This month, as promised, we're talking about "umami". That mysterious 'fifth taste', that foodies and cooking shows love to wag their jaws about these days. For you old-schoolers, think of this as roughly equivalent to 'savory' - a meaty, fulfilling taste. However, there's no doubt about it that the current word is "umami", a word borrowed from Japanese to mean the 'meaty' or 'brothy' taste (umai meaning delicious and mi meaning essence). It is considered the fifth of the five basic tastes which also include bitterness (coffee, chocolate, lemon peel), saltiness (NaCl), sourness (lemons and grapes) and sweetness (cotton candy).
But since this is a barbecue blog and not a home economics class, and umami is the taste most closely associated with barbecuing (think grilled portobellos, or, you know, a rib eye steak) it's the one we'll be exploring in this issue - not that we want to dissuade those of you currently barbecuing chocolate cakes and planking peaches out there. Goodness knows, it isn't that.
Umami was 'discovered' at the turn of the century when a Japanese researcher went looking for the 'delicious' taste, which he later reduced to its purest form (from seaweed extract) and invented good old Monosodium Glutamate. MSG. Recently, science has proven that the brain experiences umami as a unique taste, just like it does with sweet, salty, sour and bitter. In some potty-mouthed chef circles, the burst of flavour one gets from combining umami ingredients, or adding them to any recipe - which intensifies the flavours in any dish in a way that isn't true for the other tastes - has been called the 'u-bomb'. Like mushrooms ON that rib eye... u-bombtastic!
Examples of umami-rich ingredients include turkey, prosciutto, broth, parmigiano-reggiano, eggs, mushrooms, fish, soy and soy products and even legumes and garden vegetables such as corn, tomatoes and potatoes. The world wide web is replete with umami info. For a good start check out: www.umamiinfo.com