Umami powder is a versatile seasoning that adds a rich, savory flavor to dishes. It's made by concentrating and drying ingredients that are naturally high in glutamates like mushrooms, seaweed, anchovies, and cheeses.
If you don't have any umami powder on hand or want to avoid it, there are several excellent substitutes you can use instead. Many of these alternatives will likely already be in your pantry.
What Is Umami Powder?
Umami is considered the fifth basic taste, along with sweet, salty, bitter and sour. The word originates from Japanese and translates to "pleasant, savory taste."
Chemically speaking, umami flavor comes from glutamate, which is an amino acid found abundantly in certain foods. When we eat these glutamate-rich foods, our tastebuds sense the umami flavor.
Umami powder is made by concentrating and drying ingredients that are naturally high in glutamates. Some common examples include:
- Dried shiitake mushrooms
- Kombu seaweed
- Bonito flakes (dried tuna)
- Cheese powders like parmesan
- Dried anchovies
- Nutritional yeast
This produces a fine, powdery seasoning that packs an intense umami punch. Just a sprinkle can make dishes taste richer, deeper, and more savory.
Key Takeaway: Umami powder is a seasoning made from dried, umami-rich ingredients like mushrooms, seaweed, fish, and cheese. It adds a concentrated burst of savory flavor.
Why Use an Umami Powder Substitute?
There are a few reasons you may want to use a substitute for umami powder:
Dietary restrictions - Umami powder often contains fish ingredients or dairy, which don't work for vegan, dairy-free, or pescatarian diets. An umami substitute lets you still get that savory flavor.
Don't have it on hand - Umami powder isn't a staple seasoning that most home cooks keep stocked. Substitutes let you mimic that savory depth when you don't have umami powder available.
Want a homemade option - Store-bought umami powder contains additives and anti-caking agents. Substituting with single-ingredient options allows you to control exactly what goes into your food.
Reduce salt intake - Some umami powder substitutes let you boost flavor without adding more salt to your diet. This is helpful for people monitoring their sodium consumption.
Cost savings - Umami powder is expensive compared to basic pantry items. Using an alternative is budget-friendly.
Customize the flavor - Substitutes like mushroom powder or nutritional yeast provide their own unique flavor on top of the umami boost. This lets you tweak the overall taste.
Key Takeaway: Common reasons for substituting umami powder include dietary restrictions, not having it on hand, wanting a homemade option, reducing sodium, saving money, or customizing the flavor.
How To Use Umami Powder in Cooking
Umami powder is versatile and can be added to a wide variety of savory recipes. Here are some of the most popular ways to use it:
- Soups and stews - Sprinkle umami powder into the broth or base. It will amplify the flavor of the other ingredients.
- Sauces and gravies - Add umami powder to pan sauces, pasta sauce, or gravy for extra richness.
- Meats - Rub umami powder directly onto proteins before cooking. Try beef, lamb, chicken, turkey, pork, or fish.
- Vegetables - Toss veggies with a bit of oil and umami powder before roasting or sautéing.
- Rice or grains - Stir umami powder into rice pilafs, risottos, farro or quinoa for a savory flavor boost.
- Snack foods - Umami powder is amazing on fries, chips, popcorn or roasted nuts.
- Eggs - Add to scrambled eggs, omelets or frittatas.
- Salad dressings - Whisk a pinch into vinaigrettes, creamy dressings, or marinades.
When using umami powder, remember that a little goes a long way. Start with just a small amount sprinkled over your dish, then taste and add more if needed. Too much can make food taste overly salty or unpleasant.
Key Takeaway: Umami powder can be used in soups, sauces, with meats, veggies, grains, eggs, dressings, and more. Start with a small amount and add more to taste.
10 Delicious Substitutes for Umami Powder
If you don't have any umami powder, don't worry! There are many everyday ingredients that can mimic the same savory, mouthwatering flavor.
1. Mushroom Powder
Dehydrating mushrooms into a fine powder concentrates their natural glutamates, making this a perfect umami powder substitute. Shiitake and porcini mushrooms work particularly well.
Make your own by pulverizing dried mushrooms in a blender or food processor. Store-bought mushroom powder is also widely available. Use it anywhere you would use umami powder.
2. Nutritional Yeast
Nutritional yeast is made by culturing yeast cells, then harvesting and drying the cells into powder or flakes. It has a nutty, cheesy, umami flavor profile.
Sprinkle on pasta, pizza, vegetables, popcorn, or anywhere you want a savory boost. Use slightly less than the amount of umami powder called for since nutritional yeast also provides its own flavor.
3. Tomato Powder
Made from dehydrated tomatoes, tomato powder is packed with natural glutamates. It provides umami flavor along with subtle sweetness.
Use it to add depth and color to sauces, soups, stews, dressings, meat rubs, casseroles, pastas, rice dishes and more. Replace umami powder in a 1:1 ratio.
