Umami: The 5th Taste
Just like the names of the 3 Stooges, even non-foodies can rattle off the 4 tastes without much brain power -- sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. But some folks don’t know there’s a 5th taste. It’s called umami and it evokes a savory taste in your mouth. Scientifically, it induces salivation and a furry sensation on the tongue, stimulating the throat, the roof and the back of the mouth. You’ve probably had the sensation if you’ve eaten green tea or fermented or aged products like cheeses, soy sauce, etc. You’ll find the umami taste in certain fish, shellfish, cured meats and vegetables like mushrooms, spinach and ripe tomatoes. In fact, if you were breast fed or breast fed your children, you’ll be probably be surprised to know that breast milk contains about the same amount of umami as a seafood or vegetable broth.
Escoffier, a Parisian chef discovered the 5th taste in the late 1800s. In later years and on another continent, Ikeda, a Japanese lover of seaweed soup discovered the taste also. Ikeda called it glutamic acid, but later renamed it "umami," which means "delicious" or "yummy" in Japanese. Glutamate is found in most living things, but when they die, when organic matter breaks down, the glutamate molecule breaks apart. Remember when the quantities of MSG in Chinese foods started being regulated? MSG stands for monosodium glutamate.
In 2002, umami became the hot trend in culinary circles and continues to be recognized by chefs as an alternative taste for flavoring their dishes. Now, you can experience the umami taste in your burger. The L.A. burger chain of the same name – Umami Burger – recently opened a store in San Francisco.
The Asian-influenced spot features a tasty (well, savory) made-on-site patty, shiitake mushroom, caramelized onions, roasted tomato, a Parmesan crisp, and their special umami ketchup. (the special sauce to end special sauces). The SF-only bacon-wrapped scallop burger is topped with crispy pork belly, sweet chili sauce, and yuzu-garlic aioli. An extensive beer and wine allows you to have a balanced flavor experience to your liking.
==B Umami Burger Union, 2184 Union Street, at Fillmore Street,
13th Annual Wine & Food Affair, Sonoma, November 5-6, 11-4: 110 participating wineries offer paired sips and bites throughout wine country. Or order the cookbook, “Tasting Along the Wine Road,” featuring recipes from each visit (Francis Ford Coppola, Hanna, Kendall Jackson, etc.).
Tickets ($30-$70) online at www.wineroad.com or call 800-723-6336.
Wanna Know Where the Pros Chow Down???? There’s an APP for that!
If you’re curious to know where celebrity chefs eat and what foods they crave, www.chefsfeed.com is a new web site that covers those bases. The app (for iPhone, Android and Blackberry) only covers Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Chicago…so far. Expansion to other major cities like Seattle, Washington, DC is planned. More good news: Virgin America has just picked up the web site for all of its flights so you can be ready to go when you land.
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