Bland to Bold: How to Add Umami to Your Cooking

Words: Robyn Samuels

If you think about it, ‘umami’ rhymes with ‘yummy’ and that’s no coincidence… Now, we’re sure you know how to ‘throw down’ in the kitchen, but the key to unlocking your true cooking potential lies in the essence of deliciousness. With one simple, secret ingredient, your food could be made more sumptuous and that’s the power of umami. Whether your sauce lacks depth of flavour or your protein needs a marinade, a single spoonful of these umami-packed condiments and umami pastes could do just the trick!

add umami

Umami Condiments

A little umami goes a long way…

add umami
add umami

Fish Sauce

Fish sauce is used in many Asian dishes. This liquid condiment is used to impart umami flavour and consists of fermented fish or krill, where the fish is fermented for two years.

Hoisin Sauce

This Cantonese condiment has a thick consistency and is made from fermented soybean, garlic, five-spice, chillies, sugar, rice wine vinegar and sesame oil. Hoisin is used as a condiment or glaze and instantly adds umami to veggies in this Sticky Asian Rice Bowl with Sweet & Spicy Hoisin Sauce.

Mirin

A Japanese sweet syrupy rice wine used in Japanese cuisine. Mirin sauce has a sweet/salty/umami taste and is used to season and glaze dishes like teriyaki, udon noodles and ramen.

Nam Plah

This type of condiment is a Thai fish sauce of fermented anchovies, palm/brown sugar, garlic, coriander and lime juice.

Oyster Sauce

Oyster sauce is pretty much what it sounds like — a dark, thick sauce made from oyster extract, sugar, salt and thickened with cornstarch.

Ponzu Sauce

Ponzu sauce is a Japanese citrus dipping sauce and has an acidic tang, similar to a vinaigrette. It’s made from a ponzu acidic base of citrus fruits (sudachi, yuzu, kabosu citrus) and vinegar, which is then added to soy sauce, mirin/sugar and dashi broth. The acidity and sweetness adds umami to sushi and sashimi, like in this Salmon Tartar with Pickled Radish and Ponzu Reduction.

add umami to your cooking
adding umami

Soy Sauce

Sushi lovers and most home cooks will know this popular Chinese condiment. This type of condiment is made from fermented soybean paste, roasted grain (soybeans/wheat), brine and cooking mould. Soy sauce adds a lovely umami flavour to dishes, like in this Seasame-crusted Yellowtail with Ginger, Chilli and Lime Soy Sauce. Chinese soy sauce is brown in colour; lighter soy sauce is thinner and saltier than dark soy sauce (sweet aftertaste), it’s great in dishes like Chinese Chicken Noodle Soup.

Shoyu Shoya Sauce

Japanese soy sauce is also made from fermented soybean, wheat, salt and water. Shoyu shoya has a thinner consistency compared to other soy sauces.

Tamari

A high-protein condiment, formed as a byproduct of miso (fermented soybean). Japanese Tamari is similar to Chinese soy sauce and are both made from fermented soybean, but tamari contains little to no wheat and therefore works for those following a gluten-free diet. Tamari also has more of a subtle umami flavour compared to soy sauce.

Teriyaki sauce

This type of condiment is used as a glaze for protein, usually grilled chicken, as teriyaki refers to a style of cooking where proteins are glazed. Teriyaki sauce consists of soy sauce, mirin and sugar.

Worcestershire

For those who struggle with the pronunciation of this type of sauce, it’s: ‘wu-stuh-shuh’. Worcestershire is also a liquid fermented condiment that consists of vinegar, molasses, anchovies, garlic, clove, soy, salt, sugar, tamarind and chilli pepper extract. This sauce is also known for its strong umami flavour.


Umami Pastes

These pastes completely transform the flavours in sauce, dish or soup.

add umami
add umami to your cooking

Chermoula

Moroccan Chermoula is similar to Mexican adobo and is a spice paste of fresh parsley and coriander, garlic, ginger, chilli, cumin and smoked paprika all blended with lemon juice and olive oil.

Gochujang

Gochujang is incorporated in sauces used in Korean dishes. It’s made using fermented soybean paste, soy sauce, gochugaru (chilli powder) and glutinous rice. This fermented red chilli paste has all the flavours you would want from a sauce — umami, sweet, savoury and spicy.

Harissa

This North African sauce and paste is similar to romesco but consists of roasted red peppers, Baklouti peppers, spices (cumin, coriander seeds, caraway seeds), garlic paste and blended with olive oil, citrus juice and vinegar. Harissa has a peppery and smoky flavour and is especially delicious when paired with meat, like in these Harissa-marinated Lamb Loin Chops and this Honey & Harissa Glazed Pork Neck.

Laksa

This type of paste is similar to rempah and is also made using red chilli, garlic, ginger, shallots, shrimp paste and lemongrass. The only difference is that laksa also uses dried shrimp, tamarind paste, cashew nuts and galangal. Spices incorporated include turmeric, cumin, coriander and paprika. The ingredients are then processed and blended with peanut or palm oil.

add umami to your cooking

Miso

A paste used in Japanese cuisine, usually made from soybeans, salt and kōji (food fungus). Miso is fermented for a couple of months to years before being used. The longer the miso ferments, the richer the umami flavour. Other cereal grains like rice or barley can also be used to make miso. This type of condiment is often used in soups or as a marinade/glaze for meats and vegetables. You could even use it on its own, like in this Chinese-5 spice Burger with Garlic Miso Mayo.

Rempah

Rempah is a type of paste used in Malaysian, Singaporean and Indonesian cuisine. It’s made from Asian aromatics (red chilli, garlic, ginger), fresh turmeric, shallots, belachan (shrimp paste), candlenuts and lemongrass. Rempah is known as the ‘mother sauce’ of Southeast Asian cuisine.

Tahini

A paste made from toasted and ground sesame seeds; tahini is a key ingredient in hummus and baba ganoush.

Tamarind

A type of paste made from tropical tamarind pods, a fruit native to Africa, but also commonly used in Asian and Mexican cuisine. Tamarind paste has a sweet-sour taste and is incorporated into curries.

Wasabi

Also known as ‘Japanese horseradish’, this type of condiment is made by grating the wasabi root. Alternatively, some people use ‘imitation wasabi’ by making a paste with wasabi powder, water, vinegar and mustard. It’s commonly eaten with sushi or sashimi.

Now that you know what umami goodness to stock your pantry with, discover the essence of deliciousness with umami.

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