4. Parmesan Cheese
The aging process of parmesan cheese increases its glutamate content, giving it a potent umami kick. The longer it's aged, the more umami flavor it will have.
Grate parmesan finely and use it anywhere you want a savory boost. It's excellent in pastas, salads, eggs, roasted vegetables and more.
Dried seaweed like kombu, nori, or wakame is loaded with natural glutamates. Add strips of rehydrated seaweed to simmering dishes for an umami infusion. You can also grind seaweed sheets into a powder using a blender or spice grinder.
These tiny fish are packed with savory glutamate goodness. Use anchovy paste or minced anchovies to add instant umami flavor to sauces, stews, dressings, pasta dishes and more. A little goes a long way.
7. Marmite or Vegemite
Both Marmite and Vegemite are made from yeast extract, which is naturally high in umami components. Use small amounts of either spread to add meaty richness to soups, stews, sautés, gravies and dressings.
8. Miso Paste
Made from fermented soybeans, miso paste has a concentrated umami flavor. Whisk a bit into dressings, marinades, broths, glazes or anywhere you want savory depth. White miso is milder, while red miso has a deeper, earthier flavor.
9. Fish Sauce
The prolonged fermentation process used to produce fish sauce gives it a powerful hit of umami. Add drops into soups, sauces, stir fries, dressings and more for instant savoriness.
10. Bouillon Powder or Cubes
Bouillon is made by simmering vegetables, meat or fish until flavorful, then concentrating the liquid. Many bouillon cubes and powders contain MSG. Use small amounts of bouillon powder anywhere you'd use umami seasoning.
Key Takeaway: Excellent substitutes for umami powder include mushroom powder, nutritional yeast, tomato powder, parmesan, seaweed, anchovies, Marmite/Vegemite, miso, fish sauce and bouillon.
What's the difference between umami powder and MSG?
MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is the sodium salt of glutamic acid. It's a manufactured flavor enhancer that contains free glutamates.
Umami powder gets its savory flavor from ingredients that naturally contain glutamates, like dried mushrooms and cheese. Many umami powders are MSG-free.
However, some brands do add MSG or hydrolyzed protein powder to their blends, so check the ingredients. Both MSG and natural umami powders will enhance other flavors in food.
Is umami powder good for you?
In moderation, umami powder can be part of a healthy diet. The ingredients are natural sources of glutamates like vegetables, seaweed, fish and cheese.
Some benefits of ingredients like mushrooms and tomatoes include:
- Rich in antioxidants
- Provide vitamins like A, C, and B-complex
- Contain important minerals like potassium, magnesium and selenium
- High fiber content from mushrooms
- Anti-inflammatory effects
However, anyone monitoring their sodium intake should use umami powder and substitutes sparingly since they are very salty.
What recipes use umami powder?
Umami powder works well in any savory recipes that could benefit from a flavor boost. Some dishes that are especially complemented by umami seasoning include:
- Soups - miso soup, tomato soup, mushroom soup, chicken noodle soup
- Stews & chilis - beef stew, chicken stew, veggie chili
- Sauces - pasta sauce, pizza sauce, marinara, gravy
- Meat dishes - burgers, meatloaf, ribs, roasts
- Seafood - fish fillets, shrimp, mussels, clams
- Vegetables - roasted, sautéed, grilled or steamed veggies
- Rice - fried rice, risotto, pilafs
- Snack foods - popcorn, fries, chips, nuts
Can I make umami powder at home?
Absolutely! Making DIY umami powder is simple. Here are two easy methods:
Option 1 - Mushroom powder
- Dried shiitake mushrooms
- Food processor or blender
Instructions: Break mushrooms into smaller pieces, remove any grit, and process into a fine powder. Store in an airtight container.
Option 2 - Mixed powder
- 1 oz Parmesan cheese
- 1 oz tomato powder
- 1 oz dried wakame seaweed flakes
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp onion powder
Instructions: Add all ingredients to a food processor and blend into a fine powder. Transfer to an airtight container and store.
How should you store umami powder?
Like any dried herb or spice, umami powder stays freshest when stored in an airtight container away from heat, light, and moisture. Keep it in a cool, dark place like the pantry or cupboard.
Unopened, it will stay fresh for about 1 year. After opening, try to use within 6 months. Over time, it may lose potency as the flavors degrade. Storing in the refrigerator or freezer can help prolong shelf life slightly.
Umami powder is an easy way to add savory richness to all kinds of dishes. With the help of these pantry-friendly umami powder substitutes, you can still achieve that mouthwatering flavor even without the specialty seasoning on hand.
Many of the substitutes like mushrooms, yeast, tomatoes and Parmesan cheese provide their own complementary flavors in addition to natural glutamates. Adjust amounts based on your taste preferences and dietary needs.