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The secret behind creating delicious flavours

umami rich foods

The scientists know how to create delicious food without being great cooks. Great cooks learn by trial and error how to create amazing dishes, scientists can do that in a laboratory.

Take for example the career of Heston Blumenthal. He advocates and uses scientific understanding in cooking. So much so that he has been awarded honorary degrees from Reading, Bristol and London universities as well as being made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

He, like others understands the concept of food pairing and flavour encapsulation. It starts by asking the question ‘Why is this so good?’ and not just being satisfied with how to do something. After all, when we know why something happens, we can use this knowledge to create other recipes and techniques by adaption of what we already know.

One of the basic tastes is Umami, a savoury taste, is among the five basic tastes together with sweetness, sourness, bitterness and saltiness.

But who’s ever heard of Umami?

Understanding which ingredients contain Umami, and which ingredients are improved by Umami allows us to create dishes which are on another level to what we are used to cooking. It’s so simple and so overlooked, we thought we would share it with you all on Delicious Recipes.

People taste Umami through receptors specific to glutamate. Glutamate is widely present in savoury foods such as meat broths (stock) and fermented products and commonly added to some foods in the form of monosodium glutamate (MSG).

MSG is widely used in Chinese cookery found in many westernised restaurants. It essentially is a white powder that improves the taste and appearance of vegetables when added, but it can have its side effects. Excessive use of MSG can cause consumers to experience high levels of thirst or even heart palpitations, so it is often frowned upon. Interestingly, many processed food products available on the shelves contain MSG, so it is actually quite hard to avoid unless you eat a natural, home cooked diet.

So avoiding the chemical form, or MSG, we are looking for natural foods which contain high levels of Umami or glutamate which add the wow factor to our dishes.

What ingredients contain Umami?

Let us look at a range of ingredients which contain high levels of Umami or glutamate. Meat, fish, cheese, asparagus, tomatoes, seaweed, carrots, potatoes, soy beans, onions and mushrooms.

umami ingredients

Of the vegetable variety, tomatoes have the highest level of glutamate, and the redder the better with 246mg of glutamate per 100g of tomato.

Beef has 10mg of glutamate per 100g of beef, and potato has 102mg of glutamate per 100g.

So the classic dish of sirloin steak, topped with grilled tomatoes and served with chips and a side portion of mushrooms is going to taste pretty good right? Yeah, you bet it does. Each ingredient is packed with glutamate and eaten together provides delicious tastes and textures which is why it’s featured on so many restaurant menus across the world.

Why does Italian food taste so good?

Let’s take a look at Parmesan Cheese. Parmesan cheese is one of the world’s most popular hard type cheeses. The Parmigiano reggiano, which has traditionally been produced in Parma, has a long history in Italy. The cheese was introduced in ‘Decamerone’ by Boccacio and was already being produced before the 10th century. More than two years are required for the maturation of the cheese.

Grated Parmigiano reggiano is often used as a seasoning in Italian cuisine. The content of glutamate in the cheese is 1200-1600 mg of glutamate per 100g of cheese. It is historically true that people traditionally enjoy the taste of Umami through the glutamate in Parmesan cheese. If you take a look at a large chunk of Parmesan cheese, you will find small white crystals. These are glutamate crystals which were formed during maturation.

When you consider that lots of Italian sauces are made with quantities of deliciously ripe tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, and the pasta is made with egg which has 15mg or glutamate per 100g of egg, it’s easy to see why the world enjoys Italian food.

Asian cooking

It was a Japanese man called Kikunae Ikeda who first proposed the existence of Umami back in 1908 and the word Umami is translated from Japanese to mean “pleasant savoury taste”, and Japanese food is packed full of glutamate rich food. Fish, soy sauce, shitake mushrooms and so on.

Chinese food, again use ingredients such as fish, pork, chicken, beef, soy sauce, mushrooms, oyster sauce, Chinese cabbage, onions, carrots and soy beans all containing high levels of glutamate, and as we know, they often use it in restaurants in its powdered form called MSG.

We know the Asian style of cooking focuses on balancing the flavours of sweetness, sourness, bitterness and saltiness as well as Umami, so it’s easy to see why eating Asian food, leaves us feeling very satisfied in every respect.

Using umami based foods

Understanding foods high in glutamate and pairing them with other foods, particularly when there is also a variety of textures and a blend of sweetness, sourness, bitterness and saltiness, can deliver food which not only looks delicious, has complex flavours and textures that satisfy way beyond other less thought out dishes.

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