The 2 Umami-Rich Ingredients You Should Use For Your Meat Marinade

Marinades not only tenderize meat before cooking by breaking down muscle fibers; they also impart flavor by allowing seasonings to soak in. Every good marinade has a few key ingredients: an acid for that enzymatic breakdown of muscle fibers; an oil to form the body of the marinade and keep the meat moisturized; salt for seasoning; and spices, herbs, or sauces that will give your meat the flavoring you're craving. In some cases, though, you don't even need salt — not if the ingredients in the marinade already have all the sodium your dish needs. For marinades that include soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce, there's enough rich, umami-forward flavor and salt packed in already.

Soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce are two of the best ingredients for really infusing that savory flavor into your meat, whether it's beef, pork, or chicken — though they accentuate the flavors of steak particularly well. Just add a healthy dash of each to your next marinade if you want to up the umami and make those deep, meaty flavors shine.

How soy sauce and Worcestershire increase umami

Fostering that umami flavor in a marinade has everything to do with amino acids — specifically, glutamic acid. This is the compound that gives savory foods their distinct flavor. If you want an umami-filled dinner, you want to ensure that some of your marinade ingredients are high in this compound, as they do all of the heavy flavor lifting.

Soy sauce, in particular, has plenty of glutamic acid, along with 19 other amino acid varieties that are created as a result of the breakdown of soybean proteins during the soy sauce-making process. All of them work together to provide a complex, savory taste.

Worcestershire sauce is made of plenty of strong ingredients, such as malt vinegar and molasses, but anchovies are what really packs the umami punch. The briny, fishy, savory tang these little swimmers lend really adds a substantial depth of flavor to marinades.

More umami-rich ingredients for your next marinade

If soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce won't cut it, another way to kick up the umami flavor in a marinade is simply to use MSG. MSG, or monosodium glutamate, can be purchased at most grocery stores in the form of white granules you can sprinkle directly into or onto your food for flavoring. A pinch or two of MSG in your marinade will enhance all of the umami flavors in the mix and bring out the naturally savory flavor of the meat.

You can also use other fermented sauces or ingredients, such as miso paste or fish sauce, to punch up your marinade, as fermented foods tend to be high in umami flavor compounds. Just be careful when using a lot of sodium-heavy ingredients; you don't want to over-season your meat before cooking. Tasting a marinade for seasoning helps — but be sure to do so before adding in any raw meat, of course!