Even if you don’t know what umami is, there’s a good chance you’ve already tasted it. This “fifth flavor” is at the center of all your favorite savory dishes.
What is Umami?
The term umami was coined by Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda to describe the savory flavor of dashi and other foods like it. The key element of umami is glutamate or glutamic acid. Foods with this amino acid have that distinct umami quality we can’t help but crave.
What Does Umami Taste Like?
Umami is basically a deep savoriness. If you’ve ever wondered how something as simple as a rasher of bacon or some tomato pasta can taste so satisfying, that’s the umami at work.
How to Add Umami to Your Cooking
1. Tomato paste
Tomato paste is a concentrated form of everything that makes tomatoes so delicious – including and especially their naturally high levels of glutamate. Try it in our red wine and butter pot roast or tamarind Jarritos and ancho bbq chicken.
2. Fish sauce, anchovies, or dashi
Seafood is replete with umami goodness and these ingredients are a great way to impart that flavor into your dishes. Fish sauce is indispensable in Southeast Asian dishes like shrimp pad thai or Thai basil beef while anchovies bring depth and saltiness to chicken caesar salad and pasta puttanesca.
3. Miso paste, soy sauce, or doenjang
What these three ingredients have in common is that they’re all made from fermented soybeans, a powerhouse of umami. We use miso to boost the meatiness of these miso braised short ribs and develop an almost bacon-like savoriness in kakuni.
4. Aged Cheese
Aged cheeses like parmesan and roquefort develop high levels of glutamic acid as they mature. This is why just a couple of tablespoons of grated parmesan in sausage ragu or lemon butter pasta makes such a big difference.
MSG or monosodium glutamate is basically pure umami. Just a pinch of MSG with some salt can naturally enhance the taste of a dish without changing its flavor profile. It’s a key ingredient in kewpie mayo, the superstar condiment in our okonomiyaki and Japanese potato salad.