What the Japanese Consider as Umami Foods

Healthy Umami-Rich Foods

The Japanese say that there are five basic tastes: sweet, bitter, salty, sour, and umami. Umami means savory, somewhat meaty. Detecting umami, just like other tastes, is essential for survival. Scientifically umami refers to the taste of glutamate, inosinate, or guanylate. Glutamate or glutamic acid is a common amino acid in vegetable and animal proteins. Inosinate is mainly found in meats, while guanylate is more abundant in plants. Umami-rich foods may have potential health benefits. Here are some of these foods.


A great source of umami flavor due to their high glutamate content. They are low in calories but packed with nutrients and antioxidants. Kombu seaweeds, like rausu, ma, rishiri, and the popular nori are often added to give depth to broths and sauces in Japanese cuisine.

Soy-based foods

They are made from soybeans that can be eaten whole, but are commonly fermented or processed into different products, such as tofu, tempeh, miso, and soy sauce. Processing and fermenting soybeans increases their total glutamate content; proteins are broken down into free amino acids. Soy-based foods are said to lower blood cholesterol, improved fertility in women, and decrease menopause symptoms.

Aged cheeses

Are high in the umami compound glutamate. As cheeses age, their proteins break down into free amino acids through proteolysis, raising their levels of free glutamic acid. From highest to lowest in glutamate content are: Parmesan, comte cheese, Cabrales, Roquefort, emmental cheese, gouda and cheddar. Cheeses that are aged the longest, like parmesan (24–30 months), typically have the most umami taste.

Green tea

It is high in glutamate, which is why it has a unique sweet, bitter, and umami taste. It’s also high in theanine, an amino acid that has a similar structure to glutamate, which also increases the umami compound levels. Meanwhile, green tea’s bitterness comes mainly from catechins and tannins.


One of the best plant-based sources of umami flavor. The sweet-yet-savory flavor comes from their high glutamic acid content. Regular tomatoes contain higher glutamic acid than cherry tomatoes in the same serving. As tomatoes ripen glutamic acid levels continue to rise. Drying tomatoes can also raise their umami flavor, as the process reduces moisture and concentrates the glutamate. Tomatoes are also a good source of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, vitamin K, potassium, folate, and plant-based antioxidants.


Just like tomatoes, mushrooms are a plant based source of umami flavors. Drying mushrooms can significantly increase their glutamate content. Examples of mushroom varieties in increasing umami content are: Dried shiitake mushroom, Shimeji mushroom, Enoki mushroom, common mushroom, truffles, and shiitake mushroom. They are also packed with nutrients, including B vitamins, and have been linked to potential health benefits, such as improved immunity and cholesterol levels.


Many types are high in umami compounds. Seafood can naturally contain both glutamate and inosinate (that is often used as a food additive). Some of these seafoods are dried baby sardines, bonito flakes, tuna, yellow tail, tuna, mackerel, cod, shrimps, scallops and anchovies. Glutamate and disodium inosinate have a synergistic effect on each other, raising the overall umami taste of foods that contain both. That’s why chefs pair them to enhance the overall flavor of a dish.


Like seafood, meats naturally contain glutamate and inosinate. Dried, aged, or processed meats have considerably more glutamic acid than fresh meats, as these processes break down complete proteins and release free glutamic acid. Examples are bacon, dry/cured ham, pork, beef and chicken.