Secret Weapon Ingredient #3: Dried Dashi Stock

The Japanese were the first to describe and isolate “umami,” the fifth taste (“savory”). When professor Kikunae Ikeda of Tokyo Imperial University identified umami in 1908, he did so working from the ingredients in Japanese “dashi” soup stock, made from bonito fish and kombu seaweed. The key components, it turned out, were ribonucleotides and glutamates.

From there, the Japanese got industrious and distilled those ingredients into their purest form — monosodium glutamate. MSG. Which, if you’re like most people, you avoid like the plague. But which winds up in nearly anything processed you eat in less conspicuous forms (most often as “natural ingredients”). More

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Movie Night

I’m currently addicted to Trader Joe’s “Herbs & Spices” popcorn — the perfect snack when I get a potato chip craving and don’t want the fat. But a rather surprising development given my historical indifference to popcorn.

A bowl of wickedly addictive chipotle Mexikettle corn

I’ve never considered myself much of a popcorn guy. It’s fine at the movies, but otherwise something I just never thought about. But every Christmas, my brother Mark, a man of fine taste, gets our family a large tub of three flavors — cheese, kettle and zebra chocolate — from Popcornopolis. And who winds up eating most of it?? More

One Man’s Burger Odyssey, Pt. III — the Skinny Girls Burger

So here I am back in the Skinny Girls kitchen — my “burger lab.” Eating so many different burgers, thinking and writing about burgers, got me wondering what I’d learned in my odyssey — besides where to go for a good burger, which I mostly already knew. How would what I had discovered, exposited on, praised the virtues of or extolled upon the deficiencies of ultimately affect my own approach to burger making? Had there been an “aha” moment?

The Skinny Girl Burger

Curiously, the two biggest takeaways came from thinking about Umami Burger, which was one of my least favorite of the places I wrote about (less because of their burgers than my reflexive aversion to anything trendy). More

One Man’s Burger Odyssey, Pt. II

I kept on, cautioned by friends and urged by disbelievers. There would be time for salads later — roasted fall mushrooms and winter vegetables were just around the corner. For now, there were burgers to taste.

Howard's Famous Bacon & Avocado Burgers

The latest trend here in Los Angeles — and lord knows we love our trends — is Umami Burger. More

Umami Dearest

I love the Japanese! You know why? They make everything taste so good!

I got an email from my mom not long ago, asking me if I knew where her friend could find a product called “Umami” in a tube. Some clever person has pureed tomatoes, anchovies, mushrooms, etc., and put them in a nicely designed tube and is charging an obscene amount of money for it. More power to them. “That’s a lot to pay for tomato paste,” I said when my mom asked my opinion.

In case you’ve been stuck in your cave in the past several years and haven’t heard of “umami,” it’s the “fifth taste”. In other words, it adds “savory” to the canon of sweet, salty, sour and bitter. Umami was “discovered” in 1908 by the Japanese scientist Kikunae Ikeda. It was found in konbu seaweed and dried bonito flakes — the makings of the Japanese fish stock known as dashi. Later, it was identified and synthesized into the dreaded substance, monosodium glutamate. MSG. Voila! The reason everything the Japanese do tastes so good. (Well, not the only reason. But a big part…)

Fast forward, and every chef and his foodie brother is talking umami. It’s on menus, in cookbooks… people have even put it in the name of their restaurants. The Italians and French are singing its praises, even the Germans are jumping on board. And of course, many of the things they’ve always made and cooked with — parmesan cheese, fish, mushrooms, sauerkraut — are all rich in the unique profile of amino acids and ribonucleotides known as umami. Heck, it’s found in breast milk. The taste for umami is established early!

Is “umami” real? Can you add it to your food? Should you buy a tube of umami and will that catapult you into the stratosphere of the world’s finest chefs? Ummm…

My advice? Save the money you were gonna spend on your tube of umami paste for some nice steak or a lobster. Here’s how to make an umami paste yourself — you may find it adds savory zest to your food. Or go out and get yourself some MSG:

Umami Bomb
Add a tablespoon or so to pasta sauce, soup, sandwiches, whatever… And may the fifth taste be with you.

In a small food processor, place the following:

2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
2 anchovy fillets
6 oil cured black olives, pits removed
1 tsp capers
2 tbsp olive oil

Store in a small jar in your fridge. Will keep for a month or more.