Umami Dearest
The mysterious fifth taste has officially infiltrated the food scene
Life / 23 Feb 2010

Those who've proudly waited on the sidewalk for cupcakes, stalked the Kogi truck on Twitter, or embraced the bacon explosion likely already know about umami. Forecast as one of the leading food trends of 2010, umami has been piquing foodies' curiosity for months. For the uninitiated, the difficult to define "fifth taste" often partners salty, sweet, bitter and sour flavors. (A more literal translation from Japanese, "umai" means "delicious" and "mi" means "essence.") But, for those who know umami well, adjectives such as savory, rich, brothy, meaty, and earthy come to mind, and the flavor can often be found in foods like mushrooms, Parmesan cheese, asparagus, seaweed, and certain fish and meat - all foods that contain glutamate, an amino acid that imparts the umami taste. If The Next Iron Chef's Umami (Deliciousness) Challenge had you itching for an ultimate umami experience, fear not. The curious fifth taste is now just a few bites away.

Eat Out: The battle of the burger never ceases. And while New Yorkers might still be debating about the Big Apple's best one, the results are in for Angelenos. An LAist Best Gourmet Burger finalist, Umami Burger has essentially put the fifth taste on the foodie map. While the restaurant isn't brand new, the umami-focused menu concept is distinctly novel. From the Truffle Burger, covered in Italian truffle cheese and truffle glaze, to the Port & Stilton Burger, slathered with blue cheese and port-caramelized onions, to the malt liquor battered onion rings and kombu-spiked pickle relish, Umami Burger celebrates ingredients that intensify the mysterious taste, and, unfortunately for the cholesterol conscious, inspire drool.
Eat In: Soon, sandwich lovers may be swapping mayo and mustard for a more flavorful condiment. London-based cook and food writer Laura Santinni cobbled together Taste Nº 5 Umami Paste, made with umami-rich ingredients such as Parmesan, garlic, tomatoes, anchovies, black olives and Porcini mushrooms. Penne al dente, good olive oil, and a freshly baked baguette never got such good treatment. Alas, it's currently only available in the UK, so the rest of us will have to experiment with our Cuisinarts if we want a taste of umami paste.
Drink Up: While savory cocktail options are typically limited to Bloody Mary's (and maybe margaritas rimmed in salt?), creative mixologists around the country are experimenting with alcoholic interpretations of the umami craze. In San Francisco, Mazu's Black Samurai offers a shot of umami with its subtle mix of soy sauce and sake. Orson Salicetti at New York's Apothéke does umami light with his Tomato Basil Martini, made with gin, peppercorns, agave-lime nectar, hibiscus bitters, and ripe cherry tomatoes. And at the aforementioned Umami Burger's Space 15 Twenty location, Steve Livigni and Daniel Nelson (both of Top Notch Beverage Consulting fame) craft intoxicating concoctions like the Sesame Song, which contains vodka, orange juice, chili powder, black sesame seeds and sesame oil. Is it 5 o'clock yet?
©The Intelligence Group