Want to Make Something Delicious? Umami It!

Yum, yum, UMAMI yum. That’s the new taste sensation, according to a story in yesterday’s WSJ by Katy McLaughlin. It’s a Japanese term coined in the early 20th century by Kikunae Ikeda, a scientist who made the word up based on the word for ‘deliciousness.’ Simply put, it’s the fifth basic taste after sweet, salty, sour and bitter. It’s that incredible goodness you taste when you bite into a slice of pepperoni and mushroom pizza, slurp chicken soup, or crunch a bit of parmesan-laced caesar salad–that full, tongue-coating sensation–it’s umami.

Chefs are creating ‘umami bombs’ like Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s bowl of parmesan custard and white truffles, which goes for $185, or a less-expensive bomb such as black bread and sea urchin. What the famous chef and the folks who develop products for Kraft foods and others are after are ways to capture this taste, and to do it without the main ingredient that brings umami out–MSG.

Oh no, you say, no way I’d want to eat MSG, isn’t that what makes me have headaches after Chinese food? But many studies have suggested that MSG isn’t the villain its made out to be, and in fact it is that glutamate that is the best source of umami kick. So that explains the more than 95,000 metric tons of MSG that are sold in North America each year.

But if you’re still convinced that MSG will make you feel bad, try roasting tomatoes, or adding anchovies (use Worcestershire sauce), or dump in some soy sauce Another source is one of my all-time favorite British foods–Marmite, a concentrated yeast extract that’s high in glutamate too.