Umami-Packed Vegetarian Broth – Recipe (Also Vegan)

Vegetarian Umami Broth Prep
Mise en Place for Umami-Packed Vegetarian Broth

I've been doing a lot of reading about modern methods for making stocks and broths lately. Modernist Cuisine has a detailed chapter devoted to producing them using both sous vide and pressure cooker methods. Dave Arnold at the French Culinary institute has written several great posts on the subject, and made me doubt my own pressure cooker. Alex and Aki's Ideas In Food book talks about making microstocks in the pressure cooker, allowing them to highlight the flavor of a single ingredient. 

While I love the microstock idea, my goal for today's recipe was to create a more general purpose broth that you could use in a variety of contexts where you want a serious umami wallop. Umami, of course, is that famed fifth flavor, sensed by receptors that look for glutamate and various ribonucleotides – basically indicators that a food contains protein. It isn't so surprising that we'd be wired to like protein, right? 

I want to pack so much umami into this broth that you have one sip and feel your eyes roll back in your head involuntarily. I want to evoke a guttural groan, and in my small sample of testers, that is exactly what has happened.

Let me back up a step to note what a good vegetable stock is not. Some folks are under the misimpression that you make stock by saving all the leftover bits of onion skin, trimmed half moldy bits of carrot and generally any other dross that they might feel guilty about tossing in the compost bin, and boiling them until they die a second death. This is a very bad idea, unless you like to start your soups and sauces with a watery, bitter, insipid, poorly balanced liquid. In which case I guess it is an excellent idea.

The vegetarian ingredients best known for high concentrations of glutamates are tomatoes, dried shiitake mushrooms, marmite, kombu seaweed, and parmesan cheese. I decided to include the first four, but omit the parmesan to keep this broth vegan. The challenge was to find a balance of these ingredients that wouldn't allow any one to dominate. I didn't want to taste it and say "wow, nice mushroom broth" or "mmmm, dashi". 

Heston Blumenthal, in The Fat Duck Cookbook, mentions some research that shows that compounds in star anise, when cooked with the sulfur present in onions and other alliums, releases a host of new flavor chemicals that enhance umami flavors, so I added that as well. I've started doing that just about anytime I caramelize onions and have been impressed with the results. 

If you would like to make this broth crystal clear, then you can use Dave Arnold's stupid-simple agar clarification. This would be the way to go if you'd like to serve it as a consomme or for something like ravioli en brodo. It can be used as-is as the basis of a rustic soup (French onion soup would be killer), you can cook grains in it, or use it to add background complexity to a sauce. I haven't tried it but I think it would be outrageous for flavoring the masa in tamales.

Have you ever wondered about the difference between stock and broth? Modernist Cuisine explains this well. A stock is a base ingredient, left relatively unseasoned because you may well want to reduce (concentrate) it in the process of making a sauce. If it were fully seasoned, it would become too salty. A broth, on the other hand, is a plain but fully finished and seasoned soup that can be eaten just as it is.

Today's recipe is for a broth, but it is also eminently usable as a stock if you cut the salt down to 5 grams. You can then reduce the stock by 50% to concentrate the flavors, either beforehand or in the process of making a pan sauce.

Umami-Packed Vegetarian Broth
Yields about 1 liter (4 1/4 cups)
Vegetarian and vegan, gluten-free depending on your opinion of Marmite

