I admit, I ADORE fatty, salty, savory foods, be it potato chips, bacon, aged cheese or hot dogs. Sadly, now on a diet I can’t really have those and the void is begging to be filled...
Umami is a Japanese term loosely translated into “savory” or “deliciousness.” Umami-rich food “amplify” other flavors and make everything they’re added to more robust, well-rounded and delish - exactly what I need.
The term was coined in 1909 by a Japanese chemist after he performed experiments to see why he so enjoyed seaweed broth. He identified the source of his pleasure as glutamic acid, an amino acid that’s presented in many foods. When food is cooked, cured, aged or fermented the glutamate molecule breaks apart and that's when things get "delicious". When a butcher ages meat he creates umami. When the Japanese make their dashi broth they concentrate umami, when we add tomato paste to a vegetable soup or grate aged cheese on pasta we add umami.
Lucky for us, umami is found in many good-for-you foods: tomatoes, seaweed, nuts, sweet potatoes, carrots, cabbage, small fish like sardines and anchovy, chicken, eggs, dry-cured meats and even green tea. When you cook with those ingredients you are already one step ahead on your way to deliciousness and in a lesser need for salt and fat.
I like to get proactive and use umami-rich foods as flavor enhancers: I use dashi and chicken stock in stews and sauces; I add roasted ground almonds to vegetables and salads, sprinkle powdered umami-rich seaweed on food or use gomasio, which is salt mixed with seaweed and sesame. I particularly enjoy melting anchovy in oil before I add other ingredients (it won’t taste fishy, just Umami), drizzle some fish sauce (same) or even sip green tea with my food.
And my favorite: mushrooms.
Mushrooms are complex and fascinating creatures and those that are high quality are mind-blowingly delicious. They are high in protein and micronutrients and can even fight cancer.
And they bursts with umami. I had some exotic mushrooms from Shibumi Farm the other day. They were sauteed with olive oil and Oh-My- God: Each mushroom had a distinct flavor, from meaty to herbaceous, and distinct texture, from meaty to pillowy, and they all had that mysterious and alluring thing really good mushrooms have.
Shibumi Farm grows a fascinating variety of mushrooms that are sought after by chefs in New York and in our area. For Thanksgiving I got their champignon, grown by a special request from Chef Daniel Boulud. Trust me, not even close to the supermarket variety.
So add Umami to your life and support a local farm: eat mushrooms sliced and sauteed as a side dish, on pasta, with eggs, in Mushroom Bolognese or what have you. The farm also offers dried mushrooms and even a shaker of roasted pulverized mushrooms that you can sprinkle of your food for instant umami (both are available at the Terra Momo Bread Company. The Shaker as part of a Holiday Gift Basket)
To find out how to get Shibumi Mushrooms (they are working on a permanent retail outlet) like them on facebook or email them and ask to join their email list.