Culinary Trends - Next-Level Flavor-Presented by Conagra Foodservice | March 2017



Sweet, salty, bitter, sour and... how do we explain the savory, rich taste of a perfectly seared steak, olives or fish sauce? The answer is umami, a term coined by Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda in 1908. Inspired by a curiosity about the complex flavor of dashi (broth), he was able to determine that the chemical composition of kombu (edible kelp) was the secret. Ikeda detected the presence of glutamic acid — an amino acid, one of the building blocks of protein — and found that other foods such as meat and tomatoes were high in it too.

Additional research revealed that umami came not just from glutamates (basic umami) but from ribonucleotides (synergizing umami), and dishes containing ingredients with both of these chemical compounds pack the most umami flavor. In this issue we'll break down the mysteries of umami with recipes, tips and techniques for showcasing the "fifth taste" on your menu.

Chef Tips

The essence of umami can be difficult to describe — but its presence on your menu will speak volumes. Amplify flavor by combining ingredients rich in both basic and synergizing umami, along with cooking methods that enhance the overall umami effect.

  • Many common Japanese ingredients are full of umami, including soy products, fish sauces, seaweed and shellfish.
  • To maximize umami, technique matters as much as the ingredients themselves.
  • Processes that break down proteins — such as searing, stewing and fermenting — produce more glutamates, developing umami.
  • Aged cheeses, sautéed mushrooms, braised meats and roasted tomatoes are especially rich in umami.
  • Make an impact even with small amounts of umami-rich ingredients: add ham to a lentil- or bean-based soup, mushrooms to a tomato sauce or a dash of soy sauce to dips and dressings.


Angela Mia® tomato products bring complex umami flavor to globally inspired sauces and dips.

Cremini, Thyme and Shallot Sauce

Cooked cremini mushrooms add depth of flavor to even more umami-rich ingredients, including Angela Mia® Spaghetti Sauce and Romano cheese.

Wild Mushroom Burgundy Sauce

Angela Mia® Marinara Sauce serves as the base of this rich sauce, enhanced with red wine and mushrooms.

Thai Salsa

The complex flavors of ginger, brown sugar, fish sauce and hot chilies combine with Angela Mia® Petite Diced Tomatoes for an umami-filled salsa, perfect with tortilla chips or fried wontons.

By the number

More familiar or common umami-rich ingredients are showing strong, consistent growth on restaurant menus, and specialty Asian ingredients are making an impressive impact.

  • 24% miso
  • 28% truffle
  • 32% roasted tomato
  • 80% fish sauce
  • 183% kombu

* Datassential MenuTrends, U.S. menu penetration growth 2012-2016


Quick Dish

While the concept of umami has actually been around for centuries, only recently has the term made its way to a wider American consumer audience. There has been significant growth of the word "umami" as a menu descriptor in recent years.

  • 280% growth of word "umami" on menus since 20121

* Datassential MenuTrends, U.S. menu penetration growth 2012-2016


Fast casual operations are feeding the consumer need for adventurous flavors in familiar dishes, playing up ingredients and techniques that emphasize mouth-watering umami.

  • Umami Burger has built an entire menu around the concept of umami. Its namesake burger features Parmesan frico, shiitake mushroom, roasted tomato, caramelized onions and umami ketchup.
  • The menu at Noodles & Company showcases a world of umami, including Alfredo Montamore with spaghetti, four-cheese blend Alfredo, roasted mushrooms, tomato, spinach and Parmesan chicken.
  • Austin-based Michi Ramen serves up an umami-filled Texas twist on ramen: smoked BBQ pork ribs, vinegar slaw, red onions, mayu oil, Texas toast, jalapeños, pickle spear and spicy BBQ sauce in a tomato tonkotsu broth.


Angela Mia® tomato products from Conagra Foodservice use only select 100% California vine-ripened tomatoes, packed fresh at the peak of the growing season. All Angela Mia® tomatoes are Non-GMO Project Verified. The result is homestyle sauces and flavorful diced, chopped, crushed and whole peeled tomatoes, full of flavor and perfect for creating umami-rich dishes.

Hannah Goldfield, "You Think You Know Umami," The New Yorker, March 2015.
Joan Lang, "Pump Up Umami," Flavor & The Menu, May 2012.
John McQuaid, "Secret Sauce," Slate, January 2015.
Natasha Geiling, "It's the Umami, Stupid. Why the Truth about MSG is So Easy to Swallow," Smithsonian Magazine, November 2013.
Umami Information Center,, accessed January 2017.