Umami! It is known as “the fifth taste” in addition to salt, bitter, sweet and sour. There is no direct translation of this Japanese word; the closest translation of the word umami, is “mmm”, or savory taste. Some foods that contain natural umami are parmesan cheese, cooked tomatoes, beef, anchovies and mushrooms.
As a personal chef, one of the best compliments I have ever received is “why does your food taste so good?” One of the “secrets” I try to share with my clients who want to become better home cooks, is that I try to look for a spot in my cooking to add a little bit of umami. I have found a good cooking shortcut with one of my favorite Trader Joe’s products: Multi-Purpose Umami Seasnoning Blend. It is a mixture of kosher salt, dried onions, ground mustard seed, porcini mushroom powder, white button mushroom powder, crushed red pepper, black pepper and thyme.
I have used this Trader Joe’s product on roasted vegetables, in tomato sauces, and meat dishes, as a steak rub. It’s very similar to another product that is from a well-known Paleo brand. As it happens, I was cooking for one of my personal chef clients in Palos Hills who follows the Paleo diet. I loved it roasted asparagus with pine nuts. I also added to a Bolognese sauce, which added a lovely depth of flavor!
Adding Umami is a great trick for making your food more savory and delicious. Often I will add a parmesan rind to soup; I will cook tomato paste before I add the rest of the ingredients in a sauce; I will use fish sauce in an unexpected way that is detectable in the final dish. Understanding umami is an important step in becoming a really good home cook! I love sharing my cooking tips with people, and this is an easy one. Building a good spice collection is an important element of good home cooking!