Can I eat umami without raising my blood pressure?
February 10, 2011 10:57 AM   Subscribe

Is the umami flavor, although distinctly different, intrinsically tied to saltiness?

I love umami flavor, but as I've fairly recently been restricted to a low sodium diet due to high blood pressue I've been unable to find recipes for umami dishes that aren't loaded with sodium.

Now I know the umami flavor is distinct from saltiness, but previous to my condition I've always taken it for granted that umami food were generally also loaded with salt (if you're curious, take a look at "low sodium" soy sauce -- it's only low sodium compared to "standard" soy sauce, but it's very far from being a low sodium food).

So.. is there hope for me? What I can I cook that is loaded with the umami flavor that I like but not loaded with the sodium that I can't have?
posted by analogue to Food & Drink (18 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Parmesan cheese has a strong umami flavor, so you can look at using it in recipes.
posted by monkeymadness at 11:02 AM on February 10, 2011

Veal stock directions.
posted by jsturgill at 11:03 AM on February 10, 2011

Straight-up monosodium glutamate (or monopotassium glutamate if you can find it). MSG had a bad reputation but seems to be harmless for most people.
posted by exogenous at 11:10 AM on February 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Truffle Oil has a very umami flavor and is generally low or no sodium.
posted by doctor_negative at 11:11 AM on February 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Actually, umami flavors are a serious candidate in product reformulation to maintain saltiness while reducing sodium content (trade article). Other food manufacturers are looking at different kinds of sea salt (another trade article) which give a greater sesnation of salty flavor relative to their sodium content. There is also talk about plant substitutes (another).

I don't have any recipes to give straight-out, but there are some key words and such in each of those articles, as well as citations for the full (peer-reviewed) articles they summarize.
posted by whatzit at 11:15 AM on February 10, 2011

Also Worcestshire Sauce and mushrooms.
posted by Hylas at 11:25 AM on February 10, 2011

Lots of vegetables have umami. Shitake mushrooms have it. Here is some delicious-sounding shitake and kombu butter, both of which have umami. (I just realized the kombu will have a lot of sodium, so I'd replace it with sodium-free nori instead, or just up the shitake amounts if you aren't a fan of seaweed.) You can then cook with the butter. That author likes to use it in his Sous-vide cooking. Also, artichokes have umami. I'd steam some up and eat them with plain melted butter. Or here is an artichoke-tomato soup (both of which have umami) Also, truffles are full of umami. I seem to be on a butter-kick here, but my last recommendation is to find or make unsalted truffle butter. Semi-expensive, but it's umami-heaven, and you can put a little bit on vegetables or anything else you can think of. Or you can get a bottle of truffle oil (which is basically truffle-free and synthetically-laden, in case that matters) and use it on all kinds of things. Artificial, but delicious, and umami-central. I don't know if butter is within the realm of your eating restrictions, but my main point is that there are a bunch of vegetables which are considered to have umami (artichokes, tomatoes, mushrooms, asparagus, etc.) So does buckwheat. Try sodium-free buckwheat/wheat soba noodles. Here is a recipe for buckwheat cakes that seem tasty as a sweet umami meal. Good luck. It seems like there are some options out there for you.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 11:49 AM on February 10, 2011 [7 favorites]

Parmesan is pretty high in sodium.
posted by rtha at 11:58 AM on February 10, 2011

Nutritional Yeast?
posted by lalalana at 12:27 PM on February 10, 2011

Seconding nutritional yeast. It is delicious and addictive, and 5mg per serving if that is still within your range. Same with the soba noodles I linked to above-- not completely sodium-free.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 12:35 PM on February 10, 2011

I hear you, umami is probably my favorite flavor group.

Ramen, man. Ramen. My wife and i often make ramen at home (at least twice or three times a month), and omit the soy sauce with regularity, and we don't really cook with salt, just finish with it. I can't think of a dish that represents Umami more than a bowl of ramen. We've sort of adapted our 'house ramen' dish loosely on Momofuku's recepie, omitting a couple things for simplicity and cost's sake. I'm sure it's a total bastardization of true ramen, but it's delicious nonetheless.

Furnace Family broth goes as follows:
2-3lbs Pork Neck bones
bones/sundries from 1 chicken
4 carrots
2 stalks celery
2 whole onions
1 "leaf" dashi-kombu (when we have it, it's optional)
2 dried shitakes

Fill the biggest stock pot you have with water until the ingredients are just barely covered. Never boil, only simmer for 2-4 hours or so. This might be sacrilege or something, but i usually reduce the broth by about 10% to concentrate the flavor after i've strained it. This broth is HEAVEN. Doesn't need any salt, but it's really flavorful (especially after you reduce it)

For each bowl we add just about any combo of the following:
-fresh noodles (i'm not sure the sodium content here, unfortunately)
-pork belly (cook it at 450 for about 30 minutes, fat side down and flip it and lower the temp to 225-250 for another 2 hours.
-a poached or soft boiled egg
-strips of nori
-pulled chicken
-shiitake mushrooms
-if we're feeling it, kimchee

Also, if you're feeling particularly adventurous, I highly recommend skewering some duck hearts with shiitakes, coating them with sesame oil. Grill that action in the summer and proceed to freak out.
posted by furnace.heart at 12:38 PM on February 10, 2011 [10 favorites]

Just for reference: one single piece of kombu (about 4-6 inches long, and enough for about 4 cups of broth) will have about 52g of sodium.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 1:11 PM on February 10, 2011

52mg, rather!
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 1:13 PM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Any protein that's been broken apart into individual amino acids, including hydrolyzed or autolyzed yeast extract and soy protein extract, will contain glutamates, since glutamic acid is found in most proteins. Some processed flavor enhancers are labeled as being "very low" in sodium, which is very different from merely being "low sodium", as in the low sodium soy sauce you've looked at. One version of very low sodium bouillon concentrate contains monoammonium glutamate and autolyzed yeast instead of monosodium glutamate, and there's a very low sodium "natural seasoning" that's based on yeast, kelp, and some unspecified vegetable protein. These will probably taste more acceptable after you haven't been eating the high sodium version for a while.
posted by Ery at 1:18 PM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks.. Truffle oil and soba noodles tonight! Amazing!! I ordered some of that nutritional yeast to try it out, I've never had it before so I can't mark as best answer yet :) Thanks for the suggestions.

FWIW Parmesan cheese and Worcestshire sauce are very high in sodium.
posted by analogue at 7:30 PM on February 10, 2011

Green tea is considered to be strongly umami-tasting and contains no salt and little sodium.
posted by Eater at 7:40 PM on February 10, 2011

Eater: Yeah, I've been actually drinking a lot of green tea, but I was looking for something I could eat not drink :)
posted by analogue at 7:43 AM on February 11, 2011

A friend of mine makes a simple but delicious green tea and tofu dish for dinner parties. He rolls tofu rectangles in a mixture of green tea, chili flakes and lemon zest, and bakes them.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 10:03 AM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

« Older How to protect a startup idea   |   Philly Hotels in City Center? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.