It’s hard to find the right words to describe umami. The science says the “certain something” comes from amino acids and nucleotides like aspartate, inosinate and glutamate…whatever those are. As one of the five basic tastes — sweet, salty, bitter and sour being the others — the word means “essence of deliciousness” in Japanese.

Resounding and rich, deep and intense, umami is the flavour we get from seaweed, soy sauce, parmesan cheese and… well, mushrooms.

Mushrooms are undeniably rich in umami flavour. On their own or blended with other ingredients like cream, beef or tomato sauce, mushrooms deliver a dark savouriness to a dish. In fact, they make a great substitute for meat due to their brawny character and buttery intensity.

“Mushrooms grow in damp places. That’s why they are shaped like an umbrella.” – Alphonse Allias


Button: White, easily-adaptable, mild in flavour, sturdy

Cremini: Brown, easily-adaptable, deeper flavour than button, dark and firm

Portobello: Large and dense, often used in Italian cooking, great for grilling and stuffing

Shiitake: Mild, woodsy flavour, dried shiitake mushrooms provide intense umami

Oyster: More expensive, smooth and cluster-shaped, delicate briny flavour

Porcini: Popular in Italy and France, aromatic and flavourful, great in pastas and risottos

Morel: Prized mushroom with distinguishing honeycomb cap, must be eaten cooked

Enoki: Snow puff, thin-stemmed with small, delicate white puffs, great raw

Chanterelle: Yellow and trumpet-shaped, peppery, great with rich butters and creams

Maitake: Hen of the woods, also called “dancing mushroom,” cluster-shaped, earthy and spicy


  • Do Select mushrooms that are firm to the touch.
  • Don’t choose mushrooms with damp-looking dark spots.
  • Do store your mushrooms in cool temperatures like the fridge, preferably in a brown paper bag.
  • Don’t salt your mushrooms too early in the cooking process. To avoid releasing too much liquid, add salt towards the end of the browning process.
  • Do cook them on medium-high heat for big flavour and crispy edges.
  • Don’t cut your mushrooms too small or thin. Mushrooms will shrink during the cooking process.

THE 101

Neither plant nor animal, mushrooms claim a kingdom all their own: fungi.

Humans share almost 50 per cent of their DNA with fungi, making mushrooms closer to humans than plants.

Move over Moby Dick! The largest living organism is a fungus, not a blue whale.

Existential crisis? Blame mushrooms. As key decomposers in our ecosystem, fungi are crucial to our existence.

Mushrooms are fat-free, cholesterol-free and rich in B vitamins.

Pineapple on pizza? Coke or Pepsi? Flames or Oilers? Wait, that’s not a debate.

The real question is whether you should rinse your mushrooms under water or leave as is. Mushrooms are prone to absorb any liquid they encounter, which is great when that liquid is garlic butter or olive oil, but not so great when that liquid is water. To preserve their taste and texture, professional chefs suggest gently brushing mushrooms with a pastry brush or wiping them with a soft, damp towel.