Attention Restaurant Owners, Chefs, and Food Lovers Everywhere: There is a new taste in town and its name is umami. Officially deemed by scientists a core fifth taste in 2002, it is sister to the more familiar sweet, sour, salty, and bitter flavors. Not only is umami universally appealing, but it is all the rage in restaurant recipes for the New Year.
It was only recently that food experts discovered that there are umami taste receptors, aka umami taste buds, on the human tongue. But in fact, umami was discovered over 100 years ago in Japan by scientist Dr. Kikunae Ikeda. While consuming a bowl of kelp broth, he noticed a savory flavor distinct from the four basic tastes of sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. He named the new taste “umami,” which is Japanese for the “essence of deliciousness.”
Moreover, Dr. Ikeda identified monosodium glutamate as the core of the fifth taste. The latter is an amino acid (a building block of protein) that occurs naturally in the human body and in many foods we eat each day. More specifically, glutamate is found in proteins that have been fermented or partially broken down – for example, aged cheese, mushrooms, soy sauce, vinegar, black olives, and red wine.
‘Umami-intensive’ ingredients, in turn, have been best described by chefs as ‘savory,’ and indeed, scores of recipes are instantly enhanced by the addition of glutamate. Lending layers of flavor to a wide range of dishes, some familiar favorites include a marinade with red wine, macaroni or spaghetti and meatballs sprinkled with grated Parmesan, goat cheese, dried mushrooms added to stew, anchovies in salad dressings, salmon with soy sauce, and more.
In fact, since soy sauce is made from fermented soybeans, it is considered almost pure umami. Don’t hesitate to add it to marinades, soups, caramelized vegetables, and even toasted almonds.
Finally, if you ever wondered why a single clove of garlic can add complexity and enhance whatever you are cooking, it is because garlic has a very umami-friendly taste.
Umami: The Ultimate Flavor Enhancer
If you are looking for new restaurant recipes or for ingredients that deepen the flavor of the dishes your customers already love, umami is the way to go. According to scientists, three distinct properties account for the taste’s widespread appeal:
- A mouthwatering sensation
- A long-lasting taste
- Taste that spreads across the tongue
Proof that mainstream acceptance of the ‘fifth flavor’ is growing is the founding of the Umami Information Center (a source for recipes, academic papers, and scientific research) as well as cultural events such as the Umami International Symposium.
More Ways to Cook with Umami
Here are some more great ways to update your recipe repertoire and cater to your customers with exciting tastes and adventurous flavors.
- Add balsamic vinegar and red wine to salad dressings
- Add a dash of Worcestershire sauce to almost any cooking recipe
- Combine finely minced mushrooms with butter, cook into a paste, and add to baked fish or use as flavoring for chicken, stews, sauces, and soups
- Experiment cooking, baking, and roasting a variety of mushrooms such as shiitake or Portobello
- Did you know that both tomato paste and slightly bitter green vegetables such as asparagus create a complex umami taste? Add them to frittatas, omelets, salads, and more
- Finally, here are some more chef-recommended glutamate-rich ingredients: tomatoes, tomato sauce, ketchup, green peas, seaweed, ranch dressing, miso paste, fish/shellfish/fish sauce, kimchi, green tea
Take a Seasoning Shortcut with Umami Paste
While fresh ingredients always take the top spot in recipes, a tube of store-bought umami paste is an inexpensive seasoning shortcut worthy of consideration. Comprised of concentrated ingredients that increase glutamate action during cooking, tubes of the all-natural MSG typically include items such as: wine vinegar, black olives, garlic, parmesan cheese, dehydrated mushrooms, tomato paste, anchovy paste, sugar, salt.
Umami Cocktails, Anyone?
According to professional bartenders, the future of the savory-ingredient-craze may culminate in cocktails infused with umami ingredients. As customers continue to clamor for health-promoting foods and drinks, be on the lookout for cocktails infused with mushroom, garlic, turmeric, and other nutritious additions.
Why Seaweed Should Be Added to Your Restaurant Menu
According to marketing predictions, expect edible seaweed to be a hot-ticket restaurant item in 2021. Low in calories, rich in fiber, and packed with nutrients and antioxidants, seaweed also boasts a high glutamate content, making it a great source of umami flavor.
Edible seaweeds or ‘sea vegetables’ are algae from the sea that can be used in food preparation. Divided into red, green, and brown seaweeds, some of today’s most popular picks include nori (most commonly dried and used to make sushi), wakame, kelp, kombu, dulse, hijiki, and spirulina.
Seaweed Nutritional Benefits
When it comes to healthy foods, here are some seaweed facts for you to consume:
- One of algae’s claims to fame is the concentrated amount of iodine they absorb from the sea. Iodine, in turn, is crucial for the body’s thyroid gland to function. When it comes to diet, kelp is a particularly good source of iodine
- Boasting a high content of not only fiber but soluble fiber, seaweeds are especially good for gut health and the digestive process
- Certain types of polysaccharide starches found in seaweed are said to boost immunity and cardiovascular function
- Seaweed is a rich source of Vitamin B12 and omega-3 fats
- Hijiki has ten times more calcium content than milk; nori provides 65% of the recommended dietary intake (RDI) of vitamin C; high in amino acids, spirulina is thought to aid in brain function and improving memory
- Seaweeds contain trace elements of vitamins A, C, E, and K, copper, zinc, sodium, folate, and magnesium
Why Seaweed is the New Superfood
Did you know that according to industry stats, seven out of ten of the world’s most esteemed restaurants feature seaweed on their menu? At the same time, consumer demand for seaweed is higher than ever before – and not only for its multiple health benefits. When it comes to protecting depleting global fish stocks and making a positive difference to the marine ecosystem, the edible algae are a booming business. Moreover, in an age where sustainability matters, sea vegetables are known to grow quickly, absorb CO2 and release oxygen into the atmosphere, and do not require fresh water, soil, or fertilizer.
For restaurant owners, umami-flavored seafood offers an additional advantage. Feature them on your 2021 menu as an exciting and palate-pleasing alternative to traditional tuna and salmon dishes. Other types of seafoods with a significant glutamate content include anchovies, scallops, shrimp, and sardines.
In summary, boost your umami flavored recipes today and enjoy the expected boost in business!