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Chester County Press

Pass (On) The Salt

09/01/2023 02:58PM ● By Lori Harrison, VP Communications for American Mushroom

Sodium is an essential nutrient. It works in the body to regulate blood pressure and maintain fluid balance.  As critical a mineral as it is, excess sodium intake can increase blood pressure because it holds excess fluid in the body, putting extra strain on the heart and can contribute to increased incidence of heart disease and stroke.  

The vast majority of Americans exceed the recommended limit for sodium in the diet. An average American has 3,400 milligrams (mg) each day, nearly 50% more than the amount recommended by the American Heart Association and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  These and other public health organizations recommend limiting sodium intake to no more than 2,300 mg a day.  The limit is set even lower for the 70 million Americans with high blood pressure or risk factors for high blood pressure (over age 51, African American, diabetes, chronic kidney disease). Those at risk should have no more than 1,500 mg a day. 

According to Mushroom Council, excess sodium in the diet can add up very quickly.  However, despite popular belief, the saltshaker is not the culprit. In fact, only about 11% of sodium intake comes from salt added to foods while cooking or at the table. Instead, the majority of sodium in the American diet comes from processed, packaged, and prepared foods, in addition to meals eaten away from home. This makes it difficult to control how much sodium is consumed. 

Mushrooms can be a great substitute for salt in dishes, offering various health benefits and adding a rich umami flavor to culinary creations. 

Umami is a taste sensation that is often described as savory, meaty, or brothy. It is recognized as the fifth basic taste, alongside sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. The term "umami" was coined by a Japanese chemist named Kikunae Ikeda in 1908 and is derived from the Japanese word meaning "deliciousness" or "pleasant savory taste." 

The history of umami dates back even further. Although the concept of umami was officially identified in the early 20th century, the taste itself has been appreciated and sought after in various cultures for centuries. The unique taste associated with umami can be found in many traditional dishes and ingredients from different parts of the world.

One of the earliest examples of umami-rich ingredients can be traced back to ancient Rome and its use of fermented fish sauces like garum. These sauces, made from fermented fish or shellfish, provided a strong savory taste that contributed to the overall flavor of Roman cuisine.

Today, mushrooms are renowned for their umami-rich properties. Varieties like shiitake, oyster, and porcini are particularly prized for their savory taste and are utilized in numerous dishes, including stir-fries, risottos, soups, and sauces.

Other umami-rich foods include: 

  • Parmesan Cheese: Aged Parmesan cheese is highly prized for its intense umami flavor. Grated or shaved Parmesan can be sprinkled over pasta, salads, or roasted vegetables to enhance their taste.
  • Soy Sauce: Soy sauce, a staple in many Asian cuisines, is a fermented product that provides a potent umami kick. It is commonly used in stir-fries, marinades, dipping sauces, and soups to add a savory dimension.
  • Fish Sauce: Fish sauce, prevalent in Southeast Asian cuisine, is made from fermented fish or shellfish. It is used as a seasoning to intensify umami flavors in dishes such as curries, noodle soups, and stir-fries.
  • Miso Paste: Miso, a traditional Japanese seasoning made from fermented soybeans, contributes a robust umami taste. It is often used to make miso soup, marinades, glazes, and dressings.
  • Anchovies: These small, oily fish are packed with umami. Anchovies, whether used in whole or paste form, are frequently employed to enhance the savory notes in pasta sauces, Caesar dressings, and Mediterranean dishes.
  • Fermented Foods: Fermented products such as kimchi, sauerkraut, and certain pickles possess umami flavors resulting from the fermentation process. They can be enjoyed as condiments, side dishes, or ingredients in various recipes.


How can you incorporate mushrooms into your dishes? 

  • Soups and Stocks: When preparing soups, broths, or stocks, mushrooms can be used to impart depth and enhance the umami taste. Adding sliced or diced mushrooms to simmering liquids will release their flavors and create a robust base without relying on excessive salt.
  • Sauces and Gravies: Mushrooms can be sautéed or finely chopped and added to sauces and gravies to provide a savory punch. They contribute a natural richness that reduces the need for added salt in these preparations.
  • Seasoning Blends: Dried mushrooms can be ground into a fine powder and used as a seasoning in spice blends. Mixing mushroom powder with herbs and spices can elevate the overall taste profile, making it a healthier alternative to salt-based seasonings.
  • Stir-fries and Sautéed Dishes: Incorporating mushrooms, such as shiitake, oyster, or portobello, into stir fries and sautéed dishes can bring a delightful umami flavor. The mushrooms' natural savoriness enhances the overall taste, allowing you to reduce the amount of salt typically used in these dishes.

American Mushroom, headquartered in Avondale, is a national voluntary trade association representing the growers, processors, and marketers of cultivated mushrooms across the United States and industry suppliers worldwide. For more information, visit