What Are Some Ways To Add Umami to Vegetarian Soups?

01/18/2013 12:24 pm ET | Updated Mar 19, 2013

This question originally appeared on Quora.
Answer by Kat Tanaka Okopnik, Gastrotourist Expedition Leader and Marshmallow Maven of

Oh, what a great question!

Are you using tomato paste in addition to tomatoes? That was actually my first thought.

My favorite non-meat umami sources are mushrooms and kombu (dried kelp).

What you're looking for is foods high in glutamates. (Yes, the major component of the "evil" MSG - Mono Sodium Glutamate. MSG is a way of adding concentrated umami to your food.) The list includes (in addition to tomatoes) mushrooms, kombu, cabbage, spinach...

I often forget how lovely leeks are as the base of a soup.

Pasta and/or beans can add to the mouthfeel.

My approach on any particular soup would depend greatly on what effect I wanted to approximate - a Japanese dashi, I'd be using a combination of shiitake and kombu; a beef stock, a mirepoix that's been carefully browned; a chicken stock, a less brown mirepoix.

A touch of tumeric can add a balancing note to a vegetarian soup that's otherwise too sweet.

You might be missing the gelatinous richness of a meat-based soup, in which case I'd consider finishing off with pistou, or simply a splash of olive oil or butter.

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