  • 42 grams (1/4 cup) vegetable oil
  • 290 grams (2 cups) finely diced onion
  • 200 grams (1 cup) thin half moons of carrot
  • 50 grams (1/3 cup) diced celery
  • 13 grams (about 2 cloves) minced garlic
  • 1.5 grams (1 star) star anise, broken into pieces
  • 10 grams (1 1/4 teaspoon if using Diamond Crystal, less for other brands) Kosher salt
  • 0.23 grams (6 peppercorns) whole black peppercorn
  • 0.2 grams (1 leaf) bay leaf
  • 30 grams (2 tablespoons) dry vermouth
  • 30 grams (1 tablespoon) tomato paste
  • 13 grams (2 teaspoons) Marmite – if you need gluten-free broth, do some research or omit
  • 10 grams (1 small handful) parsley leaves and stems
  • 2 grams (about 10 stems) fresh chives
  • 1.5 grams (1 small sprig) fresh rosemary
  • 45 grams (about 3 cups) dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 13 grams (1 small piece) kombu
  • 1500 grams (6 1/3 cups) water
  1. If using an electric pressure cooker, set it to "saute". If using a stovetop model, place the base over medium high heat. When it is preheated, add the oil, and when the oil is shimmering, add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, star anise and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is well browned, about 10 minutes.
  2. Stir in the peppercorns and bay leaf. Deglaze the pan with the vermouth. Stir in the tomato paste and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until it has started to brown as well, about 5 more minutes.
  3. Stir in the marmite, parsley, chives, rosemary, shiitake mushrooms and kombu. Add the water and stir again. Cover and cook at high pressure for 20 minutes. Allow pressure to release naturally.
  4. Strain the broth, pressing down on the vegetables to release as much liquid as possible. Then strain again through a very fine meshed sieve, and then through a triple layer of cheesecloth if desired. Taste and adjust seasoning. It will likely need a bit more salt.
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Posted by Michael Natkin on Monday, September 12th, 2011 in Experiments, Favorites, Gluten-Free or modifiable, Recipes, Soups, Vegan or Modifiable.

63 Responses to “Umami-Packed Vegetarian Broth – Recipe (Also Vegan)”

  1. John
    September 13, 2011 at 5:32 am #

    You had me right up to the star anise. For those of us who have had enough anise/licorice/fennel flavor for a whole lifetime, it’d be really nice if there were a substitute.

  2. Michael Natkin
    September 13, 2011 at 8:35 am #

    Ok, so I knew some folks would have that concern so I should have addressed it in more detail. When that reaction between the anisole and anisidine in the star anise and the sulfur in the onions occurs, it totally changes the flavor of the star anise, to the point where there is barely a whisper of typical anise flavor in the resulting broth. I fed it to a confirmed anise/licorice hater and she was drinking the broth down as fast as I could pour! As far as I've been able to determine, there isn't a substitute, and you can certainly omit it, but I think you should give it a shot, the transformation is pretty amazing.

  3. Sandra
    September 13, 2011 at 1:41 pm #

    Hi, I don’t have a pressure cooker. Can I still make this? If so, how? This sounds amazing and I’d be really bummed if I couldn’t give it a try.

  4. Michael Natkin
    September 13, 2011 at 1:43 pm #

    Hey Sandra – Great question. Yes, you can definitely do this without the pressure cooker. At the stage where you would bring it to high pressure, instead bring it to a covered simmer, and cook for about 45 minutes instead of 20. You won't get the same level of flavor extraction, and you'll lose some flavor to the air that would otherwise remain trapped in the pressure cooker, but it will still be damn good!

  5. September 13, 2011 at 2:45 pm #

    I just made a broth that looks very similar to this (can’t wait to try this one) for a vegetarian vol-au-vent (I live in Belgium so it has become a challenge). I can’t wait to try the kombu and anise additions. Do you think the rosemary adds any bitterness? When I add dried rosemary it usually imparts a bit of a bitter flavor. A good tip is to freeze leftover stock in 1/2 cup increments.

  6. Michael Natkin
    September 13, 2011 at 8:07 pm #

    Hey Nilam – I didn't notice any bitterness, so I think you are safe on that count. Good tip about freezing stock in small increments. I've seen some people freeze it as ice cubes too, but I've never done that.

  7. September 13, 2011 at 10:49 pm #

    John,

    I am with you on that. I am definitely not a fan of licorice type flavors. I like basil (but not the Thai type) and tarragon is OK in small amounts but star anise really turns me off.

    I’m also curious.

