The Chef-Approved Mushroom Trick For Quick-Boosting Umami Sauces

Sometimes, you just can't get enough umami. If that statement applies to you, then you may want to try some ingredient hacks to amplify the natural umami taste in a simple tomato sauce or other dishes. But first, it helps to understand a few basics. Umami is that savory taste often associated with Asian cuisines, since soy sauce, kimchi, and miso are among the best known umami-forward foods.

Tokyo University chemist Kikunae Ikeda first described this particular taste as umami around 1908. Even then, it took a while for umami to go mainstream and to be considered as a primary taste along with salty, sweet, sour, and bitter. Taste is different from flavor, which describes the whole eating experience, including texture and aroma.

Tomatoes are a well known source of umami goodness, due to their high levels of glutamate. Foods containing this amino acid are typically considered umami already, but aging, fermenting, or slow cooking these foods further amplifies the flavor. This also helps explain why so many people enjoy a little Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top of their pizza or marinara sauce, since aged cheese also has a strong umami taste. If you prefer to keep salt and calories lower, however, another common ingredient can also enhance the umami in sauces and other dishes — and chances are you may already have it in your refrigerator.

Broiled mushrooms bring the goods

Mushrooms are also associated with umami, which is why adding them to things like tomato sauce is a great way to add intensity of flavor and a boost of nutrition to boot. This trick is a favorite of chef Chris Martin, according to Insider. He simply quarters, oils, and salts some button mushrooms before broiling them until golden and adding them to jarred tomato sauce. Broiling is key here since it enhances the flavor but doesn't result in excess liquid. "You won't be adding water to the sauce, just pure mushroom-flavored goodness," Martin explained.

As with other primary tastes, preferences vary, and if your dish is too umami, you may not like it — just like when you make a dish that is too salty, sweet, bitter, or sour. For best results, consider serving your umami-rich tomato sauce with a simple pasta that's lower on the salt and cheese. Or if you're more in the mood for a mushroom pizza topped with Parmesan, consider serving it with a fresh salad. For more ideas on how to include umami in your cooking, try playing with ingredients and techniques, like browning your favorite vegetables and proteins.