Secret  Cooking Tip 2: Homemade Umami Enhancer

Secret Cooking Tip 2: Homemade Umami Enhancer

Clockwise from the right: Katsuobushi (a.k.a. Bonito Flakes), dried fish, dried shrimps, Kombu (dried seaweed, or kelp), dried scallops; dried Shiitake mushrooms (middle).  What do these ingredients have in common? Bingo! They contain high level of L-glutamate (a.k.a. Glutamic acid), IMP (a.k.a. Inosinic acid), or GMP (a.k.a. guanylic acid), the three amino acids that form the natural Umami flavor. I know it’s all too convenient now to enrich flavor of a dish with MSG or similar products. Even though the debate over whether MSG is bad or not has been century long yet without concrete conclusions. I still prefer cooking with natural ingredients with lower sodium intake than artificial additives. With a little help from homemade Umami enhancer, you can also cook delicious meal in a healthy way. Before we start, one important thing to keep in mind is Umami flavors intensify largely when the above mentioned three amino acids are combined together. TIPS: That means Kombu or dried shiitake mushroom alone does add savory flavor to your dish, but if using two or more of these Umami-rich ingredients together, you will get Umami synergy, meaning the Umami flavors intensify and taste even better than just adding one single Umami-rich ingredient. Does creating a scrumptious dish with natural and healthy ingredients sounds interesting? Here is how.



  • Dried shiitake mushroom   25g
  • Kombu                                10g
  • Katsuobushi                          5g (optional, if not available)
  • *Dried fish                           20g
  • Rock sugar                            5g

*Dried fish can be replaced by dried shrimps or scallops alone or mix them together. The flavor may vary slightly due to your choice of dried ingredients.

*If you’re vegan or vegetarian, use only dried shiitake mushroom, Kombu and rock sugar.


  1. Gently clean Kombu with a soft brush. You may see some “white dust” covering surface of Kombu. TIPS: Do not try to remove it by scrubbing or rinsing with water. It is a natural sugar molecule called Mannitol with slight sweetness, the reason Kombu is such a Umami-rich ingredient. So never waste the natural flavor enhancer by removing it! If you trust the source of your ingredients, you can use them directly. Otherwise a quick rinse under water to clean dried fish (or shrimps/ scallops of your choice) and dried shiitake mushrooms.

    A good Kombu is rich in Mannitol. So the more Kombu is covered with this white powdery substance, the better the quality it is.
  2. Bake all ingredients in Oven with 100°C for 10 minutes.
  3. If you did rinse your ingredients, increase baking time until all the ingredients are completely dry.
  4. Grind all ingredients in a food processor until you get fine powder.
  5. Breaking all ingredients into small pieces before grinding helps the machine to grind evenly.

7. Store the Umami enhancer in sealed container. It is better to be consumed within 1 month.

How to Use:

  • Homemade Umami enhancer can be added into most of stir-frys, soup, porridge, where you wish to enrich the flavor of your food. Add a small amount right before you turn off heat, stir well then serve. Glutamic acid looses its flavor when being cooking above 120°C.
  • Food contains higher acidity (e.g. lean beef, mussels, prawns, sardines) or alkaline (e.g. beets, ginger, garlic) do not go well with glutamic acid, hence do not cook your homemade Umami enhancer with these ingredients.
  • Do not use in cold dish, such as salad. Umami does not work in too high or too low (lower than 80°C) temperature.
  • Do not add too much of Umami enhancer when cooking. Roughly no more than 1g of Umami powder for 250g of food.
  • When a dish is too salty, it’s not easy to taste its Umami flavor. Season with salt accordingly when you are also adding homemade Umami enhancer into your wok.
  • Do not use with ingredients naturally rich in Umami flavor, e.g. bamboo shoots, ripe tomatos, mushrooms, Chinese cabbage, eggs, meat or seafood, fermented products such as miso paste, soy sauce, fish sauce, shrimp paste, wine.

Good to Konw:

  • Umami, a Japanese word, represents a savory flavor of the 5th basic taste (the other four basic tastes are sourness, sweetness, bitterness, saltiness) identified by Japanese professor Kikunae Ikeda in 1908. He found out the substance from a Kombu soup his wife made for him. Umami itself is not super pleasant to taste, but it optimizes other food’s flavor, giving a mild, long-lasting aftertaste that detected not on our tongue but from the roof and back of our mouth and throat.  
  • Umami flavor intensifies when pairing with other ingredients rich in different kind of Umami compounds. For example, the classical chicken soup with dried shiitake mushroom; or Japanese “Dashi “broth that created by cooking Kombu and Katsuobushi flakes together, or scrumptious flavor of a stir-fry cooked with sprinkle of soy sauce and cooking wine. 
  • A master stock (more information about developing master stock see 滷(Lu), Braising, Chinese style )is also good source of abundant Umami compounds that can be used to enhance flavors of soup, sauce, to cook meat or vegetables. 

Traveling around the world, I’ve seen how those Chinese take out mislead people’s perception about Chinese food. Wok fried, heavy seasoned with soy sauce and MSG, cornstarch thickened at all time is not authentic Chinese cooking. Real Chinese cuisine is mastering selections of fresh ingredients, seasonings, various cooking methods to deliver genuine taste of food that wow your taste buds. I’m no Michelin chef but someone who knows how authentic Chinese cuisine should taste like. Welcome to my dinning table and enjoy the real Chinese food. Bon appétit!