Nutrition Articles

Umami: What You've Been Missing!

The five tastes: Sour, sweet, bitter, salty, and ... umami!

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You've slimmed down your recipes, made healthy food swaps, and integrated vegetables into your meals. But do you ever feel like your food is missing something? When you finish eating, do you ever wonder why a meal just didn't hit the spot?

You're probably missing umami.

You've probably heard of the four basic tastes: bitter, sour, sweet and salty. Well, "umami," which means "yummy" in Japanese, is another distinct taste. Commonly found in fermented or aged foods, umami (pronounced ooh-mah-mee) adds that "mouth feel" to food. It makes your food feel richer, more delicious and more decadent. A key component in Chinese and Japanese cuisine, umami is starting to gain importance in Western cooking. American cooking tends to rely on fat or salt to get that feeling, but there are other, healthier ways to give your food and meals a little more oomph.

Ever notice how parmesan makes pasta taste so much better? Or how much tastier ketchup makes your burgers? The parmesan, the tomatoes, and the beef all contain umami. Think about Japanese miso soup or almost any Chinese food. They're delicious and satisfying, thanks to umami-rich seaweed, fish, and soy sauce.

Many foods are considered to have umami, including familiar foods like pepperoni pizza and hamburgers! And many condiments that seem to add "empty" calories (ketchup, steak sauce and Worcestershire sauce) actually help food feel more satisfying when you eat it.

Here's a list of some umami rich foods:
By adding more of these foods to your meals, you can boost your satisfaction and potentially eat fewer calories overall and avoid overeating. A little goes a long way, and many foods rich in umami should be used as seasonings rather than main ingredients because they can be high in sodium and fat. Try adding a pinch of Romano cheese to steamed veggies or adding asparagus or mushrooms to your salad. If you're feeling decadent, put a pinch of crumbled bacon or a couple of sun-dried tomatoes in an egg white omelet. That could be just what hits the spot!

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About The Author

Stepfanie Romine Stepfanie Romine
A former newspaper reporter, Stepfanie now writes about nutrition, health, fitness and cooking. She is a certified Ashtanga yoga teacher who enjoys running, international travel and all kinds of vegetables. See all of Stepfanie's articles.

Member Comments

  • It's also interesting to note which of your friends/family members are drawn toward umami. Some folks have more of a sweet tooth or love of all things salty, but think of what they love to eat, and I bet you'll find someone you know who is an umami person. =)

    My spouse likes my cooking, but LOVES the dishes that happen to have more umami foods like mushrooms and soy. - 11/5/2012 5:42:23 PM
  • This is really interesting! Now I think back to some of the more satisfying and some less satisfying meals, and the concept of "umami" does apply. I wish I could save this list to my Spark favourites. - 10/7/2011 11:01:57 AM

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