You can also lightly toast your rice in a pot before adding boiling water to give it a slightly nutty and umami flavour. Take it even further by adding a bay leaf or some miso to your simmering rice.
4. Incorporate mushrooms
Mushrooms are one of the most umami-rich vegetables out there. The darker the mushroom the more umami it contains. Even if your dish doesn't call for mushrooms, if you finely chop 1 mushroom and sauté it with your onion and garlic, the depth of flavour from the mushroom will carry itself throughout the dish without necessarily tasting the mushroom flavour.
Cooking mushrooms over fire or BBQ will make them ultra umami - the smoke/char flavour is umami too, so you've got double umami going there.
Mushroom recipe ideas: blue cheese and breadcrumbs grilled over mushrooms, mushroom burgers, mushroom and lentil stroganoff, creamy garlic mushrooms on toast, mushroom arancini balls, mushroom and broccoli noodle stir fry.
5. *Almost* burn the bottom of the pan
Whether it's a frying pan or a roasting tray; the golden, sticky 'almost burnt' bits are packed with umami goodness.
The key is to get this flavour off the bottom of the pan and into your meal. You can do this by j (this could be in the form of a splash of water, a can of tomatoes, a little oil or even just the lid on for a while to create some steam), and then stirring it through to incorporate those flavours.
Umami rich plant-based ingredients:
Tomatoes, garlic, onions, eggplant, mushrooms, asparagus, seaweed, cabbage, potatoes, olives, sauerkraut, kimchi, cheese, eggs, tofu, tempeh, toasted seeds and nuts, dark chocolate, marmite, soy sauce, worcestershire sauce (the Whitlocks brand is vegan), nutritional yeast, yoghurt.
- The Sustainable Food Co.
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