Kitchn Love Letters

The $7 Pantry Staple That Elevates Any Soup You Make This Season

published Oct 19, 2023
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2 bowls of lentil soup
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

The word “umami” has become a buzzword for a lot of people who love cooking and eating, but its definition may feel a little hard to pin down. Umami is understood to be one of the five flavors we perceive when we taste something, alongside bitter, sweet, salty, and sour. It’s often defined as “savory” or “meaty,” which can cause an understandable *wince* in the vegetarian and vegan community. That elusive, delicious, supremely beguiling fifth taste lends itself to some of the best eating experiences out there, like the complex appeal of a shard of Parmesan or a heap of sautéed mushrooms, and we all want it, vegan or not!

Credit: Katie Workman

Yondu Vegetable Umami just might become your go-to add-in for umami, especially if you’re cooking vegan or vegetarian food. I often cook meatless meals, especially when I have vegetarian guests. When I first tried Yondu, I realized it might just be the secret ingredient I’ve been looking for to add depth of flavor to dishes without resorting to non-vegan ingredients like bacon, pecorino, or anchovies.

Credit: Katie Workman

What’s So Great About Yondu Vegetable Umami?

Yondu is an all-purpose vegetable umami sauce that adds depth and interest to soup, sauces, stews, braises, stir-fries — pretty much anything you’ve got on the stove. If you think of how fish sauce, soy sauce, or bouillon amp up flavor, you’ll understand the function of this plant-based ingredient. But while soy sauce and aminos can sometimes overpower other more delicate flavors, a judicious amount of Yondu lifts up the surrounding ingredients. 

It is a concentrated sauce, so do note that a little goes a long way. The sauce’s natural umami comes from its slow fermenting process of soybeans, mixed with stock made from organic vegetables, such as leeks, mushrooms and onions. Yondu is also AAPI-owned, gluten-free, non-GMO, USDA organic certified, and, of course, vegan.

Credit: Katie Workman

What’s the Best Way to Use Yondu Vegetable Umami?

Think of Yondu like a concentrated liquid vegetable bouillon. My favorite way to use it is in stir-fries. I dilute it with water, and substitute for soy sauce or vegetable broth in vegetable stir fried rice and yaki udon, where it just adds that extra oomph that brings the dish from tasty to “hey!”. Keeping it in the door of the fridge reminds me to reach for it often.

I also make a cold noodle salad with avocado oil, toasted sesame oil, Yondu, fresh ginger, scallions, cucumber, and Sriracha. This simple Asian noodle salad is a household favorite — crunchy, slurpy, salty, nutty, and spicy. Imagine having that in the fridge to fork into a bowl for a quick work-from-home lunch? Plus, you can add different things to it every day — leftover stir-fried broccoli, crispy tofu, or sautéed mushrooms, for instance — to keep changing it up.

I also like to add a splash to sautéed vegetables. I did a test run of sautéed shredded Brussels sprouts, finishing one batch with 1/2 cup of plain water to deglaze the pan, and another batch using 1/2 cup of water mixed with a couple of teaspoons of Yondu. The difference was very noticeable; the Yondu version boasted so much more umami flavor, plus a pleasing level of salt. All that with basically no extra work on my part.

Try diluting it a bit more (one to two teaspoons per cup of water) to use it as a base for vegetarian soups, like minestrone or vegetarian split pea soup instead of broth or water, or use it to cook any grains, like rice or farro. And while Yondu is vegan-friendly, it also works really well with meaty dishes, adding richness and depth in the same way that bouillon or concentrated stocks do. I would stir a bit into the water called for in goulash. You could swap Worcestershire sauce for Yondu in this one-skillet cheesy beef and macaroni or oven baked beef brisket and use it to bolster your turkey gravy.

I also love that it’s a liquid, so it instantly blends into water. No heating and stirring and mushing around needed. Because it’s pretty potent, it’s also pretty cost-effective — on Amazon, a 5.1-ounce bottle sells for $7, but it will last for a LONG time. It lasts around three months in my kitchen with weekly use. Larger sizes are also available, and there is a hot and spicy version for those looking for a little kick.

Buy: Yondu Vegetable Umami All-Purpose Savory Seasoning, $6.99 for 5.1 ounces at Amazon

What are some of your flavor-boosting pantry staples? Tell us about them in the comments below.