I love breakfast. Whenever friends or family ask me to go out to eat, I request it be breakfast or brunch. That way I can order bacon. Because it’s the most delicious food ever!
Bacon may be considered by many folks to be the most brilliant of breakfast items, but it doesn’t rank high on the health scale. Bacon is high in fat and high in sodium. But recently, having breakfast at Philadelphia’s Front Street Café, I tasted one of the new vegetarian bacon alternatives. My pork swap was for a smoked mushroom bacon. This new version was lower in fat and sodium. And delicious.
But how could mushrooms substitute for the “real deal”? It’s because of the umami.
In Japanese the word umami means “deliciousness”. Umami is the reason we go bonkers for bacon. People taste umami through taste receptors that typically respond to glutamate, which is widely present in meat broths and fermented products and commonly added to some foods in the form of monosodium glutamate (MSG) as well as two ribonucleotides: guanosine monophosphate (GMP) and inosine monophosphate (IMP). Since umami has its own receptors rather than arising out of a combination of the traditionally recognized taste receptors, scientists now consider umami to be a distinct taste.
The foods that contain high levels of L-glutamate, GMP and IMP are fish, shellfish, cured meats (hello, bacon!), mushrooms (hello, “new” bacon!), vegetables (e.g., ripe tomatoes, Chinese cabbage, spinach, celery, etc.) or green tea, and fermented and aged products involving bacterial or yeast cultures, such as cheeses, shrimp pastes, fish sauce, soy sauce, nutritional yeast, and yeast extracts such as Vegemite and Marmite.
I searched the internet and found mushroom bacon videos and recipes. Here are two that can help you try making it at home.
Chef Elliot Prag of the Natural Gourmet Institute shows Sunita Reed how to make shiitake mushrooms taste like bacon and bring out their umami flavor.
Bon Appetit senior food editor Rick Martinez tosses a pound of button mushrooms with ½ cup olive oil, three cloves of garlic (grated on a microplane), and a few sprigs of thyme or rosemary. He spread it all evenly on a sheet tray and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour.
If you manage to have mushroom bacon leftovers, please send them my way. They’ll be perfect with my plate of eggs!
Header photo courtesy of Flickr user: Dennis Amith
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For Further Reading…
When I was in college, I had to take a mandatory science class. As a communications major, the idea of being required to take a science class in order to move on with my life felt so unjust. Luckily, I heard about a professor who cooked in his chemistry classes, so I chose his over the others.
Glutamate is an amino acid that is found in virtually every food. It’s a big part of protein-rich foods like meat, eggs and cheese, but is also found in fruits and vegetables. And, it is what’s responsible for giving foods the umami (savory) flavor that makes them taste delicious.