  8. September 13, 2011 at 10:51 pm #

    If you are only going to use a little bit of broth, then freezing in ice cube trays is ideal. You can add one or two to dishes that just call for a few tablespoons. It works out great.

    Thanks for this recipe.

  9. LE
    September 14, 2011 at 8:00 am #

    For someone in the US, what is a Marmite sub?

  10. Michael Natkin
    September 14, 2011 at 8:09 am #

    Hey LE – I'm actually in the US (Seattle). Marmite is not too hard to find in the US. Whole Foods, or just about any health food/natural food store has it, as does Amazon (link to amzn.to). 

  11. Jay
    September 15, 2011 at 4:01 am #

    I came across your link from Foodgawker.com; however, I m disappointed some blogs do not offer printer friendly. Vegan broth looks thoughtful; however, no printer friendly??? ;o(

  12. Michael Natkin
    September 15, 2011 at 7:11 am #

    Hi Jay – yes, the print problem is frustrating. I should be able to address it better when I move the blog to wordpress in a few months.

    Michael Natkin

    Find me:

    The latest from my blog, Herbivoracious: Wordless Wednesday One

  13. September 15, 2011 at 10:34 am #

    This unami-packed vegetarian broth sounds wonderful. Thanks for the recipe.

  14. September 16, 2011 at 7:06 pm #

    OK, I’m confused here- it appears there is a print function- I just tried it with the PDF option and it works fine. It’s just buried in the box below the recipe.

    But anyway, thanks Michael for the recipe. I’ve been using a pressure cooker for years but recently acquired an electric version and have yet to use it! This recipe will justify the purchase, I believe.

  15. September 17, 2011 at 5:20 am #

    Definately a cook and keep recipe. Freeze it in batches for when I have a mean soup craving!!

  16. September 17, 2011 at 9:04 pm #

    I’m not sure if this broth would make it to a soup! With all of those wonderful ingredients, it’s got to be absolutely delicious just as is. Great broth recipe!

  17. James
    September 23, 2011 at 1:37 pm #

    Anybody know a good source for dried shiitake mushrooms? I saw them at Whole Foods but it was $12 for what appeared to be maybe 1.5 cups.

  18. Michael Natkin
    September 25, 2011 at 6:51 pm #

    Oh, yeah, just head to your local Chinese, Japanese or Korean grocery and you'll find them for 1/4 that price or less :)

  19. kreeg@unitehere11.org
    September 28, 2011 at 8:44 pm #

    How would this translate to a slow cooker?

  20. Michael Natkin
    September 29, 2011 at 8:54 pm #

    I don't do any slow-cooking so I can't say for sure, but my guess is that it wouldn't work very well. I think you'd lose a lot of the flavor in the wafting steam.

  21. September 30, 2011 at 12:07 pm #

    Michael,
    Thank you for this recipe. This is the best vegetarian broth recipe I’ve found. I’ve tried others as well as canned and powdered broths and they’re usually too bland and/or loaded with salt and not much better than using plain water. I’ve been looking for a vegetable broth that will contribute to the dish I’m making but not overwhelm it. I think I’ve found what I’m looking for in your broth.

    John and Jill, the Veggie Queen, I’m also not a fan of licorice-type flavors and I don’t care for anise at all. And like you Jill, I can take tarragon in small amounts. However I thought I’d try the recipe once with the star anise. Next time I’d probably use half of one star anise but would not cut it out totally. I think it contributes in a subtle way but does in no way scream “this broth tastes like star anise.” I couldn’t find marmite or vegemite locally and didn’t want to bother ordering it online. The Veggie Queen suggested I substitute miso, which I did.

    A friend I shared the recipe with thought it would likely be too flavorful for most of what she’d use a vegetarian broth for. Of course I don’t know her tastes and everything she’d add vegetarian broth to, but I think as long as the broth is diluted when used as an ingredient, it will work perfectly. It makes a nice broth for eating right from the pot, but because it’s nice and rich (a good thing!), it can be diluted.

    Thanks again for the recipe, Michael.

