The US grocery store chain Trader Joe’s used to sell an umami paste that was the stuff of legend. It has since been discontinued – but this recipe is a mouthwatering approximation.
The seasoning blend is good, in that it adds a flavour that I find pleasing — it’s particularly fun on popcorn — but it doesn’t read as pure umami. The dried and pulverised mushrooms do add that savoury note, but they’re pushed to background by crushed red pepper, thyme, and a whole lot of onion, mustard, and salt.
Instead of meaty, mellow, earthy mushrooms, you get a sharp, super salty seasoning. This makes sense, as salt is the first ingredient. (Mushrooms are third on the ingredients list, after salt, dried onion, and mustard seed.) Again, this is not bad, but it was not what I was looking for, so I decided to make my own mushroom-forward powder (and then, many months later, I actually made it).
First, the shrooms. Like Trader Joe’s, I used nutty, almost buttery porcini mushrooms, but I also grabbed some shiitakes because, as Dan Boeckner explained in his iconic How I Eat, they have a nice “umami-MSG vibe.” The combination of these two fun guys, plus just a little bit onion, garlic and salt, created a super savoury powder that lets the umami shine. To make it, you will need:
1/4 cup dried shiitake mushrooms
1/4 cup dried porcini mushrooms
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
Combine everything in a food processor, spice grinder, or high-powered blender until you have a fine powder. Add to everything that isn’t a dessert. Could you add MSG to this? Of course you could, and I wouldn’t dare stop you, but try it without first, and use a delicate hand; you wouldn’t want to obscure the mushrooms.