Of the five different kinds of taste our tongues can recognize, ‘umami’ is the newest – or was at least the last one to be discovered. Almost impossible to define, unlike the other tastes – sweet, sour, bitter and salty – it’s present in all foods that are rich in glutamates, the most common kind of protein.
Meat, aged cheeses (like Italy’s Parmigiano cheese), shellfish, some kinds of fish, mushrooms and milk are all rich in it. It’s impossible to resist: so much so that the Umami Burger restaurant chain, which first started out in Los Angeles, has just announced that it’s opening a branch in New York, and will soon also have a presence in Miami, Las Vegas and Houston.
Its secret? Added ‘umami’ (you can find it sold in tube form, like mayonnaise) in every hamburger, in order to create sandwiches featuring the ‘highest concentration in the world of the fifth taste’, and to make its customers come back time and time again.
Staff shortages are hitting the hospitality sector hard, prompting some restaurants to look outside the industry to train those without restaurant experience for life in the kitchen. Andrew Friedman finds out more.