Tomatoes, A Umami Superstar – Tomato, Mushroom and Beef Stew

tomatobeefstew _#2By Sharon Palmer, RDN

Every time you bite into a ripe, juicy peach, or enjoy a spoonful of ice cream, your mouth is flooded with sweetness. This is because the fructose in the peach and the lactose in the ice cream–both different types of sugar–activate the sensory cells on your tongue responsible for registering that undeniably sweet flavor.

While taste–a sensory experience comprised of the perceived flavor from the tongue, as well as texture, smell, and temperature of the food–is still the #1 factor for Americans when making food choices, it is much more primal in purpose. The taste of bitter, for example, is associated with adverse reactions for a reason. Since many harmful compounds, including synthetic chemicals, rancid fats, and dangerous plants do taste bitter, this basic taste has been considered to be a defense mechanism against ingesting potential poisons.

But, aside from sweet, sour, salty, and bitter, there is so much more in the world of taste. There’s also umami. It’s the “fifth taste,” characterized by a savory flavor imparted by the amino acid, glutamate and other naturally occurring compounds found in meat, fish, dairy products, and vegetables. Dr. Kikunae Ikeda of Tokyo Imperial University discovered Umami early in the 20th century by extracting glutamate from kombu, or seaweed. Since then, other vegetables with naturally occurring umami due to the presence of glutamate have been uncovered, including tomatoes, mushrooms, soybeans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cabbage, and carrots. Tomatoes, in particular, with their ‘meaty’ flavor, glutamate-rich composition, and presence in many popular dishes play a leading role in offering umami in the Western world. In fact, the Umami Information Center, a nonprofit founded in 2007, gives tomatoes one of the top spots for providing umami in the United States.

Research has even been done on detecting different levels of glutamate in the flesh and pulp of tomatoes explaining way one part of the tomato may have a bolder umami flavor. But, you can go one step further and enhance the flavor of umami by adding a pinch of sugar to your tomato sauce and mimicking the ripening process. Some experts argue that by doing this and incorporating umami, such as ketchup in a meal, you are able to stimulate the palate and increase the desire for nutritious foods. So whether it’s for simply taste appeal or the desire to boost intake of other good-for-you foods, tomatoes– and their umami flavor–are so much more than what initially meets the tongue.

Tomato, Mushroom and Beef Stew

Calling upon umami flavors from tomatoes, mushrooms and beef, this hearty stew is sure to satisfy your palate.

Tomato Beef StewIngredients:

For Tomato Beef Stew:

1 lb. stew beef

1 onion, thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 large carrots, chopped

3 celery stalks, chopped

1 large Portobello mushroom, sliced

2 oz. shiitake mushrooms (about 6-8 mushrooms), sliced

4 oz. red wine

8 oz. tomato sauce

3 cups beef stock

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 tablespoon + 2 tablespoons cold water

Black pepper and salt, to taste

For Root Vegetable Topping: *optional

2 Yukon gold potatoes, thinly sliced

2 rutabagas, thinly sliced


Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

  1. In a large heavy bottomed ovenproof pot, heat 2 tablespoon of olive oil and brown beef on all sides. This may need to be done in 2 batches.  Once browned, remove from pot and set aside in a bowl.
  2. Add onions to pot and cook on medium until beginning to brown. Add garlic. Sauté for a few minutes before adding wine to deglaze. Remove onion and wine mixture to the same bowl as the beef.
  3. Add remaining tablespoon of olive oil to the pot and add carrots, mushrooms, and celery. Cook several minutes until slightly soft.
  4. Add tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and bowl of beef stock to the pot and bring to boil.
  5. Mix together flour and cold water in a small bowl. Add this to the boiling stew. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Cover the pot with lid and cook in the oven for 2 hours, stirring after 1 hour.
  7. After the 2 hours the stew is ready to be enjoyed.  *If adding the root vegetable topping, remove pot and increase oven temperature to 375 degrees. Lay the potato and rutabaga rounds on top of the stew, overlapping as necessary.
  8. Return pot to oven and cook for another 30-40 minutes until the root vegetables are cooked and soft. Broil for a few minutes if you would like a crunchier top.

Makes 6 servings

Nutrition Information per Serving

Calories: 458; Protein: 27 g; Fat: 23 g; Saturated Fat: 7 g; Carbohydrates: 34 g; Fiber: 8 g; Sugar: 14 g; Sodium: 791 mg

Sharon PalmerSharon Palmer, RDN, The Plant-Powered Dietitian™, is an award-winning food and nutrition expert, journalist, and editor. She is author of The Plant-Powered Diet: The Lifelong Eating Plan for Achieving Health, Beginning Today (The Experiment, 2012) andPlant-Powered for Life: Eat Your Way to Lasting Health with 52 Simple Steps & 125 Delicious Recipes (The Experiment, 2014). Over 850 of her articles have been published in national publications, includingPrevention, Better Homes and Gardens and Yoga Journal. Sharon also is editor of Environmental Nutrition, nutrition editor of Today’s Dietitian, blogger for The Plant-Powered Blog, and publisher of her monthly The Plant-Powered Newsletter. Her specific expertise is in plant-based nutrition, including flexitarian, vegetarian and vegan diets. She serves as the consultant dietitian for the Oldways Vegetarian Network, an editor for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetic’s website, and judge for the prestigious James Beard Foundation Journalism Awards. Sharon is regularly invited to speak on food and nutrition at a number of events across the country. She is passionate about sharing her enthusiasm for sustainable, delicious, healthy food. Living in the chaparral hills overlooking Los Angeles with her husband and two sons, Sharon enjoys visiting her local farmers market, gardening, and cooking for friends and family.