Where do we get the natural umami taste from?


Something was always missing. I just didn't know what exactly. Since I had less and less desire for meat and more and more vegetables, my meals often turned out ... hm, a little bland. When I chopped dried tomatoes into the salad dressing, everything suddenly tasted much better. Soy sauce over the dish - also worked, only then everything tasted like ... soy sauce. And when I sprinkled a lot of parmesan over my beloved broccoli to gratinate, it came across a class better. I went to myself to find out the secret and found it relatively quickly. Of course everything had been known for a long time, I just didn't know it. In 1908 the Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda noticed the same thing and fiddled around in his laboratory until he had his Eureka moment: the umami flavor was born.

Until now it was assumed that humans could only feel sweet, sour, salty and bitter on their tongues, but now everything has changed. Without falling into complicated chemical structural formulas, just one thing should be said here: A kind of overarching sense of taste had evolved which can best be described as tasty, meaty, hearty or full-bodied. The receptors react to the salt of glutamic acid, which is contained in some foods - and we drool. If we taste it, the body knows that it can expect protein-rich food, i.e. the valuable protein that it urgently needs to maintain vital functions.

How does he know? We get hooked even as babies: there is a lot of this glutamic acid in breast milk. Did you know? Ikeda didn't hesitate, isolated the stuff and turned it into monosodium L-glutamate, which he obtained from hydrolyzed wheat. Dried and sprinkled in a form, it then functioned as a kind of Far Eastern Maggi and Ikeda became extremely rich. His discovery electrified cooks all over the world. From then on everyone was looking for umami. Where was it hiding? Well, for example in the dried Japanese seaweed that the fishermen brought with them as a kind of by-product from their catch. This is why they are also included in the ramen soup that the Japanese like to sip for breakfast. Parmesan cheese over pasta Bolognese provides two sources of umami: it has the fried minced meat anyway and Parmesan contains two grams (per hundred).

The fermentation process of the Italian hard cheese acts as a turbo. And sun-dried tomatoes contain lots of natural glutamate. Just like mushrooms, also dried here. Now the industrially produced monosodium glutamate does not have a good reputation with us. Some people, including myself, react with too much of it with a headache. So I sat down at the kitchen table and thought a little. How could I make this umami flavor out of normal, natural and easily obtainable foods? After all, I couldn't go to Japan to collect kombu seaweed from the sandy beach. I wanted all of this from the supermarket around the corner. I studied tables, did a little math, and then I called a friend who had two things: a son who is an avid mushroom picker and one of those kitchen machines that can do just about anything.

I knew that the son had brought home such large quantities of mushrooms last autumn that they had to be cut into slices and dried properly (which, by the way, is not that difficult and happens pretty quickly). Then the crispbread-like slices were ground in a large mortar and placed in airtight jars, where they were now waiting for their big entrance, for example in gravies. My friend and I made a date, and I brought two large bags of sun-dried tomatoes with me. The basic idea was very simple: We mixed the ground mushrooms, the tomatoes and some grained vegetable stock with each other (also works in a standard blender) and then poured our own personal taste miracle into washed jam jars, which we closed properly.

Then we put a dry, crisp roll in the second umami spice load, one that is also used for meatballs. That’s a top-quality gravy that you simply put in liquid - and hey presto, it’s ready; the bread flour acts here as a natural thickener. Oh, one more thing. For our vegan readers: You can also use yeast flakes instead of the granulated broth. But they are not widely available in supermarkets, so I took an everyday product. So: making umami is really very easy, you just have to be careful: If the fifth sense of taste is tickled, you usually eat more than you actually intended. Because umami increases the appetite. But if it's so nice ...

The article can also be found in DIE PTA IN DER APOTHEKE 09/2020 from page 114.

Alexandra Regner, PTA and journalist
Questions to the author at [email protected]