There’s sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami. Umami is the earthy robust taste sensation that became official in 2000. Identified in 1909 by Japanese chemist, Kikunae Ikeda, the translation means roughly “delicious taste”. It’s a meaty, savory, deep taste and when you add umami to your cooking you add a robust depth.
Our umami taste begins with glutamate, which is an amino acid. Seaweeds are very high in glutamate as well as fermented sauces like soy, miso and worcestershire. Aging also brings out umami. Aged cheeses, cured meats including bacon and prosciutto will bring a pop of flavor to whatever you are cooking. The cool thing is you don’t need a lot of an umami rich ingredient to add complexity to whatever you are preparing.
Seaweeds are one of the best ways to get umami into your diet. Maine produces all kinds of seaweeds from fresh to frozen to dried. Maine is actually number one in the country for seaweed production and our seaweeds are valued worldwide for their quality and flavor. It’s our cold, mineral rich waters that make our seaweeds so sought after.
One cold July day out on Gotts Island with the wood stove going we made a soup with a base of local seaweed. It was simple, we just put a bunch of seaweed in our stockpot and fired up the wood stove. After a few hours, we strained the broth and added some root vegetables. The soup was thick, rich and yummy. Just what we needed on a cold summer day.
If you want to try a little Umami flavor in your everyday cooking I recommend Dulse flakes. Dulse is a slightly purple seaweed full of minerals, vitamins and those elusive trace elements. The flakes resemble coarsely ground black pepper and you can simply sprinkle on whatever you want. It will enhance pasta, rice and potato dishes and honestly no one will suspect you have boosted both nutrition and flavor.
I know this is going to sound a little radical but I love adding seaweeds, especially dulse flakes to anything I am baking but especially chocolate. I like to make brownies from scratch but last spring after volunteering brownies for a meeting I realized I just didn’t have time. I bought a mix and livened it up with the addition of a tablespoon of dulse flakes soaked in dark rum. If it sounds a bit weird think of all the gourmet chocolate bars with sea salt added. Trust me, it’s divine.
If you want to learn more about umami and seaweeds here are some great websites