  22. Michael Natkin
    September 30, 2011 at 2:27 pm #

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Sigrid! I think miso is a good thought as a sub for the marmite, especially one of the dark, powefully flavor misos. I'm glad you went ahead and tried the star anise, too!

  23. Sudesh
    October 20, 2011 at 6:53 pm #

    I wonder how dried, unspiced, fermented vegetables work as an addition to the recipe? I have fermented spinach in my mind. Thanks for the recipe, never tried anise before, I’ll def. try it.

  24. GMS
    November 10, 2011 at 7:52 am #

    This came out excellent for me. I used it as a consommé, and a soup base. I will be making it again.

    The flavor is very beefy. I may use some for a beef-less stroganoff.

  25. aylsa
    November 11, 2011 at 2:20 am #

    Beefy, hey? I’m thinking Pho. (Vietnamese soup.) Mmm..

  26. Michael Natkin
    November 11, 2011 at 7:53 am #

    It might not be quite clear enough for pho, but I think the flavor would be good if you clarified it and diluted it just a bit.

    Michael Natkin

    Find me:

    The latest from my blog, Herbivoracious: Vegetarian Thanksgiving Recipes

  27. Amy
    January 2, 2012 at 10:38 am #

    Can you recommend a sub for the star anise? Regular fennel seed?

    • January 2, 2012 at 2:20 pm #

      I don’t think fennel seed will work. There are some specific compounds in the star anise that react with the sulfur in the onions to create umami. So I would just omit the star anise if you can’t get your hands on it.

  28. goody-goody
    January 16, 2012 at 9:42 pm #

    Thank you for such a wonderful recipe and the perfect excuse to make a purchase. I love my new pressure cooker! I’m in Seattle, so I feel like I’m cooking with a friend when I follow your recipes. I used two cups of your broth (plus two cups of wild rice cooking water) for this wild rice and mushroom soup recipe link to thekitchn.com and knocked it out of the park!

    Thanks!!!

  29. Paul
    March 11, 2012 at 4:45 pm #

    Unfortuantely this recipe cannot be considered “vegan”, unless you’re using a vermouth that is NOT produced with the aid of animal products. If you have one, could you please post the brand name, as it seems impossible to find one without the warning: “This product is produced with the aid of fish and/or egg products, traces may remain”

    • March 11, 2012 at 6:50 pm #

      Hmm, I don’t see that warning on my bottle of Dolin dry vermouth. Not to say that it might not have been “fined” (filtered) with animal products, I know that is a common practice with many types of wine. If that concerns you, you could omit it or subsitute a small amount of vodka. (The alcohol is useful in extracting flavors that aren’t soluble in water.)

  30. Alana
    April 5, 2012 at 7:29 pm #

    Michael, do you think I could use this as broth for matzoh ball soup? I don’t mind if it tastes nothing like the chicken broth my mom makes — just want it to be tasty!

    • April 5, 2012 at 7:47 pm #

      It might be a little on the rich side for matzo ball soup; I think it is a closer analogue to a cow broth than chicken if I were going to make that kind of comparison. It would be killer for French onion soup though. I guess if I were going to use it for matzoh ball soup I would maybe clarify it (using this method: link to cookingissues.com)

  31. November 5, 2012 at 3:06 am #

    Hi Michael, this looks like a great stock, I must try it. Have you tried preparing it at a low temperature instead of a pressure cooker? I usually pressure-cook stocks, but in MC and MC at Home they recommended sous-vide 3 hours at 85ºC plus 12 hours cold infusion for vegetable stocks in order to obtain a more subtle and aromatic flavour. I recently did a side-to-side test with exactly the same ingredients (shown here, in Spanish I’m afraid: link to dorarnosella.com ). The SV stock was certainly more aromatic and delicate, whereas the pressure-cooked was stronger, more intense. I would rather have the SV version for a consommé, and the pressure-cooked version for sauces, rice bases, etc. Also the pressure-cooked is much faster and easier to prepare.

