Umami is the “savory” basic taste alongside bitter, salty, sour and sweet. It is a taste concept that most all cultures have always embraced and was labeled/identified in the early 1900’s by Japanese scientist Kikunae Ikeda. (Purportedly a German scientist actually discovered glutamic acid in food many years before Ikeda.)
Ikeda discovered that glutamate or glutamic acid — in the form of crystals left over from evaporated kombu (seaweed) broth — was responsible for the broth’s essence. Shortly thereafter, he synthesized glutamic acid and patented it as the flavor enhancer we all know as monosodium glutamate or MSG. Many food and some of its fermented derivatives contain naturally occurring glutamate; cheese, soy sauce, tomatoes, meat and mushrooms are some commonly known ones.
Recently, a chef in England (with Italian roots) created a product called Taste No. 5 Umami Paste. It’s a processed paste containing ingredients that reads like a who’s who of umami — tomato paste, anchovy paste, Parmesan cheese, balsamic vinegar and dehydrated Porcini mushrooms. And to be very clear, this product does not contain MSG.
Months ago, I sampled a dab from a friend’s Taste No. 5 and then I was recently able to purchase my own from a local deli. It initially reminded me of Korean doenjang paste (fermented soy bean akin to miso) due to its concentrated salty taste. But the tomato and anchovy flavor opened up — taking this in a more Mediterranean direction. The paste is used as a flavor enhancer and can be added to food in raw or cooked form such as pasta sauces, crostinis or even squeezed into your favorite burger mix. I can see how a little bit of this could deepen a ragù or add more complexity to a foundation of caramelized flavors extracted from deglazing. But for those who don’t appreciate fishy flavors (even just a little), this might not be for you.
Taste No. 5’s packaging recommends that it is used within 30 days from opening. Honestly, other than a few dabs here and there I haven’t done much with it and the clock is ticking. I’m thinking about pairing it with a light Bolognese and gazpacho to finish off these dwindling summer days.
How about you, have you tried Taste No. 5? What do you think?
- by Gene Lee, Food and More blog