In gourmet kitchens, the buzzword umami has been a hot topic for years now. Alongside sweetness, sourness, saltiness and bitterness, umami is one of the five tastes and refers to a general pleasant savoury taste.
The synthetic additive monosodium glutamate latches on our perception of umami. Glutamic acid, however, can also be found in natural ingredients, and enables us to work magic with our dishes. Many of these are items are readily available in our cupboards at home. Parmesan or hard cheese in general is full of glutamic acid. So that’s why it makes sense to cook the rind from a block of Parmesan in your minestrone. What’s more, even tomatoes contain umami once they have been cooked for a long time. So it’s not for nothing that tomato purée is an ingredient in so many sauces, and little wonder that the Italians often cook theirs for hours on end.
The Japanese have their own umami seasoning in the form of fermented soy sauce or even kombu algae, which forms the basis of a good Japanese dashi broth. Shiitake mushrooms are also a source of umami.
You can experiment with all of these ingredients in your meals at home, for example by adding small quantities of them to dishes that are missing that certain something. A dash of soy sauce or tomato purée can sometimes really work wonders on your taste buds.
A little tip: umami also emphasises other tastes, such as the bitterness of wine. Ideally, you should therefore serve dishes containing umami with low-tannin wines.