Umami Bombs: Use the Fifth Taste in Holiday Cooking

Image Credit: Apartment Therapy

What do soy sauce, Parmesan cheese, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten's dish of Parmesan custard and white truffles all have in common? They are all "umami bombs," according to The Wall Street Journal and their recent article A New Taste Sensation.

Umami means deliciousness in Japanese, and it's a meaty, savory taste that encourages us to eat protein. Researchers recently found that there is indeed a fifth receptor on our tongues devoted just to glutamate - the primary umami compound. There's been heightening interest in umami among chefs and cooks, since using umami wisely can spike your meals with flavor. For tips on creating umami bombs, read on...

If there are only four tastes (sweet, salty, sour and bitter) then why do chicken soup and unsalted meat taste so great? The answer is umami - the taste stimulated by the amino acid glutamate, a key component of protein. Our mouths know good protein when they taste it.

The Truth on MSG
MSG is simply monosodium glutamate, an additive that gives that umami taste to food. People have claimed ill side effects from it but these effects have yet to be reliably proven. Many Asian cooks think of MSG the way we think of sugar - just add a dash here or there for the pure taste you need.

Do read the article for a very interesting look at how the processed food industries are working hard to leverage umami - real and synthetic - in the foods they sell.

Top Umami Foods - Here are some foods and techniques suggested in the WSJ article...
• Parmesan and other aged cheeses
• Soy and miso products
• Tomato products such as juice, paste or ketchup
• Fish-based sauces (like Worcestershire and Thai fish sauce) Shrimp paste too.
• Also, dried and cured meats are especially high in umami.

How do you leverage umami in your cooking? We like to add a little soy sauce or miso to vegetables for saltiness and umami depth.