"Umami", also known as "the fifth taste", is a flavour that is kind of hard to describe. It's savoury, but not salty, though it is usually accompanied by salt. It's been described as "meaty", "mushroom-y" and "brothy", but I prefer to describe it as "that flavour that makes you eat an entire bag of Doritos in one sitting".
Photos by Claire Lower
But monosodium glutamate (magic Dorito dust) is only one source of the savoury flavour blast. Though I've been known to use an instant noodle packet or two in my kitchen -- and I stand by this practice -- there are four other umami-boosting products you'll find in my kitchen, and I need each and every one of them.
- What does it taste like? Different colour miso pastes -- which you can read about here -- have different flavour profiles, but I usually keep a tub of the white stuff around, which has a mild funkiness and gentle sweetness, along with savoury goodness.
- Is it vegetarian? Yes!
- What should you do with it? The better question is, "What shouldn't you do with it?" You should obviously make soup -- just make sure to add it in at the end once the water has stopped boiling -- but it makes great dips, dressings, sauces and marinades, and it can add mind-blowing complexity to sweet things like ice cream and caramel. Just stir a tablespoon or two of it into any of the above.
Better Than Bouillon
- What does it taste like? There are a lot of flavours, and they all pretty much taste how they say they're going to. (I've heard the lobster one isn't so good, but I haven't tried it for myself.) The roasted chicken flavour is my absolute favourite, and it tastes like really concentrated, really flavorful chicken stock.
- Is it vegetarian? Some are. There's even a "no-chicken" base with a roast-y, savoury flavour that I accidentally grabbed one time and ended up adoring. It's a little more "Vegemite-y" (AKA "yeasty") than it's chicken-based friend, but it's just as savoury, and just as delicious.
- What should you do with it? It makes a good stock, but I'm a big fan of stirring it into all of the grains. Heck, it made me enjoy quinoa, and I have the cravings of a drunk, pregnant raccoon. Besides grains, I love mixing it with some butter and shoving it inside the skin of a chicken pre-roasting for the most chicken-y chicken ever.
- What does it taste like? It is pungent and, yes, a bit fishy. I've always found the smell to be a little more offensive than the taste however -- though honestly I like the smell -- as it loses its intensity when cooked. It's salty, funky, rich and sweet, with an earthy, almost indecent flavour.
- Is it vegetarian? No, due to all the fish.
- What should you do with it? Beside Thai food, which is a very good type of food, I like adding it to fresh, crisp slaws, aioli, marinades, and roasted vegetables. Fish sauce chicken wings are also the absolute truth.
- What does it taste like? It's very cheesy, kind of like the Parmesan that come in a shaker, but a little richer and round.
- Is it vegetarian? Yup!
- What should you do with it? I primarily use it as a "finisher", and sprinkle it across the top of salads, casseroles and popcorn. I've also used to make a bomb vegan gravy.