Preserved Lemons Are The Vegan Way To Get An Umami Flavor Boost

Salty, sweet, sour, and bitter are easy tastes to identify. But the fifth one, umami, is a bit more difficult to describe. It's usually defined as savory and sometimes meaty. And for that reason, umami is often associated with such foods as beef, anchovies, and cheese. None of these are part of a vegan diet, of course, so chefs need to be a bit more creative when it comes to amping up the umami in vegan dishes, and preserved lemons offer one way to get that boost.

Popular vegan sources of umami are fermented items, such as soy sauce and miso. Then, of course, there are mushrooms, which can be used in a number of ways to enrich a meal. Roasted mushrooms add some meatiness as do powdered mushrooms as well. Olives and sun-dried tomatoes are other great umami boosters. But preserved lemons can pack an impressive punch, too. While fresh lemons will provide a nice hit of acid to any recipe, preserved lemons offer even more in terms of flavor.

Preserved lemons are savory and citrusy

The preservation process transforms the taste of the lemons somewhat. They still have a distinct citrus taste, but it's tamer. Preserved lemons have a more savory edge to them as well. And since the lemons are preserved in salt, there's a great salinity to them. Although some recipes call for using just the peel, another great benefit of using preserved lemons is that the whole fruit can be used. Even the brine from the jar is a great flavor tool, giving a bit of lift to your dish as well. Remember to use the brine sparingly, though, as it's pretty powerful.

Preserved lemons are a staple in North African cuisine, where they are featured in tagines and stews, but that's only the beginning. Preserved lemons work wonders in a vinaigrette, and they add dimension to grain- and legume-based salads. They also provide umami to vegan soups and curries. Don't be hesitant to use them in condiments too, such as chutneys and gremolata. As far as drinks go, Alton Brown uses preserved lemons to make lemonade, and you can try them in place of fresh fruit in cocktails.