'umami' on Serious Eats

The Umami of Breast Milk

Seaweed is high in umami. In fact, the term umami was coined by Japanese scientist Kikunae Ikeda in 1908, as he was researching the flavor of the seaweed stock. Photograph from Robyn Lee on Flickr By now, any food-lover with his or her salt knows about umami, the "fifth flavor" (in addition to sweetness, saltiness, bitterness, and sourness). But I don't know if I've ever seen this bit of info about it. From the Guardian: Part of the reason why the palate responds so favourably towards glutamate could be our early exposure to it—breast milk has very high levels, 10 times higher than cow's milk. However, as with all good tastes, umami guides our appetites towards foods with optimum nutrition.... More

Grocery Ninja: Umami Arsenal

Chinese eateries are often accused of being heavy-handed with monosodium glutamate (MSG)—that cheap, nasty chemical that makes food taste good but leaves hapless diners grappling with the dreaded "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome." But, since not everyone in China has a headache, what do Chinese home cooks use to make their food delicious? More

Staple Ingredients of the Chinese Pantry

Barbara Fisher of Tigers & Strawberries put together a really useful post for people who like to cook Chinese food at home, Staple Ingredients of the Chinese Pantry, in which she discusses her favorite brands, what qualities to look for when buying a particular item and how they're generally used in cooking. What I liked most about her list is that she gives you a short but concise summary of why each item should be a regular fixture in your kitchen. For example, we all know about soy sauce, sesame oil and dried noodles, but have you ever considered fermented black beans? They're "black soybeans which have been cooked, salted and fermented, often with slivers of ginger, and this treatment... More

MSG, China’s True Dash of Flavor

Fuchsia Dunlop, on China’s True Dash of Flavor: "Chinese chefs talk often of “xian wei” — their term for umami. They use many ingredients that are naturally rich in it — Yunnan ham, dried scallops and shiitake mushrooms — to enhance the flavors of their stocks and sauces (just as an Italian cook might use grated Parmigiano or truffles to enhance the umami taste of a dish of pasta). They talk of “ti xian wei” (“bringing out the umami”) in their cooking through the judicious application of salt, sugar, chicken fat and, nowadays, MSG. (...) There may be no need to add MSG to a delicate soup made from chicken, ham and dried scallops. But in some culinary contexts, it... More

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