Umami Makes Bland Vegetarian Food Tasty
Umami is a taste sensation just like sweet, sour, bitter and salty, considered to be the ‘fifth taste’.
Guest post by artist and long time vegetarian Fiona Morgan, WhereFishSing
I agree whole heartedly with the idea of umami as the missing element in so many vegetarian foods.
Umami is what we’re going for in Savvy Vegetarian recipes.
Umami is the reason why our recipes often have a longer list of flavoring ingredients than basic ingredients. That doesn’t make them harder or longer to make – it just makes them more tasty!
Over to Fiona’s great UMAMI article! – Judith Kingsbury, Savvy Veg
Why Does My Vegetarian Meal Taste So Bland?
For those of you dabbling with or newly committed to a plant based diet, you will probably be having this problem. To me, a lot of vegetarian dishes suffer a lack of flavour that doesn’t seem to be fixed with salt. They taste rather one dimensional. They lack depth or fullness in flavour. To be blunt, they are bland.
This can especially be a problem for new vegetarians and flexitarians and I shall explain why. If it just doesn’t taste as satisfying as you expect, then it’s probably missing that wonderful essence known as umami.
Umami is a taste sensation just like sweet, sour, bitter and salty. It is now considered to be the ‘fifth taste’. Most people haven’t heard of it but everyone knows when it is missing. It could also be called savouriness. It is that pleasant and even mouthwatering sensation that lingers on your tongue.
Meat has umami. Lots of it. There are plenty of veg friendly sources of umami, but if you are not aware of putting them in your cooking, that fullness of flavour they add will be missing. Which is why new vegetarians often struggle to hit that moreishness in their meals. With meat you don’t need to try. With vegetarian cooking, a little bit of knowledge goes a long way. It makes you a much more capable and versatile cook.
Vegetarian Sources of Umami
Mushrooms especially shitake, tomatoes, asparagus, celery (cooked), carrot, corn, onion (cooked), potatoes (cooked), soybeans, sweet potatoes, Chinese cabbage, spinach, seaweed, green tea, savoury herbs such as rosemary and thyme, yeast, fermented foods (ie beer, wine, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, kim chi, soy sauce), aged foods such as cheese and also butter (for vegetarians).
Further Hints for a Rich Depth of Veggy Flavor
Perfume is designed to have bottom, middle and top notes that intermingle and come to the fore at different times. A well balanced recipe will have a complexity of flavours that make the taste feel round, rich and full. There are no ‘gaps’ in the tasting experience. It might help to think of a well rounded dish as having multiple layers of flavourings. One dimensional just doesn’t satisfy.
In practice this means, for instance, that even a simple one or two vegetable soup has a stock made from garlic, onion, celery and carrot, has some herbs such as bay leaf and thyme, a dash of salt and pepper, a slosh of wine and some spice such as a pinch of nutmeg.
Or a pasta sauce has plenty of slow cooked onions and mushrooms, garlic, red wine, carrot, tomatoes and a multitude of herbs such as oregano and basil, some salt and perhaps a pinch of chilli.
What I’m trying to illustrate is that to get lots of flavour out, you need to put lots of flavour in!
- Be generous with your herbs.
- Learn to use spices.
- Never use plain water in your soups, stews and sauces. Always use stock or some sort of flavoured liquid.
- Make use of your vege umami sources.
Here’s to tasty vegetarian cooking!
About WhereFishSing: Artist and long time vegetarian Fiona Morgan is on a blogging mission to show people how easy and tasty plant based food can be with her food-meets-art project. It combines the contemporary approach to vegetarian food as ‘meatless meals’ for everyone (not just hippies), and modern symbolist paintings inspired by the essence of each dish (without a traditional still-life-with-grapes in sight). Check out her website for all the umami filled recipes and artwork and follow the creation of the artvegecookbook.