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12 Healthy Umami-Flavored Foods

Benefits of the Fifth Taste

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Sweet, sour, salty, and bitter have long been the preferred flavors, but there’s actually a fifth—and it may help your health. It's umami, a Japanese word that describes a meaty or savory taste, and people who eat more foods with this profile had a healthier appetite, body weight, and overall health, according to a new study in the journal Flavour.

The umami flavor, common in Asian recipes, is created by a reaction of a key amino acid, glutamate, and nucleotides inosinate and guanylate. Foods that are high in these compounds create the umami flavor for the enjoyment of your taste buds, and, apparently, your health. These 12 foods are some of the richest sources of umami flavors. Enjoy!

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Seaweed

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This food has been part of the traditional Japanese diet since ancient times. Try incorporating dried and salted seaweed into soups like miso, or choosing sushi wrapped in a type called Nori. (Never had seaweed? Add it to your grocery list along with these other Superfoods You’re Not Eating.)

Levels of naturally-occurring glutamate (mg/100g): 9-1380 depending on variety

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Tuna and Cod

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While most types of fish fall into the umami category, tuna and cod have particularly high natural levels of insoinate.

Levels of naturally-occurring inosinate (mg/100g): Tuna: 188 Cod:44

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Tomatoes

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One of the most common sources of umami in American diets, a tomato's “meaty” flavor comes from its high level of glutamates. The riper the better: green tomatoes have lower levels of glutamate, which increase as the fruit ripens to a bright red.

Levels of naturally-occurring glutamate (mg/100g): 246

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Green Tea

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One of the healthiest drinks around, green tea is also a great source of the fifth flavor. Find out What Drinking Green Tea Can Really Do for You. (Not crazy about the hot drink? Go straight to the source: 20 Genius Ways to Use Matcha.)

Levels of naturally-occurring glutamate (mg/100g): 668

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Parmesan Cheese

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Cheese is one of the best examples of the umami taste, but Parmesan in particular is overflowing with the flavor.

Levels of naturally-occurring glutamate (mg/100g): 1200

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Shellfish

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Clams, scallops, mussels, and oysters are all high in a number of different amino acids and naturally-occurring glutamate, making them all rich sources of umami.

Levels of naturally-occurring glutamate (mg/100g): 140-210

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Shrimp

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Shrimp and prawns are chock-full of the amino acid glycin, which, combined with glutamates and inosinates, offers a unique umami taste. (Try one of these shrimp recipes!)

Levels of naturally-occurring glutamate (mg/100g): 43 
Levels of naturally-occurring inosinate (mg/100g): 92

Photo: Corbis Images

Soy

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We love soybeans for their high protein levels, but they are also rich sources of the umami flavor. And it’s not just the beans: all foods made with soybeans—including soy sauce, miso paste, and tofu are therefore rich sources of the fifth flavor.

Levels of naturally occurring glutamate (mg/100g):66

Photo: Corbis Images

Mushrooms

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Not only are these fresh fungi packed with glutamate, but when dried, their levels actually increase, boosting their flavor. The liquid from re-hydrated dried mushrooms often used in recipes is therefore rich in umami too (like in this Baked Brie with Mushrooms and Sage). The most rich varieties: Shiitake and Enoki, the latter of which is commonly used in Japanese stews.

Levels of naturally occurring glutamate (mg/100g): 22-150 depending on variety

Photo: Corbis Images

Potatoes

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Both white and sweet potatoes are packed with naturally occurring glutamate. In Japanese culture, potatoes are actually touted for their sweetness—if you freeze them for a long time or freeze-dry them, their sugar content increases, and Japanese chefs will use their sweet flavor to accent dishes. (Or try one of these 10 Healthy Sweet Potato Recipes.)

Levels of naturally occurring glutamate (mg/100g): White Potatoes: 102 Sweet Potatoes: 60

Photo: Corbis Images

Chinese Cabbage

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Also known as napa cabbage, these leaves have a mild taste but high glutamate levels. When they’re combined with other ingredients—such as in the traditional Korean dish kimchi—it enhances the cabbage’s umami flavor.

Levels of naturally occurring glutamate (mg/100g):100

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Beef, Pork, and Chicken

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Sorry, vegetarians: meat and poultry are some of the richest sources of the umami flavor. Matured beef, like beef jerky, as well as the bones of chicken both have particularly high levels of glutamate. Plus, a lot of meat dishes are paired with other umami-rich foods on this list (tomatoes and French fries with your burger, anyone?), making for umami-rich meals.

Levels of naturally occurring glutamate (mg/100g): Beef: 107 Pork: 337 Chicken: 40

Photo: Corbis Images

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