That elusive fifth flavour known as umami can be a chef's best friend as well as a diner's dream.
While it's hard to definitively describe, it's the ineffable flavour that keeps us coming back for more. There are a number of foods naturally higher in umami and foods we might well gravitate to whilst seeking the "pleasant savoury taste", as defined by the Umami Information Centre.
Umami has a mild and prolonged aftertaste associated with salivation as it stimulates the throat and various areas of the mouth. Umami by itself is unpalatable but it can be added to a variety of foods to make them taste better, in synergy with classic food pairings such as mature cheese and mushrooms. It is tasted through receptors that usually respond to what are known as glutamates, naturally occurring in meat broths and fermented products. Glutamates can also be artificially added to foods to bring out their umami.
If your dining Achilles' heel is a juicy burger topped off with cheese and tomato ketchup or pasta with tomato sauce topped off with flakes of aged parmesan, or a porcini risotto, or ... ok enough already ... what you are probably craving is more umami!
Here are 10 foods where you can get your umami fix:
10 Foods Rich in Umami
Photo: Consortium Parmigiano-Reggiano
Parmesan is probably one of the most umami rich ingredients in western cookery.
Legendary Italian chef Massimo Bottura, enhanced his appreciation and understanding of his famous dish five ages of parmigiano reggiano by viewing it as "five textures, five temperature and five levels of umami," reports The Guardian.
Try this recipe for creamy parmesan risotto.
Another prime Italian ingredient full of umami is the humble tomato, particularly cooked tomatoes, including the ubiquitous tomato sauce and cherry tomatoes which are all rich in umami and probably why a burger tastes even better with ketchup.
Try this easy-to-follow recipe for spaghetti with tomato sauce.
Mushrooms, particularly dried mushrooms like porcini, are naturally high in umami making them a popular and flavourful addition to sauces and broths.
Here’s another risotto recipe, this time for forest mushroom risotto.
4. Kombu seaweed
A favourite ingredient in Japanese cuisine, kombu adds depth to broths and dashi sauces and is naturally rich in umami.
Fancy an umami fix? Try these kombu seaweed recipes.
Perhaps surprisingly, sweetcorn, which is both a vegetable and a fruit is another ingredient that naturally contains umami.
This Chinese-based sweetcorn soup with chilli has plenty of umami.
Many meats contain umami, however matured beef, is particularly high in glutamate, signalling umami. As if you needed the excuse, why do you think you crave burgers with all the toppings?!
Try this traditional and tasty Moroccan beef stew.
7. Soy Sauce
Fermented sauces, and particularly soy sauce made from soy beans, are umami-rich and a favourite ingredient in Japanese cookery.
This Thai soy sauce is perfect for dipping.
8. Black Olives
If you love snacking on olives, or enjoying fresh olives with your aperitif, it's probably because they contain umami.
These delicious Italian crostini with olives will hit the umami spot.
Cooked asparagus is another vegetable where you can get your umami fix.
How about this asparagus lasagne?
Fermented foods are high in umami, and the favourite fermented cabbage dish of sauerkraut is another fine example of umami at work. Even better when paired with a bratwurst.
These pierogi with sauerkraut and mushrooms are a Christmas umami treat.