For all of you who thought that there were only 4 basic tastes (sweet, salty, sour, and bitter), it turns out that a fifth taste has been discovered and it’s getting a lot of attention in the culinary industry. It’s called umami (pronounced oo-mah-mee). Umami is derived from the Japanese words “umai” meaning delicious, and “mi” meaning essence. It’s usually described as a pleasant savory, rich flavor that provides an extra satisfying taste to foods. It’s found in foods such as certain meats, seafood, mushrooms, tomatoes, cheese, truffles, and soy sauce.
Below are some examples of umami-rich foods:
Poultry, Beef & Pork:
– Turkey, Italian prosciutto, braised beef, chicken and beef broth
– Anchovies, tuna, salmon, blue fish, oysters, shrimp
– Portabella, cremini, white button, shiitake, morel, truffles
– Corn, tomatoes, potatoes, red bell peppers, winter squash
Dairy & Cheeses:
– Parmigiano-Reggiano, blue-veined cheese, emmentaler, cheddar, eggs
Soy & Soy Products:
– Soy sauce, miso, tofu
– White beans, black beans, lentils, black bean sauce
– Fish Sauce, ketchup, worcestershire sauce
For more information about umami, refer to the Umami Information Center.
Pasta alla carbonara is a traditional Italian dish that uses hot pasta (typically spaghetti) tossed with guanciale or pancetta (types of Italian bacon) and garlic in a sauce that’s created from mixing in raw eggs and grated cheese. As the eggs and cheese are stirred in, the pasta is tossed constantly, and the heat of the pasta cooks the eggs and creates a deliciously creamy sauce. Many American versions of this dish incorporate heavy cream into the sauce, but cream is not necessary to create a silky texture if the sauce is prepared properly. The key is to keep the pasta in constant motion so that the eggs do not scramble. Usually the dish is seasoned with black pepper and topped with fresh parsley.
Being the foodie that I am, I had to create my own version of the dish and incorporate some high-umami ingredients so I decided to mix in some thinly sliced cremini mushrooms with the Italian pancetta. And of course, there’s plenty of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese for even more umami. And just in case a big heaping mound of pasta filled with umami flavors wasn’t decadent enough, I decided to top it all off with a warm poached egg. When you break the egg open and the warm yolk flows over the pasta, it’s out of this world. Check out the recipe for my Spaghetti Carbonara with Cremini Mushrooms and a Warm Poached Egg.
So next time you’re home alone and about to reach for the phone to order take-out, stop for a second and consider exploring your inner umami.
1. Kurihara, K., Glutamate; from discovery as a food flavor to role as a basic taste (umami), Am J Clin Nutr Vol. 90, No. 3 (2009), pp 719S-722S.