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Umami in a tube

umami1Umami 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.

umami2Months 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

22 comments Add your comment

jim

August 24th, 2011
7:23 am

just something else to waste your money on.

Mike

August 24th, 2011
8:26 am

Seems like something someone would throw in when they can’t figure out how to extract the flavor they want from the ingredients of their dish. I’d rather just use any of those ingredients separately and appropriately to get the flavor I want. Sounds kind of gross and unnecessary combined.

Gene Lee

August 24th, 2011
8:49 am

@Mike – I agree with you and there is certainly a glittery factor in its packaging, but I don’t think it tastes gross at all.

Regardless, I don’t see how this product should be admonished as much as fermented bean paste swirled into stir fries and stews, or Parmesan cheese and truffles grated/shaved on a bowl of pasta.

Edward

August 24th, 2011
9:05 am

Are truffles considered umami? I have never understood the crazy attraction to truffles, they just smell like dirty feet to me and any food I’ve ever had that contained even a whiff of them I just can’t stomach.

Gene Lee

August 24th, 2011
9:29 am

@Edward – Mushrooms in general are considered to have woodsy, earthy umami (some varieties are deeper than others).

RK

August 24th, 2011
9:42 am

At least it is made from real foods.

For umami, try miso butter — one part butter to one part light miso. Yum.

What about Mambo #5?

Monster

August 24th, 2011
10:06 am

Ive used this and thought it was pretty bad as a product. It did not have a bad flavor necessarily, but it simply tasted like a strong condiment, and the mediterranean (good palate, Gene) flavor limited its uses. I think I put it in a rabbit bolognese just to get rid of it. I prefer to use anchovies, nuoc mam, miso, and vegemite to get the flavors that I want.

Gene Lee

August 24th, 2011
10:54 am

@Monster – “Strong condiment” — well put. I was trying to put my finger around it and that basically sums it up for me.

Mark

August 24th, 2011
12:45 pm

I get a kick out of the current umami craze, as I’m confident that many folks who used to insist that they were “allergic to MSG” and demanded that their Chinese restaurants produce MSG-free food, are now rushing to find as many ways as they can to inject more….glutamate–into their cooking. So, let me be sure: glutamate in MSG is bad, but glutamate in anchovies is good.

Reds

August 24th, 2011
1:20 pm

Mark — I agree!! So many people I know say they are allergic to MSG. There have been times they tell me they’re allergic after I’ve cooked them something that has MSG in it, and they didnt have a problem.

carla roqs

August 24th, 2011
2:10 pm

surprised no one has commented upon the obvious: the little glob of umami looks like… an amoeba

TedInATL

August 24th, 2011
2:12 pm

@Mark and @Reds

I, and many others, have experienced a physical reaction after ingesting MSG. I have never had any physical reaction after eating anchovies, mushrooms, miso, nuoc mam, cheese, or any of the other umami-laden natural foods. I think you’re missing the point that there is a difference. It may not be the glutamate that causes the reaction.

John Kessler

August 24th, 2011
2:19 pm

Mark: So true. I keep MSG by the stove because we cook a lot of vegetarian soups and stews at home, and it frankly keeps me from overdoing salt and acid.

M. Johnson

August 24th, 2011
2:21 pm

How much and where is this item available? As others have mentioned, it sounds like a quick and easy way to round out the flavor of a dish.

Gene Lee

August 24th, 2011
3:16 pm

@M. Johnson – I linked to my local deli in the post above (http://saviurbanmarket.com/) which is the only retail place I had seen it. It cost a little under $4.

Otherwise, you might want to try Amazon or ask/call your local gourmet markets to see if they carry it.

Edward

August 24th, 2011
4:04 pm

I enjoy mushrooms, but loath truffles. I have often used miso or anchovies in dishes to give a little “pop” of flavor. Anchovies are especially nice because used judiciously they don’t confer a “fishy” taste but add a depth that is remarkable.

Reds

August 24th, 2011
4:45 pm

@TedInATL Understood. I’m not trying to make a generalization that everyone who thinks they are allergic isn’t really. I’m just meaning that it seems to be a “trendy” thing to be allergic to now. If you are truely allergic to something, I would assume that you would tell someone BEFORE you eat what they cook, not after.

Mark

August 24th, 2011
10:35 pm

@Ted: wait, don’t you have that backwards?

MSG is, essentially, nothing but monosodium glutamate. If you reacted to that, it HAD to be the glutamate you reacted to. If that’s true, then you should have also reacted to other high glutamate foods like anchovies, etc. The fact that you claim to react to MSG, but not other sources of glutamate, is suspect.

It is consistent with findings like Geha J. Nutrition 130:1058, 130 self-reported MSG sensitive individuals tested in double blinded, placebo controlled study, showing that among other findings that when administered with food, reactions were no more common in pts receiving placebo than those getting MSG.

carla roqs

August 25th, 2011
8:33 am

there are so many allergists on this blog. folx, if people say they are allergic to something, accept it and move on. do not try and play dr with others’ health.

1164mgc

August 25th, 2011
12:49 pm

I’d try this paste…. but I AM skeptical. That’s why I like reading your blog to tell me more about it:-)

Aimee

August 25th, 2011
2:48 pm

Taste #5 Umami Paste is now available at Whole Foods!!

Lou Foah

August 25th, 2011
6:27 pm

This is an amazing new product. It is all natural and really brings out the flavor of your cooking. I am hooked on it and will use it for many recipes. It is great with just some oil and lemon and a dap of Umami in your salad dressing. At least it is something new and not just a variation on balsamic or Olive oil. The more you experiment the better it gets.