The Game-Changing Ingredient Your Steak Has Been Waiting For

An umami bomb of a dinner.

November  5, 2018
Photo by Ty Mecham

If you’re into matcha, you’ve probably noticed this spring-green superfood turning up as matcha smoothies and desserts, like cookies, ice cream and cake. Count me in as a devotee of this whole-leaf powdered green tea in all forms—both for its unique tastes and energy boost. But lately, I’ve been on a tangential path with matcha: exploring its savory side to use in cooking.

Lucky enough, I had access to an expert guide, organic green tea importer Kiyomi Koike of Sei Mee Tea. She recently spent an afternoon in my kitchen tutoring me on the science of matcha (the qualities of the antioxidant catechins, including the wonder compound EGCG, epigallocatechin gallate, and the gently stimulating L-Theanine). After all, it’s matcha that introduced people like me to the notion of ingesting green tea instead of steeping it and discarding the leaves.

But it wasn’t nutritional information Kiyomi and I focused on, but matcha’s culinary possibilities beyond sweets, a topic she’s explored for over 10 years. We sipped cups of first flush green tea and brainstormed ways to use matcha in ramen, rice bowls, stir fries, soups, and dressings.

That’s when Kiyomi told me, “Green tea is an umami-rich food.” And there, in a word, came my aha moment. Research has identified a host of flavonoids and polyphenols that create the distinctively grassy, bitter and earthy tastes of green tea. And in addition to its much-touted nutritional benefits, it delivers the ultimate savory quality known as umami.

Suddenly, I craved a taste, although I hadn’t planned on lunch. When Kiyomi mentioned how it’s common in Japan to serve tempura with matcha salt, I jumped up to grab a few of the many sea salts I keep for use before, during and after cooking.

I mixed a scant teaspoon of matcha into about a tablespoon of pure kosher salt from Jacobsen Salt Co., thinking that the match would sift through to the bottom of the bowl. But the matcha bonded to the salt, turning it jade colored. I tried fine sea salt and the same thing happened: brilliant green salt.

With my best flake sea salt, I mixed in just enough matcha to color the salt crystals and showed Kiyomi. “Do you think there’s enough?” I asked her as I tasted one of the shards from my fingertip. “You have to try this!” I exclaimed. There it was on my tongue: the exemplary sensation of salt with a mysterious something more.

Now, it was time to taste the matcha salt on something edible. I grabbed two hard-boiled eggs from my fridge, an avocado, and a bag of homemade egg linguine from the freezer. As the pasta water came to a boil, we tasted each of the salts on the egg and avocado between oohs and aahs.

The linguine, tossed with steamed snap peas, butter, and matcha kosher salt turned our conversation toward all the possibilities: everything from popcorn to mashed potatoes altered and enhanced by a sprinkling of matcha salt.

“You can even use the matcha salt on meat and grill it,” Kiyomi mentioned as we finished our unexpected lunch. “It’s just distinctive to me, it’s amazing,” she said. On top of that, some preliminary studies have shown that green tea marinades reduce the carcinogenic compounds in cooked meat.

I tasted one of the shards from my fingertip. “You have to try this!” I exclaimed. There it was on my tongue: the exemplary sensation of salt with a mysterious something more.

Immediately, I set to work on a couple of grass-fed rib steaks to see the matcha effects on a food group celebrated for umami. As with all green tea cooking, the grade of tea matters, Kiyomi cautioned. A bright green color indicates that the tea leaves spent longer in the shade. And since you consume the whole tea leaf, Kiyomi recommends buying only organic and lead-free matcha grown in Japan.

I mixed ceremonial quality Uji matcha into a simple marinade that turned forest green, and let it work its magic on the meat for one, two, four, and 12 hours. Then, I grilled the steak and sprinkled on a finishing salt of the flake sea salt with matcha to taste.

Even with the shortest marinade, the grilled steaks were extraordinary. Their meaty essence was heightened by a grassy note and profound savoriness that lingered in my mouth long after I’d finished chewing.

What's your favorite steak marinade? Let us know in the comments below.

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Kiyomi
  • Anne
  • jodyrah
  • Lynne Curry
    Lynne Curry
  • Cman
I wake up thinking, What's for dinner? The answer comes from the stocking as much local food as I can store, buying dry goods in bulk and shopping for seasonal produce. Pickling and canning, sourdough bread baking and grilling are also key parts of the mix as I improvise meals for my family.


Kiyomi November 13, 2018
I tried this recipe last night--it was delicious! This marinade recipe created a beautiful harmony of flavors. And finishing matcha salt added such a pleasant accent to the gracefully rich flavor of marinaded steak. I will cook this again!
Anne November 11, 2018
Where do you buy the matcha powder? My grocery stores are very limited.
Lynne C. November 11, 2018
Do you have a health food store in your area? If not, a good tea shop will carry matcha.
jodyrah November 11, 2018
I only buy USDA prime. These steaks need nothing more than a heavy coverage of salt and freshly ground pepper. Need proof, look to the top steak houses.
Cman February 16, 2020
In what way is this comment remotely helpful? If you didn't follow the recipe and prepare the dish your commentary is less than useless.