The most powerful thing you can do to enhance your culinary experience is to add the umami flavor. “I can hear you ask, “What is that?!” Umami is the fifth basic taste, along with sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. The Japanese call it “pleasant savory taste” or “deliciousness”. The term for this distinct taste was officially coined in 1908 by a Japanese professor and scientist named Kikunae Ikeda.
One of the best books I have ever read on food was “Umami: Unlocking the secrets of the fifth taste”, by Ole Mouritsen and Klaus Styrbaek. This book takes a deep dive into the history, chemistry, taste physiology, and culinary uses of foods that contain the umami flavor. However, after reading all this discussion and explanation, I can summarize the book’s central message in one sentence: it’s better with bacon! I am not kidding! Bacon explodes with a protein called glutamate which gives umami foods their potent and savory flavor.
My favorite section of the book is the complete list of seasonings that contain the umami flavor along with pictures. The pictures made it easy for me to memorize the list and I added a section in my pantry devoted to umami seasonings. I try to add one or two umami seasonings to whatever I cook. Seasonings that contain umami really do bomb the food with explosive flavor and concentrated sensory delight. Being able to experience such complex and savory deliciousness makes me so happy to be alive.
By now I can imagine you are curious to know what foods contain this mysterious magic ingredient. Inquiring mind want to know! Here is a partial list of foods that are umami seasonings. As you can see, most are commonly available.
Aged cheeses – blue cheese, gorgonzola, sharp cheddar, and the rinds of parmesan
Asian condiments – dashi (said to be the embodiment of umami), kombu and nori seaweed, miso paste, fish sauce, and shrimp paste
Cured meats – bacon, pancetta, prosciutto, and salami
Dried mushrooms – morels, shiitake, and my favorite – dried porcini powder
MSG – monosodium glutamate
Soy sauce and tamari
Tomatoes – particularly ketchup, tomato paste, and sun-dried
Yeast extract – Marmite
Recently my beau James gave me a pound of bacon. This inspired me to cook the whole thing at once and crumble it into little pieces. Adding just a few crumbles to whatever I eat adds a huge flavor burst and a little goes a long way. Bacon is a lovely umami seasoning. And guess what? Bacon is wickedly good on a maple bar! Japanese professor and scientist Kikunae Ikeda would have loved those. I am just sure of it!