9 Mouthwatering Methods for Umami
In all cooking, you need Umami: that depth of flavour that tells your mouth and your stomach that what you’re eating is going to nourish you. There are many sources for this dimension of flavour. So read on, and we’ll tell you all about how your food can taste incredible and filling:
1. Umami with Onions
Onions are perhaps the simplest and most widespread source of umami flavouring. Whenever I start a soup, I’m frying onions slowly until they’re transparent if I want a sweeter onion, or fast until their brown if I want a more savoury onion flavour.
A magical vegetable, garlic's health benefits are nearly unmatched. Flavourwise, it works similarly to onion and you can include it along with your onions in your cooking process. But it occupies its own unique part of the flavour range, accompanying dishes from all over the world. If you're looking for a garlic flavour that is milder, roast your garlic in some oil until soft, strain the oil, blend the garlic, and now you have a rich, but not-too-spicy garlic umami for your dish.
3. Indian Umami source, Asafoetida
Asafoetida, the resin of the Ferula assafoetida. It smells terrible, until you start cooking with it. It smells so terrible that one wonders who first decided to cook with it. In fact, it has been used as a culinary ingredient for thousands of years. The magical effect it has on the flavour of cuisine is undeniable, however, adding a depth of umami that no other herb can match, and for this reason it is worth retaining in your own larder, sealed in an air-tight jar. 4. Methi (Fenugreek), is widespread in its use as an herb and spice in Indian cooking. You can use Methi leaves or the ground seeds to add umami depth to your dish. It also adds bitterness, which can offset a cloying or sour note in your dish. When you cook with Methi, you may want to ensure you have a properly vented range hood. Methi is the main ingredient to that curry smell that stays in your clothing.
Japanese scientist Kikunae Ikeda discovered that glutamic acid or glutamate, the natural prototype of MSG, was a source of umami flavour. Tomatoes are loaded with glutamic acid, and that’s one reason tomato-based soups are so satisfying.
6. Natural Sources of Glutamic Acid
Japanese Dashi contains the seaweed Laminaria Japonica, the first source from which natural glutamic acid was extracted. If you look up the ingredients to the now-famous umami burger, you will see that tons of natural glutamic acid, from sources such as soy and marmite, is the secret.
7. Umami from Vegetable Stock
Vegetable stock made of boiled carrots, onions, celery, bay leaves and black pepper corns provides an excellent soup base. Try cooking these items at a low boil for 2-3 hours.
8. Umami from Meat Stock
Whenever you’re browning chicken or beef, you wind up with a pan full of brown leavings that any chef will tell you is “flavour country”. Use this in your sauce. You can extract it from the pan by mixing water and a high-quality vinegar in roughly equal parts and adding them to your hot pan in a process called de-glazing. We usually just pour an acidic sauce into the pan, and this naturally deglazes the pan leavings, importing all that flavour directly into the sauce.
Another Japanese ingredient with a high umami index is miso. It is unmatched as a natural soup base, and it's one of the best sources of protein for vegans and vegetarians. It also happens to be delicious. You may use it like any soup mix, simply add to water and dissolve it, using it like a stock our bouillon.
10. BouillonOkay, so MSG, a frequent ingredient in bouillon, is not the most popular. Before you discount it outright, have a look at the science since the MSG scare. In fact its not terrible for you, and is probably less harmful than salt when eaten with food.
Nevertheless, there are a lot of other fun and interesting ways to find umami in your cooking. You don't have to use bouillon.
11. Umami from Indian Spices
Finally, we'll talk about spices. There are a lot of spices whose low earthy notes hit the umami spectrum and enhance it. When you're toasting or frying spices as with the Indian method of Tadka, you're creating this delicious flavour foundation. Whatever elements of umami are in your dish, such as onions or tomato, the roasted spices will help them along. In particular, cumin, black cardamom, paprika, carraway, carom, Bay and Indian Bay, all can be leveraged to help the umami dimension of your dish's flavour.
With this essential element of cooking knowledge, controlling and experimenting with the umami dimension, if you're not doing it already, your cooking repertoire will substantially improve.