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I'm looking for a source of the umami flavour to add to various dishes. However, since I became vegetarian I can't think of a good source for the flavour.

I used to use Worcestershire sauce, or Nam Pla (fish sauce). I can't think of a vegetarian source of the flavour in the same vein though.

I've tried soy sauce, and it does work, but it imparts too much saltiness to the dish.

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8 Answers 8

up vote 17 down vote accepted

The Umami information Center has a list of Umami-rich foods along with natural concentrations of glutamate. I've copied some of their list below (included some meats for comparison) in case the link disappears (concentration number is mg glutamate/100g food). There's also some information at the above link about how to prepare the foods to maximize the umami taste.

Food/Concentration:

  • Beef/107
  • Tuna/188
  • Nori/1378 (not a typo)
  • Tomatoes/246 (the riper the better)
  • Fresh Shiitake Mushrooms/71
  • Dried Shiitake Mushrooms/150
  • Enoki Mushrooms/22
  • Soy Beans/66
  • Potatoes/102
  • Sweet Potatoes/60
  • Chinese Cabbage/100
  • Carrots/33
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I find it strange that seaweed isn't on this list. After all, that's where they discovered it... –  Mien Feb 18 '11 at 23:08
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Nori is seaweed. It's in the seafood section at the website. –  timmyp Feb 18 '11 at 23:39
    
@timmyp: As someone who really loves savoury food, add MSG to things, etc. I find it odd that I despise nori, can't abide it. –  Orbling Feb 19 '11 at 0:23
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Sun-dried tomatoes are excellent — tomatoes are already high on the list above, and the drying concentrates it. (Also, @Orbling: ahh, I love Nori. Love, love love it. Can eat it like candy… ) –  PLL Feb 19 '11 at 5:26
    
@PLL: Really? I can eat candy like candy. Nori (and indeed sushi) leave me wanting to have my mouth washed out industrially. –  Orbling Feb 19 '11 at 6:02
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You don't specify that you're looking for a natural source, so consider that Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) is basically nothing but a concentrated dose of umami (which is defined by a relatively high level of L-Glutamates).

It's not too difficult to find, especially if there's a bulk food store near you. You can also find it marketed as Accent seasoning (MSG is the predominant ingredient).

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A.k.a. good ol’ E621. –  Konrad Rudolph Feb 19 '11 at 11:49
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I use dried shitake mushrooms to make a dashi and it works really well, miso also will help impart those flavors.

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Ditto. Note that miso can be quite salty. –  offby1 Nov 27 '11 at 2:41
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parmesan cheese is, i believe, the highest concentration of umami in the food world. marmite may be the second highest. using Glutamate powder (MSG) seems easy, too. not sure how high they rate, but liquid aminos have naturally-occurring glutamates, too, and you can generally find a bottle of that in any health food store or health food section with supplements.

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I know I'm replying to something years old, but it contains some bad info and I felt like I should reply. Almost no parmesan is vegetarian. It's made with rennet, which is made from a calf's stomach. There are artificial (and vegetarian) rennets, and there are parmesan's out there made with them, but they are very much the minority in the parmesan world. And unfortunately, parmesan made with calf rennet tastes better than parmesan made with artificial rennet, so those companies that use the artificial rennet don't generally advertise the fact. Not trying to be a vegenazi - eat what you want! –  user25086 May 22 at 23:39
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The suggestions to use MSG, Marmite (any strong yeast extract) and Parmesan are all very good. I tend to add MSG if food is just for me, as many people complain about it as an additive despite it's ubiquitousness in nature. In certain dishes, just adding a small chunk of parmesan to the mixture works very well.

I sometimes use "Mushroom Ketchup" for this purpose, as that is quite a powerful savoury enhancer.

Geo Watkins Mushroom Ketchup

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Vegemite (Australian approximate equivalent of Marmite) is also very good, and slightly different — a little sweeter and less astringent, so goes better in some delicate dishes. –  PLL Feb 19 '11 at 5:30
    
@PLL: I tend to use some of the supermarket own brands of yeast extract instead of marmite, they are closer to Bovril in taste and composition (though obviously vegan). –  Orbling Feb 19 '11 at 6:03
    
Now I need to find mushroom ketchup out here in the sticks. Now if only I could get Henderson's relish... –  Carmi Feb 19 '11 at 17:25
    
@Carmi: Well the link I provided delivers worldwide, but dare say it costs a bomb. –  Orbling Feb 19 '11 at 17:31
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I often use dried forrest mushrooms for this purpose. I soak them and then use both the mushrooms and the soaking liquid.

Other good vegan umami sources are nutritional yeast flakes and tomato paste.

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Nutritional yeast is a family favorite. Also, porcini/shiitake mushrooms are excellent. Use the one most appropriate to the dish.

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I've made a great savory salad dressing with tahini, tamari or soy sauce, and some olive oil. Mix ratios to your optimal consistency. The addition of tahini and olive oil helps cut down on the raw saltiness of the tamari/soy.

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