Balance Out Rich Umami Flavors In Your Meal With Bitter Greens

A relatively new flavor profile, umami can be described as savory, earthy, and a little salty, but not quite. Created by a Japanese chemist, the word is meant to describe something "delicious" that isn't categorized by the other four tastes, which are salty, sweet, sour, and bitter. The meatiness of pork belly ramen, mouth-watering savor of miso soup, earthiness of cream of mushroom soup — all these things are umami.

While umami is a flavor that people constantly chase after in food, an excessive amount of it can make a meal too rich. To balance it out, turn to one of the less-loved flavor profiles. Bitterness isn't the most popular taste, but it brings some much needed harmony to overly salty or umami dishes. Sometimes overwhelming on their own, bitter foods can temper umami's magnitude of flavor, making the whole meal more enjoyable.

Bitterness can be found in ginger, eggplant, sesame seeds, or chocolate. Some of these ingredients already have a classic umami pairing, such as eggplant and miso. But if you don't want to change up the recipes of your umami dishes, just try serving bitter greens like kale or radicchio alongside them.

Bitter and umami pairings you should try

Chances are, you've already come across some bitter and umami dishes in your life. Bacon-wrapped Brussels sprouts are a classic pairing that combines rich, salty flavor with the bitter greenness of the cabbage. At times, sweet maple syrup is added to the bacon, a complement to both umami and bitter flavors.

When grilling meat, place bitter greens like mustard greens or broccoli rabe next to it. These veggies pair well with barbecued pork chops or steak, and they also do a good job of taking on smoky, delicious flavors. Alternatively, you can enjoy your umami-rich meat dishes with a side salad of endive or dandelion greens, dressed with a sweet vinaigrette and bits of feta or blue cheese for another sprinkling of umami.

Adding bitter herbs can also be a way to balance umami flavor without making another dish. Celery leaves are a bitter herb that can be stir-fried with mushrooms or consumed in salty broth alongside the fungi. As another example, try seasoning meat or seafood with cilantro, parsley, or mint to curb the heavy flavor they pack.