The Pantry Ingredient That Packs Vegetable Broth With Umami Flavor

Using vegetable broth instead of water to make your favorite soup or stew is a widely agreed-upon upgrade because it provides a more flavorful foundation for the rest of the ingredients. While it's customary to add powdered seasonings and dried herbs to build upon vegetable broth's underlying flavors, you can make a stronger impact with one single ingredient: dried mushrooms.

Mushrooms have long been touted for their powerful umami punch thanks to high levels of glutamate, one of the three main amino acids responsible for this flavor category. Dried mushrooms, however, have an extra strong umami taste, defined by the high presence of the amino acid guanylate. Just as drying chilies concentrates heat and flavor, drying mushrooms intensifies their meaty, earthy richness into a powerful umami agent.

As well as being a powerful flavor agent, dried mushrooms are a practical and multi-dimensional ingredient. Using them to flavor broth also rehydrates them to the original shape and similar texture of fresh mushrooms. You can thus recycle rehydrated mushrooms by making a compound butter with them, throwing them into a sauté, or even back into the same soup you used them to flavor. Dried mushrooms also have an exceptionally long shelf life, unlike fresh mushrooms which will start growing mold after a week to 10 days. They're readily available for purchase online or in specialty grocery stores in numerous varieties, from porcini to shiitake.

How to use dried mushrooms in broth

Using dried mushrooms in soup and broth is a straightforward process. There are two main methods. You can either add them directly to your vegetable broth or soup recipe or make a rich mushroom broth to use in conjunction with the vegetable broth or stock. You can just pick your favorite mushroom variety or make a blend of different dried mushrooms for more umami complexity.

If you choose to throw them in a pot of broth or soup like you would a cinnamon stick or rosemary sprig, make sure you wash them thoroughly first to remove any dirt debris. Once they've simmered with the broth and other ingredients, you remove them before serving. Another option is to add dried mushrooms to a seasoning sachet before placing it in simmering soup. This makes them easy to remove and catches any dirt debris that would otherwise drift into the broth during infusion.

Another excellent option is to make a pure mushroom broth by pouring boiling water over dried mushrooms to sit for around 15 minutes. Because dried mushrooms have such a concentrated umami flavor, you can make a rich mushroom broth with just one dried mushroom. The final step to making broth this way is to strain the liquid through cheesecloth to remove any dirt. You can then add your mushroom broth to vegetable broth at a ratio of one cup mushroom broth to four cups of vegetable broth.