Tthe synergistic combination of Umami foods & the releasing/concentrating of the amino acid glutamate creates the very special flavour present in our most loved dishes.
Sources of Umami taste:
- Sea vegetables (seaweed)
- Some garden vegetables (ripe tomato, mushrooms, mature potatoes/squash/corn, legumes)
- Meat (cured ham, beef, lamb & poultry)
- Fish & shellfish (dark finfish like anchovy, tuna, mackerel & most shellfish)
- Fungus (mushrooms, truffles & savoury yeast)
- Condiments (fish & soy sauce, Caesar dressing, Worcestershire & ketchup)
- Fermented beverages (wine, beer & sake)
- Dairy (aged cheeses, blue cheeses, eggs)
There are different types of umami molecules as per the diagram below:
Intensifying the Umami taste
Combining various Umami foods from different groups in a dish can intensify the Umami flavour by a factor of 8 or more, scientists say.
"(The charts)... above, illustrates which foods abound in which umami molecules. The nucleotide partners needed for the tango are adenylate, guanylate, and inosinate. Mushrooms, particularly dried shiitake mushrooms, are hotbeds of guanylate; fish are high in inosinate, and shellfish in adenylate. Tomatoes are in a umami class of their own, containing both aminos and nucleotides, particularly in their interior pulp." says Paul Adams in Popular Science.
Enhancing Umami taste further:
While some foods are naturally endowed with much Umami flavour, examples are shellfish, seaweeds & mushrooms, others need to be selected at the right time (ripe tomatoes) or for their ‘lifestyle’ (tuna vs gurnard) to get the good umami attributes.
A quintessential example of something umami-tasting, says Paul Berlin of Morell University, who was among the first scientists to prove the existence of umami taste receptors, is a broth or a soup: "Something that has been slow-cooked for a long time." Raw meat, he points out, isn't very umami.
So although many foods have some Umami, intensity increases with the right combination of ingredients and a preparation method that naturally releases & concentrates the amino acids:
- Adding glutamate-rich stock, like seaweed stock to dishes
- Fermenting – inoculation enzyme action, examples are cheeses & artisan breads, sauerkraut & fermented vegetables
- Cooking - heat, examples are searing, braising & slow cooking
- Aging – natural enzyme action, an example is curing meats, fish and vegetables (pickles)
Exquisite dishes - dubbed Umami bombs - are created just that way, by combining multiple sources of Umami and preparing them in a way that enhance the overall flavour.
Read more about creating strong Umami dishes: