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Tuesday, January 12, 2010


When I first started to see the new Kikkoman television ads claiming "Umami" as the 5th taste, I thought it was just a gimmick. But for some odd reason, the word stuck in my head. I think it's because it reminds me of that Friends episode where Ross is trying to teach Rachel and Phoebe "Unagi," a "total awareness" exercise in karate. In my world (and theirs!), unagi is freshwater eel (my favorite sushi). Makes me laugh every time! "Ahhh...unagi!"

Anyway, back to umami. I did a little digging and figured out that umami really is classified as the 5th taste, and means "flavor" or "taste" in Japan. It is characterized by the presence of naturally occuring glutamates in foods. Brothy, meaty and savory have been proposed as additional translations.

So now we have salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami. So what does this mean for us? What I figured out during my umami research is that The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook is largely based on this flavor profile. Why? Because focusing on the flavors found in umami-rich foods, along with some salty, some sour and some sweet, creates big taste in small amounts! You get a ton of flavor, without adding a lot of fat and calories.

So based on the Kikkoman campaign, we can surmise that many Asian flavors are umami-rich. I've read that this includes the use of MSG (monosodium glutamate) as a flavor enhancer, but I'm talking about the naturally occuring glutamates in foods. No worries! So what other foods have umami flavors? Here's a quick list of the ones I love:

- beef, pork, chicken, fish, shellfish -- OK, so anything protein-rich!
- tomatoes
- mushrooms
- truffles
- soybeans
- carrots
- aged cheeses -- Parmesan, cheddar, Gruyere, emmental, blue cheese, romano
- yogurt and sour cream

So what does this say to me? It says -- and umami experts agree -- that pizza with tomato sauce, mushrooms and Parmesan cheese is an umami triple threat! That's even without the meat. Lucky for you, there's a healthy pizza recipe in the cookbook that even the kids will gobble up! Not only is this recipe full of umami-rich ingredients, the entire 8-inch Svelte Gourmet pizza has less than 400 calories! That's less than one slice of take-out! But I digress...

Mix these umami flavors with some of the other strong but healthful players, like salty olives, sweet honey, and sour citrus and you have entrees packed with flavor. These foods may not seem "svelte" to you, but used sparingly, these flavors pack a big punch in just a small amount. Perfect when you're trying to make healthy food taste great!

I've been walking around the kitchen saying "ahhh...umami" for about a month now. Keith and the kids think I'm a bit odd, but that's ok. I was formulating this blog entry in my head, wondering how I could best get the point across. Then this past weekend, I was preparing a client dinner -- starting with a lovely whole wheat crostini topped with roasted tomatoes, kalamata olives, garlic and basil chiffonade. Taylor walked into the kitchen, smelled it and said, "Yum, what are you making? It smells beefy." Well there you go. Ahhh....Umami!

The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html. Enjoy!

1 comment:

Melissa said...

Love this post - I am amused by that whole friends episode as well, so the last paragraph made me laugh "aaaaa, umami." It's so true, though - and I have found every single recipe I have made from your cookbook to be bursting with flavor! So much so that I have not had to hit up my forbidden and "evil" secret stash of miniature chocolate in the last week. GO SVELTE GOURMET!