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By Hiba Giacoletto, Healthwise

Have you ever eaten a full meal, but still felt there was something missing? You are physically full but not satisfied and you go on a wild rampage in search of something sweet or salty to give you that hit you didn’t get from your meal.

What if the simple solution were simply to add more umami to your meal?

Umami elevates the taste intensity of a dish. It’s your regular meal, on steroids. And this is very important since taking full pleasure in what you are eating actually increases nutrient absorption in the body while stopping you from overeating or having cravings later on.

So what exactly is umami?

As you might already know, our tongues have taste buds that detect the following tastes: Sweet, salty, bitter and sour.

The Japanese have always known this, but we also have a fifth set of taste buds for the taste of savory or umami. Umami comes from Japanese and means “pleasant savory taste”. Umami foods all have a warm, earthy, deeply satisfying taste.

Chemically, these foods all contain an amino acid called glutamate which provides the distinctive umami taste. The man-made imitation of this is a chemical called monosodium glutamate (MSG) which the food industry adds to Asian food, soups, chips etc. to enhance flavor and increase their appeal. Stock cubes like Maggi cubes also use this principle to add taste but again, at the cost of putting an artificial man-made chemical into your body with potentially toxic side-effects.

So here’s my solution: Leverage the power of naturally umami-rich foods to add big taste to your dishes which increases satisfaction and decreases cravings for sugar or salt.


As humans, we are hard-wired to love the taste of umami. Human breast milk is naturally rich in umami and babies already show a taste preference for sweet and umami-rich foods in their first months of life. It might also be a way of pointing us towards easy to digest protein-rich sources of food since umami is naturally found in proteins that have been partially broken down such as aged cheese, cured meats or soy sauce.

Adding more umami to your meals brings that taste that leaves us satisfied and without cravings after a meal. It can be particularly useful to add umami foods when you are cooking without cheese or meat or simply want to eat less cheese or meat (anybody feeling addicted to cheese in Switzerland?).

Foods naturally rich in umami include:

  1. Parmesan cheese & other aged cheese
  2. Grilled & cured meat
  3. Anchovies
  4. Ripe tomatoes, tomato paste and ketchup and sun-dried tomatoes
  5. Asparagus
  6. Mushrooms
  7. Nutritional yeast
  8. Olives
  9. Garlic
  10. Dried sea vegetables
  11. Marmite
  12. Balsamic vinegar
  13. Fermented foods like miso, tamari and sauerkraut
  14. Red wine
  15. Anything roasted or grilled - these preparation methods increase umami

Ways of boosting umami in your cooking:

  • Combine both red wine and balsamic vinegar in your favorite vinaigrette dressing. You can also add a splash of red wine vinegar to lentil stews just before serving - this really brings the taste to the next level!
  • Use soy or tamari sauce to add flavor and saltiness to soup, add taste to a meat or poultry marinade, or to vegetables.
  • Add blended dried tomatoes (you can buy them without the oil) to a stew or tomato sauce - this gives the tomato sauce an added depth.
  • Add mushroom to soups, stews and sauces.
  • Add fresh or dried seaweed to soups, stews and sauces.
  • Add nutritional yeast to anything - it is also a great source of B-vitamins and has a pleasant cheesy taste.
  • Add asparagus to an omelet or frittata.
  • Sprinkle grated Parmesan on top of dishes.
  • Add toasted nuts to a salad.
  • Use even small, barely noticeable amounts of garlic to add complexity and flavor to almost any dish.
  • Caramelize onions to really bring out their flavor and top dishes with them.
  • Roast or grill vegetables to bring out the taste such as in this recipe: www.healthwise.ch/yummy-root-veggies-step-by-step/
  • Make this Umami Sauce and keep it in the fridge for up to 2 weeks, adding it to anything from steamed vegetables to salads to whole grains. Nobody will be able to put their finger on what’s in the sauce but it will be a big hit!

Umami Dressing (original recipe from Dr Weil)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup water
3 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
1 cup nutritional yeast flakes
4-6 garlic cloves, pressed
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Put the vinegar, water, tamari (or soy) sauce, yeast flakes, and garlic in a blender or food processor and blend until well combined. Slowly add in the olive oil.

You can also prepare without a blender by simply combining all ingredients and shaking the jar well.

Keep in fridge for up to two weeks.  

You might already have noticed that foods like grated Parmesan really add dimension to a meal. With the concept of umami in mind, you can now do it more deliberately to keep cravings away by making meals that are truly satisfying!

Author's bio

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Hiba Giacoletto is a Certified Health Coach from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) with a Masters Degree in Psychology

Hiba helps people lose weight, feel more energetic or take control of their eating without diets or deprivation. She believes that no one way of eating or living works for everyone and that it is about experimenting to find what truly works for you. She uses a unique blend of NUTRITION + PSYCHOLOGY + COACHING to help people start trusting their body's wisdom to make food and lifestyle choices that enable them to look and feel their best. She is convinced that regardless of what you might have tried in the past, she can help you get unstuck, overcome self-sabotage behavior and find your mojo!

You can book a FREE 45 minute Health Chat via her website, www.healthwise.ch to find out whether Health Coaching is right for you.