What is Umami?
There is a food stuff that has been the epitome of umami for 2500 years. That food stuff is called koji and if you enjoy some Chinese, Korean or Japanese cuisine you will be familiar with its allure by just a mention. Before embarking on this leg of the koji journey, I'll first explain what umami is.
Umami is the name of what is now recognized as the fifth taste after sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Umami is described as savoury or meaty and causes salivation and is thought to be caused by glutamate (or glutamic acid). Glutamate is found in many foods, including vegetables such as ripe tomatoes and mushrooms, but also in meats. Although fresh/raw foods do contain glutamate, the intensity of umami is more pronounced if two or more rich sources of umami foods are combined together or if the foods are processed/cooked. Boiling, roasting, steaming, salting, smoking, dehydrating, and aging will bring out the umami flavours in food - think sundried tomatoes, chicken broth, or smoked oysters. Fermenting or culturing is another method of emphasizing or drawing out the taste of umami - think Parmesan cheese, Balsamic vinegar, or Proscuitto. A few other notable fermented foods containing high amounts of glutamate are soy sauce, tamari, sake, amazake, and miso. What makes these traditional Asian foodstuffs so spectacular is that they all share a common foodstuff - they are all fermented with the culture of koji.
This past Christmas was filled with baking orders, farm work, and caterings. After working with the tens of pounds of pastured lard, 20 lb sacks of whole grain flour, and kilos of dark chocolate, there was finally time to play with a new culinary technique and revisit an old one.
One such catering request by a client was a whole poached salmon which resulted in smoked salmon (old technique) and a better-late-than-never arrival of a water circulator resulted in cooking eggs a la sous vide (new technique).
Eating. Drinking. Sharing.