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Vegan Umami: How to Make Plant-Based Food Taste Savory, Meaty & Mouthwatering

Sure, you can replace meat in a dish with plant-protein. But you've gotta add the savory, meaty, mouthwatering flavor back. THAT is vegan umami!

Sure, you can replace meat in a dish with plant-protein. But you’ve gotta add the savory, meaty, mouthwatering flavor back. THAT is vegan umami!

Sweet, sour, salty, bitter… and umami.

The Japanese word umami (“oo-mah-mee”) means savoriness. Any food that makes you salivate over the deep, savory flavor is umami.

Sure, you can replace the pork in a pulled pork sandwiches with jackfruit… but umami is your secret weapon for creating a vegan version of that meaty flavor.

Vegan Umami Video

There is a huge range of umami flavors, textures and depths. Many are pantry staples that you may cook with every day, and not even realize!

Deeply Flavored Broth

Any vegetable broth (homemade, carton, bouillon cubes, etc) has more flavor than water, right?

Cook your rice, quinoa and even small pasta shapes in vegetable broth for maximum flavor.

This is 100% not a paid endorsement: Here in the US, I only use Better Than Bouillon. These small jars of broth concentrate paste have EPIC flavor. Just smelling the contents of the jar makes my mouth water! What makes the umami so rich – in my opinion – is the yeast extract. Sounds weird, tastes amazing.

These 2 recipes use vegetable broth concentrate paste and have amazing vegan umami that impresses even meat-eaters:

Mushrooms

Where are my mushroom lovers at?! If you already love mushrooms, you know what flavor depth they bring to a dish.

I love mushroom and wild rice soup, which uses both shiitake mushrooms and vegetable broth concentrate.

We had a dinner party recently, and our friend made an amazing risotto with dried porcini mushrooms and truffle oil. They are omnivores, but were awesome and made an amazing dish that I could enjoy also. Lemme tell ya, EVERYONE at the table raved about the risotto and mushrooms!

Tomatoes

Sun-dried tomatoes and tomato paste are delicious ways to add umami to a dish. To develop the flavor of tomato paste, add it to your sautéing oil and onions at the beginning of the dish. It caramelizes and brings out the tomato paste flavor more!

Sun-dried tomatoes also have umami, and can be added to dishes like pasta, casseroles, salads, paninis, etc.

Fermented Foods

There are MANY fermented foods that you may cook with already. They may not taste “meaty”, but they definitely add umami back into a dish you’ve removed the meat from.

  • Olives
  • Vegan worcestershire sauce – Typically made with anchovies, but health food stores carry vegan worcestershire sauce
  • Soy sauce – C’mon, you love dipping everything in soy sauce in a Japanese restaurant for a reason. Umami, my friend. I mix soy sauce with nut butter for a crave-worthy satay sauce for dipping and pouring over salads.
  • Miso paste – You may know miso from the Japanese miso soup with small cubes of tofu. But, miso can be used in salad dressings, glazes and even pasta sauce.
  • Vinegar – red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, balsamic glaze, etc.

Caramelizing & Roasting

After 45 minutes

You don’t have to be a vegetarian to love caramelized onions! These slow-cooked beauties make any savory dish a million times more delicious. Just cook sliced onions in a little olive oil on the lowest heat setting. Stir occasionally. Let them cook for 30-60 minutes. … I know, I get it. Cooking one pot of onions for an hour sounds ridiculous. Make a lot, and freeze them in small portions. Then you’ve got umami for months. MAGIC!

Roasting vegetables brings out their flavors and creates those crispy, caramelized edges. They have more umami! Roasted carrots beat raw carrots any day (in my opinion).

Peak of Ripeness Produce

August peaches. July watermelon. Summer corn. A cantaloupe so perfectly ripe that you just cut it in half and eat it with a spoon. Going to a u-pick strawberry or blueberry farm, and eating them by the handful.

Fruits that are just-picked fresh and perfectly ripe have their own kind of umami. Grilling peaches for a salad is another way to explode the umami!

Nutritional Yeast

Some say nutritional yeast – sold in a shaker can like cheap parmesan – has a cheesy flavor. I don’t really taste “cheese”, but it does have a depth of umami flavor. It can be cooked in dishes like casseroles, blended with soaked cashews to make a spreadable vegan cheese, and sprinkled on pasta and salads.

Sea Vegetables

The green wrapper around sushi rolls is called nori, and it’s made from seaweed. Some grocery stores also carry seaweed “snacks”. These are small, seasoned sheets of seaweed that are a little crunchy and a lot of flavor. My daughter probably eats a packet every day. She loves them SO much.

You can crumble them over an Asian salad, noodle dish, rice dish, etc. I buy the nori sheets and roll up raw, sliced veggies in them… then dunk dunk dunk in that soy sauce & nut butter mixture I mentioned earlier!

More Vegan Umami Resources

  • The Kitchn article: Umami for Vegans
  • Splendid Table recipe: Vegan Fish Sauce. “Fish sauce” sounds weird, but it’s the umami-packed sauce in many of your favorite Thai recipes, like pad thai and curries. This vegan version uses dried shiitake mushrooms, salt and soy sauce.

Life is too short for boring food… be sweet to yourself! Happy cooking!

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