Why umami and kokumi are fundamental to plant-based success

The plant-based revolution is rapidly gaining momentum nationwide, and the addition of umami and kokumi can help your company’s vegan and vegetarian products stand out. It all begins with taste!

Umami and kokumi can improve the taste characteristics of your plant-based products. In foods, it imparts fullness and impacts taste as well as provides roundness and complexity of flavor.


Umami is a taste characteristic naturally found in many savory foods. In a holistic way, umami is necessary in a wide range of foods and dishes in order to deliver balance and deliciousness. There is no English word synonymous with umami, with the closest related terms being savory, meaty and broth-like.

There are many ways to bring the taste of umami into vegan and vegetarian recipes and product formulas. Using foods that inherently contain high levels of glutamate (e.g., dried mushroom, tomato, fermented products like soy sauce, aged cheeses) is one way to add umami to a recipe. There are also ingredients that deliver the umami sensation. Monosodium Glutamate, MSG, the purest form of umami, and yeasts and yeast extracts are some ingredients that can deliver that much needed deliciousness to a plant-based recipe.


Kokumi is from the Japanese words for “rich” (koku) and “taste” (mi). While kokumi doesn’t impart a taste by itself, it functions by enhancing other tastes and aromas through a specific set of receptors on the tongue known as calcium-sensing receptors. Through these receptors, kokumi improves continuity, mouthfeel and body in vegan and vegetarian products.

Similar to umami, the concept of kokumi has always been around, but we didn’t have a name for it until Ajinomoto Researchers in Tokyo discovered what we now know are kokumi substances in the 1980’s. Within a garlic extract, two compounds were identified that deliver the rich taste we now know as kokumi: S-allyl-cysteine sulfoxide (alliin) and glutathione (γ-Glu-Cys-Gly). These compounds substantially enhance the continuity, mouth fullness, and thickness when added to plant-based applications. 

Umami and kokumi for sodium reduction

Consumers pay close attention to sodium content, which is rather high in many plant-based foods. One of the primary challenges in lowering sodium is that when salt is reduced in a plant-based recipe, the overall taste can become bland and unappetizing. Decades of scientific research has shown that the addition of umami, as well as kokumi, can help bring back richness, complexity and even the perception that there is more salt present in a reduced-salt system.


Umami and kokumi are essential for balanced flavor and satisfying taste in savory applications. Ajinomoto’s extensive portfolio of high-quality ingredients such as MSG, yeasts, and yeast extracts, can help deliver the depth and deliciousness of umami and kokumi tastes in most plant-based applications.

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