    • November 5, 2012 at 7:15 am #

      Great point! I haven’t tried doing this stock SV, but I bet it would be delicious. I don’t have a circulator, so I’d have to fake up some sort of rig, but presumably this isn’t incredibly temperature sensitive the way some other SV jobs are.

  32. Emma
    December 12, 2012 at 10:43 am #

    I made the excellent chickpea & vegetable soup from the book last night and used a combination of vegan buillon cube and mushroom broth– probably not as good as this stock, but easy and really tasty!

  33. Jenny
    February 13, 2013 at 2:29 am #

    I have used Marmite in broths before, and it definitely gives a deep, meaty flavor. My question is, how do you feel about its yeast extract content? There seems to be a quiet agreement that natural sources of glutamate like the kombu are acceptable, but I’m having a more difficult time finding a firm answer on yeast extract and the like.

    • February 13, 2013 at 6:46 am #

      I don’t know of any reason to be concerned about yeast extracts. For that matter, all the research on synthetic MSG is universally that it is harmless, and that people who think they are sensitive to it are experiencing a psychosomatic reaction. See the info on wikipedia (link to en.wikipedia.org) for details.

  34. Heather
    February 13, 2013 at 6:48 pm #

    Hi,

    I used your recipe as a sub for the bacon in Cooks Illustrated Hearty Lentil Soup and it was just wonderful.

    I’m planning on making it again this weekend. Is it possible to make it a few days ahead? I’d freeze it, but I don’t have a lot of room in my freezer right now.

    Thanks!

    • February 13, 2013 at 9:49 pm #

      Yes, I think you could make it up to say 3 days ahead and refrigerate it and it should be just fine.

  35. Jenny
    February 13, 2013 at 7:03 pm #

    Yeah, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence – just a lot of unfounded accusations. Really, the only negative that I have experienced is the craving for more! Haha. So as long as it’s put into something healthy or relatively benign I guess the downside seems to be pretty minimal. =)

  36. James
    April 30, 2013 at 1:16 pm #

    What do you think about adding lapsang souchong and/or Scherlenka Rauchbier (which incidentally is the greatest thing to come out of Germany in all of history) to this?

    I’m going to try exactly that when I next make this.

    • April 30, 2013 at 3:00 pm #

      I’m more attracted to the idea of the smoky beer than the tea in this particular application. Never had that beer but it sounds amazing. I do use the tea in this dish though:

      link to herbivoracious.com

  37. James
    May 2, 2013 at 7:33 am #

    Oh yeah, that beer is unreal.

    I made that the other day, but I had to use shitake instead as I couldn’t get maitake, which was a shame because I love maitake. It was still great.

  38. August 18, 2013 at 4:58 am #

    This broth was delicious. I’ve just had gastric sleeve surgery and have been struggling with finding decent flavour in soups that are thin enough to have while I’m in transition for the first month. Thanks Michael, you’ve saved my palate, and I’ll definitely be making more of your recipes once I’m on solids.

    I’m blogging about my new food experiences and discoveries (including a post about this broth).

    • August 18, 2013 at 9:45 pm #

      I’m delighted to hear that this broth was helpful to you during your recovery! Best of luck with everything.

  39. Jackie
    September 2, 2013 at 1:45 pm #

    Although I’ve been making this every weekend for the past two months since discovering your site and then rushing out to buy your book, it wasn’t until today that I made it with my new pressure cooker (PC). I don’t know why it took me so long to come around to pressure cooking–well, yes, I do–exploding visions haunt me, but I got the WMF Perfect Plus stove-top at a 40% discount and it kept screaming, “pick me pick me!” — one of my favorite kitchen staples now. The difference between making this broth on regular stove top and PC is surprising. Who knew that so much deliciousness was escaping? It’s still a great broth if you don’t make with PC, but start saving for your own PC. Only exclusion on my part is the marmite–I really don’t like the taste of it, and if it makes the broth “meatier” tasting, it’s not for me.

