What do ketchup, cheese, seaweed and anchovies have in common?
(And no, it’s not some weird concoction put together by an amateur cook on a cable channel reality cooking show!)
The correct answer? All of these foods are ingredients commonly used by chefs and cooks around the world to add a definitive UMAMI taste to many popular savory dishes.
So do I have your attention now, for those of you who like me have a certain disdain for anchovies (as a whole food)? If you like Caesar salad as much as I do, it is impossible to dismiss the uber-fantastic flavor of this wildly popular salad, which would not be what it is without anchovies and Parmesan cheese. With that in mind, please continue reading!
These and other umami-rich ingredients are detailed in an informative article in the Wall Street Journal that should change your mind: 10 Umami Boosters.
The key to the unique umami taste imparted by specific ingredients (as outlined in this WSJ piece) is their glutamate content. But it is not just foods like these that are important staples in the kitchens of so many seasoned cooks and culinary whizzes. Another WSJ article titled A New Taste Sensation offers more information about how monosodium glutamate (MSG) has come to be widely used as a source of glutamate and thus associated with umami. The article notes, “While umami is a relatively new concept in this country, it has been well known in parts of Asia for nearly 100 years. It was identified in the early 20th century by Kikunae Ikeda, a Japanese scientist who coined the term umami (pronounced “oo-MA-mee”) using the Japanese term for ‘deliciousness.’ He found that foods with the umami taste have a high level of glutamate, an amino acid and a building block of protein. Mr. Ikeda developed and patented a method of making monosodium glutamate, or MSG, a processed additive that adds umami taste to food, much as sugar makes things taste sweet.”
According to the A New Taste Sensation article, “Just as a few shakes of salt can improve a dish, a correctly applied dash of cheese, wine or even ketchup can pump up the umami, without overwhelming the dish with the flavor of the added ingredient. Cooks skilled in umami can reduce the fat and salt content of foods without sacrificing flavor. There are several ways to boost the umami taste in a meal…. One is to add ingredients rich in glutamate, such as Parmesan (even a rind tossed into the soup pot deepens flavor) or other types of aged cheese; soy sauce; tomato products such as juice, paste or ketchup; and fish-based sauces (like Worcestershire and Thai fish sauce)…. For a more powerful effect, cooks can combine foods from those two categories.”
Also, I encourage you to listen to this informative audio podcast from the Wall Street Journal foodies that can help get you on the road to cooking with foods that impart the savory umami flavor: http://podcast.mktw.net/wsj/audio/20071207/pod-wsjwknd/pod-wsjwknd.mp3
Need more information? Read my next blog with more details about ramping up the umami flavor in your favorite foods!