Friday, October 1, 2010

Umami + Giveaway

I promised you a giveaway, and so here it is. More than anything it is a thank you. Thank you for this last year. I am giving away my favorite new ingredient. Smoked paprika is amazing. It is far and away better than any paprika you've ever had before (and yes, I do have Hungarian paprika, in fact I have 3 other varieties... but I really like the stuff). Smoked paprika adds that umami flavor, an real depth and dimension to a dish. 

Umami is actually a fifth taste. Salty, sweet, bitter, sour and umami. I remember years ago teaching my son's preschool co-op about taste. We sampled capers, sweetened chocolate, unsweetened chocolate and plain yogurt. I forgot to teach umami, but I suppose that is forgivable.  Not everyone knows about umami. It was discovered by a Japanese scientist in 1908, but wasn't recognized as a true fifth taste until the 1980s. Umami comes from glutamate, a type of amino acid and ribonucleotides. Lucky for us both, you don't need to understand what umami is to enjoy it; chances are you already do.

According to the UMAMI Information Center, here are foods with naturally high occuring levels of umami:

[ Sea food ]
  • Kombu
  • Seaweed
  • Katsuobush/Dried bonito flakes
  • Niboshi/Small dried sardines
  • Bonito
  • Mackerel
  • Sea bream
  • Tuna
  • Cod
  • Prawns
  • Squid
  • Oysters
  • Shellfish
[ Meat ]
  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Chicken
 [ Vegetables ]
  • Tomatoes
  • Shiitake mushrooms
  • Enokitake mushrooms
  • Truffles
  • Soy beans
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Carrots
[ Others ]
  • Parmesan Cheese
  • Green tea
  • soy sauce
  • Chicken Egg
  • Oyster Sauce 
Although meat may be a common form of umami, it isn't the only place you can find it. Parmesan cheese (real, aged stuff, not the green can) has a higher level of umami than most any other food. Umami is a savory thing that causes us to feel satiated: salted foods seem saltier, rich foods are more satisfying and a little goes a long way. And if you are using meat- understand how to use it sparingly to flavor a dish; it doesn't always need to be the dish. Once you understand that it becomes easier to add depth and dimension to food by using umami judiciously. 

I made a vegetarian chili this week when I had the missionaries over for dinner. They both swore it was some of the best chili they had ever had, and it wasn't because it was the super beefy, bowl of manliness, all meat and throw the beans out chili they make in my home state of Texas. Rather, it was because I was working the umami. I layered flavors to add lots of flavor and satisfaction that some vegetarian recipes lack. The results were fantastic.

Check out some more great places to learn more about umami: 
Uncovering Umami, an aricle by David Kasabain, author of The Fifth Taste, Cooking with Umami

And for the Smoked Paprika Giveaway:
Leave a comment and tell me your favorite meal, the one you want to eat on your last night on earth. I will be telling you mine soon.
P.S. I almost forgot I will let the winner choose a title from some of the books I have on healthy and vegetarian eating...


  1. Chicken tikka masala. I know, I know, I should choose something more healthy (less cream, less/no meat), but, oh boy, that stuff does me in every time ("Thirds, please.").

  2. Were you sentenced to death row?
    If so, get a hop, skip, and jump ahead of the other n00bs by checking out what's hip:

    Peanut butter and banana sammiches have always been and will always be my blue ribbon.

  3. My favorite meals usually include some type of soup. Calabaza,Corn and Cononut is one of my favorites.

  4. I thoroughly enjoy your website and peruse it often to find new recipes for our family who has been vegetarian for almost a year now. On to my last meal (in detail):
    mashed potatoes: red potatoes(skins left on)made with heavy cream and a little Romano cheese added
    fresh green beans: lightly stemmed and sauté in olive oil with sliced mushrooms
    greek salad: made with feta and kalamata olives
    Artisan bread: with homemade blackberry jam
    Dessert: Homemade Pina Colado Ice cream


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.