olive tapenade

Get Saucy with Umami

Happy 50th Earth Day! We hope you’ve been putting our 50 Plant-Forward Ideas to work. Today we’d like to bring your attention to sauces and spreads that will take your plant-forward salad, sandwich, or grain bowl to the next level.

One secret to a satisfying plant-forward (or any) dish is umami. Tomatoes. Shiitakes. Anchovies. Parmesan. If you think these foods are delicious, science backs up your palate. Each of these foods is a rich source of umami, that once hard-to-define fifth taste now described (indeed, defined) as “savory deliciousness.”

While umami’s flavor-boosting properties can deepen the sensory pleasures of a wide array of dishes, its impact on plant foods may be especially apparent. With umami in the mix, large quantities of meat become unnecessary to create a savory flavor profile and satisfying overall taste experience.

But what is umami? Derived from the Japanese word umai (“delicious”), umami is recognized alongside sweet, salty, bitter, and sour as a flavor humans respond to automatically. We even have dedicated umami taste receptors.

And there are many such foods, both of the animal and plant variety. On the plant side, try adding sun-dried tomatoes, olives, capers, dried or fresh mushrooms, seaweed, or especially fermented foods like soy sauce, miso, gojuchang, sauerkraut, and kim chi.

Here’s an easy, umami-rich spread or dip to try making with pantry staples:

Olive and Caper Tapenade: Create a rough paste of chopped black olives (canned is fine!), a clove or two of garlic, and a few spoonfuls of capers stirred together with some chopped parsley, a squeeze of lemon juice, and a glug of extra virgin olive oil.

Or try our recipe for Black Bean Tacos with Poblano-Cashew “Crema”!