01/18/2013 12:24 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

What Are Some Ways To Add Umami to Vegetarian Soups?

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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