Thursday, January 22, 2009

Blowin' Smoke 004 - Umami

You may have heard about umami in the past year, as it has escaped the culinary field to become quite the buzz word used more and more often in the common lexicon. It is now considered to be the fifth taste in addition to the commonly known sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Professor Kikunae Ikeda of Tokyo Imperial University is credited with the "discovery" of the flavor in 1907 while studying flavors in seaweed broth...mmm! Umami (oo-mommy) has been written about in cookbooks, on NPR, and in my favorite magazine, Cooks Illustrated. Umami has been described as a "meaty" or "hearty" flavor in foods like mushrooms, red wine, soy sauce and most proteins. It exists in the glutamates which are naturally found in those foods. Umami has been synthesized into the much maligned food additive MSG, which enhances the flavors of any dish it is added to.

So how does this relate to this blog, you ask? Barbeque is a cuisine incredibly rich in umami. Start with brisket - proteins in beef are high in glutamates, and tougher cuts rich in collagen (Hello! Brisket!) are saturated with flavor from the Big-U. These flavors are heightened by both the smell of smoke, and a long slow cooking process...both characteristics of good 'cue. Sugar also acts as an umami enhancer as evidenced by barbeque sauce which uses tomatoes (high in umami) and worchestershire sauce (also high in umami) in combination with a sweetener (white or brown sugar or mollasses) to create the perfect umami-rich condiment. It's no wonder we crave BBQ. Who wouldn't want umami dipped in umami heightened by smoke and sweetness? Now get yourself some sliced brisket, a good sauce, and enjoy it with a nice cabernet and a few sauteed morels. Mmm mommy!

For more information on other umami-rich foods, check the UMAMI Information Center.

- BBQ Snob

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love umami. I am glad it is finally getting the respect it deserves.


Each joint is judged on the essence of Texas 'cue...sliced brisket and pork ribs. Sausage is only considered if house made. Sauce is good, but good meat needs no adornment to satisfy. Each review can only be based on specific cuts of meat on that particular day. Finally, if the place fries up catfish or serves a caesar salad, then chances are they aren't paying enough attention to the pits, so we mostly steered clear.