    • September 2, 2013 at 1:55 pm #

      That makes me so happy to hear you are making it so regularly! And I’m happy to hear you’ve got the pressure cooker now, it really does make a big difference.

  40. Jackie
    September 2, 2013 at 1:53 pm #

    ps…for those adverse to licorice flavor, I use the star anise (liberally) and I do not detect any licorice flavor in the final product

  41. Diane
    October 8, 2013 at 10:34 am #

    Hi.The only star anise I find is dried.So do you mean fresh star anise or dried and where can you find fresh?

  42. Heather
    October 22, 2013 at 4:43 pm #

    Oh my gosh!!!

    I made this in a pot, like the directions said, but after awhile I added a little more salt- no sweet vermouth so I used some lemon for acid. Ended up putting in a Serrano chili. Added extra water and another piece of kombu. Let it simmer with a lid on the stove for 2 hours. Watered it down a little bit, strained it, picked some really soft shitakes from the mix and threw in some fresh sliced button mushroom. Added in some rice noodles, some baby swiss chard leaves. Served with chive flower buds on the chives and lots of fresh thai basil from the garden… I think I am in heaven. I wish all this made more… Next time I’m making a gallon of this delicious stuff!

  43. msmaddiep
    December 13, 2013 at 2:02 am #

    Do you think this would work with Asian soups? I’ve been looking for a vego replacement for a Chinese Chicken Stock…

    • December 13, 2013 at 6:46 am #

      I think it would be a good starting point; you might find you’ll want to adjust the balance a bit. I think it tastes closer to a beef stock than chicken (to whatever degree I remember, it has been 30 years :). I might skip the marmite and halve the tomato paste.

  44. Doug
    January 12, 2014 at 1:30 pm #

    Is 13g of Kombu correct? I have Hime Brand Roasted Seaweed Shushinori and 13g is about 5 full sheets of the stuff. It’s hardly the 1 small piece you put in parenthesis.

    Thanks.

    • January 12, 2014 at 1:34 pm #

      You’ve got nori; the recipe is calling for kombu which is a different (and much denser) seaweed often used to make broths. It won’t work to use nori in this I’m afraid.

  45. Doug
    January 12, 2014 at 7:25 pm #

    If I wanted to use MSG in this, would I substitute it gram per gram for the salt, or go half and half, or what? Any thoughts? Seems like MSG would increase the umami even more.

    • January 14, 2014 at 7:34 pm #

      No, definitely don’t substitute it gram for gram with salt… keep the full quantity of salt, and use MSG at about 0.1% of the total recipe weight – so about 1 gram for the whole batch. I’d start at even less than that and then adjust to taste.

  46. Celesta
    February 5, 2014 at 3:56 pm #

    Hello and big thanks,

    While casting around for a tasty veggie broth for wonton soup, I discovered your recipe and couldn’t resist. It is divine. You suggest French onion soup and I may, but I’m also thinking pho. For sure I deserve a delicious reward for not just standing at the counter and drinking it right down. It is that good.

    So, thank you for your inspirational recipe, and I look forward to perusing your site. I recognized from the ingredients that it would be very good, and had everything on hand but the marmite, and miso filled in quite nicely. But, what sold me was your rap on Marcella’s minnestrone. Aha!!! A man of taste.

    Cheers, Celesta

    • February 5, 2014 at 8:49 pm #

      I’m glad you like it! The miso is a solid idea for replacing the marmite.

  47. Evan
    February 26, 2014 at 6:05 pm #

    Hey guys, I live in Australia where Kombu is not sold because of import laws, does anyone have a online shop link where I might be able to purchase some and mail to Australia.
    Cheers.

  48. Art K
    November 27, 2014 at 3:09 pm #

    Made this stock and then used it to make a gravy for my vegetarian friends this Thanksgiving. Maybe the use in the gravy highlighted this but even though I like the Anise flavor, for what I was doing it was way too dominant. Next time I’ll probably leave it out. Still the gravy was appreciated by all and I really liked being able to offer them something traditional for their mashed potatoes.

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