We may not have had a word for the fifth flavor until the 20th century, but it has been an important part of cooking around the globe for much of human history. In addition to enjoying foods with umami flavors on their own, many cultures have found unique combinations of ingredients that intensify the experience. When glutamate-rich foods are combined with foods that contain ribonucleotides, the umami sensation is even stronger.1
Choosing Umami Ingredients
|Japan||Dashi made with kombu seaweed + dried bonito flakes|
|Italy||Sundried tomatoes + mushrooms and Parmesan cheese|
|China||Chinese leek or cabbage + chicken soup|
|Scotland||Chicken + leeks in cock-a-leekie soup|
|USA||Beef + carrots in pot roast|
Cooking, boiling, steaming, simmering, roasting, braising, broiling, smoking, drying, maturing, marinating, salting, aging and fermenting all change the composition of food. That means you should follow directions closely if you want to take advantage of the full umami flavor. When the recipe calls for sundried tomatoes, dried mushrooms, aged Parmesan, or fermented soy, choose the recommended food instead of fresh ingredients.
Did you know?
The glutamate in MSG is chemically indistinguishable from glutamate found in foods. Our bodies metabolize both sources in the same way.2
1) Kuninaka A (1960). Journal of the Agricultural Chemical Society of Japan 34: 487–492.
2) U.S. Food and Drug Administration