Umami has been debated as the fifth specific taste, alongside sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. If you've never heard of it, you've probably experienced it.
Umami (pronounced oo-mommy) is described as a “wow, that was good” sensation. It characterizes a meal or food that offers satiety, and is a taste that offers a feeling of completeness, or being “done.” The sensation is made through the receptors on the tongue that recognize salt forms of the compound glutamate, found in MSG, or monosodium glutamate. Many people know MSG as a “bad” chemical added to Chinese food and other fast foods. But they also know that it is easy to overeat things with MSG because they taste "so good."
So if umami is obtained from MSG, is it bad? No! Umami is sensed with the ingestion of MSG, which is just one form of glutamate, but there are a lot of other foods with glutamate. You can obtain umami in a healthier way by eating other natural sources like spinach, shitake mushrooms, garlic, Parmesan cheese, fish, fish sauces and balsamic vinegars.
Jill Koegel is a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer based in Omaha. She blogs every Wednesday. Read more from Jill.
Umami is how a small plate of delectable food can be so satisfying, yet when eating plain tasting food, more is required for the same sense of satisfaction. It is the reason why I often recommend pairing ingredients like mushrooms, garlic, or vinegar with plain foods, and also another reason to eat fish a few times a week. The more delicious and satisfying the meal, the less you need of it, and the less hunger cues you will get later in the day.
Eating out less follows the same rules as eating healthier foods. Less is more! Eat high quality, delicious foods, and you won't need so much of it, so often. The following recipe pairs a number of umami-rich foods. The three wonderful parts of this recipe that make it an ultra satisfying meal: Red meat, balsamic vinegar, and mushrooms! If you don't want to spend the money on a filet, purchase a steak such as a a flatiron or tri-tip. Make sure you marinate the steak ahead of time!
Sweet and Spicy Filet Mignon
1-pound filet mignon or beef tenderloin, cut into 4-to 6-ounce portions
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons molasses
8 ounces fresh sliced mushrooms, any variety
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 cup dry white cooking wine
Mix 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar with 2 tablespoons molasses. Use this to marinate filet 4 to 6 hours. Grill until it is cooked to your likeness. Meanwhile, sauté mushrooms in 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic. After about 5 minutes, add 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar and 1/4 cup dry white cooking wine. Simmer until steak is done, and serve mushrooms over the top. Sautéed spinach works well with this meal, and adds even more umami!