Cooking with Umami Flavors

Sautéed shitake mushrooms stirred it into pasta with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and herbs. Roasted vegetables with a drizzle of soy sauce added to the pan. Chicken simmered with a sauce of olive oil, herbs and pungent, sundried tomatoes.

All of these dishes have that boost of flavor known as umami, an explosion of savory taste, which is often described as meaty or brothy.

Umami means “yummy” in Japanese and is known as the fifth taste, along with sweet, sour, bitter and salty. It’s what makes food with the chemical monosodium glutamate (MSG) taste so good. But the key to cooking with umami flavors is doing it with ingredients that contain naturally occurring amino acids called glutamates.

Umami comes often from proteins that have broken down partially, such as in soy sauce, cured meats, aged cheese or red wine. It’s also found in garlic, anchovies and other tinned or canned fishs, black olives and mushrooms.

Here are some tips for adding umami to your cooking and entertaining:

  • Serve a charcuterie board at your next party, with thinly sliced prosciutto, aged cheese and black olives.
  • Turn Cole’s Smoked Wild Mackerel into a salad with greens, cherry tomatoes, lemon, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and fresh chives.
  • Add a spoonful of tomato paste to vegetables while you sauté them, or to a mirepoix as a base for a slow-cooked beef stew.
  • Sprinkle imported Cravero Parmigiano Reggiano cheese on braised greens, into soup or as the finishing touch for risotto.
  • Top your Caesar salad with anchovies, or dissolve them in tomato sauce early in the cooking process, for an umami flavor that you can’t even trace back to the anchovy itself!
  • Add one single clove of roasted garlic to butternut squash or pea soup.