Saturday, May 28, 2011

"Mmm, Mommy!" - Umami

I got a great tip from my friend Heidi a couple of weeks ago that has become indespensible in my kitchen - Anchovy Paste.

It was spaghetti night at her place.  As she was doing the final taste test of the sauce, she reached into her fridge and gave a good squirt of the gray paste, "for a bit of Umami."  I thought to myself, "No shit!"

Let me tell ya, I tasted the sauce before and after the anchovies (really a combination of anchovies, olive oil, salt, vinaigre and spices) and it really made a difference.  The acidity of the tomato was rounded out nicely, the salty peak was smooth and rich; fantastic!

After a quick search on the web to see how else I could use this magic ingredient, I found mostly sauces and dressings, from Ceasar salad, to spaghetti sauce, and even Black Olive Oil, a North African rub for Lamb. 

What is Umami?  Here's what says:

"Taking its name from Japanese, umami is a pleasant savoury taste imparted by glutamate, a type of amino acid, and ribonucleotides, including inosinate and guanylate, which occur naturally in many foods including meat, fish, vegetables and dairy products. As the taste of umami itself is subtle and blends well with other tastes to expand and round out flavors, most people don't recognize umami when they encounter it, but it plays an important role making food taste delicious."

It's considered the 5th taste: Savory, Sweet, Salty, Bitter, Umami

Other, more common, ingredients that add that 5th element?

- Ripened cheeses like Parmesan

- Mushrooms like Shiitake and Enokitake
Ok, Ok, these are Cremini mushrooms, but good pic, huh? ;-)
Here's a list of other items with the goodness on

If you have an aversion to anchovies or their pasty derivative,  you can also get Umami paste.  Not nearly as inexpensive and anchovies, but if you gotta have it, you can get it.

Thanks for the tip Heidi! 


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