In my pantry, I have a few secret ingredients that will transform a good dish into a “wow” dish. Here is one of my little kitchen essentials…
Umami paste is a magical ingredient, which any self-proclaimed foodie should have readily accessible in the kitchen. It is incredibly versatile and works as a condiment, seasoning, garnish or added “oomph” to any sauce. It can be used raw or cooked and is right up there with salt and pepper as essential spice or condiment.
So what is umami? Umami is a Japanese term meaning “pleasant savoury taste”. It is one of the five basic tastes, together with sweet, sour, bitter and salty. It is composed of the words umai (delicious) and mi (taste). The pleasant taste is imparted by glutamate, a type of amino acid, and occurs naturally in many foods including meat, fish, vegetables and dairy products.
I use a paste prepared by Laura Santtini, which is a combination of everyday Mediterranean ingredients packed with natural umami flavor: ripe tomatoes, parmesan cheese, porcini mushrooms, salted anchovies, black olives, and balsamic vinegar. It is called, "Bomba!" and I use my flavour bomb by squeezing it into stir-fries, soups, pasta sauces, chili con carne…or any dish that needs a bit of extra flavour. As Laura Santtini puts it, “A little squeeze goes a long way.”
In addition to umami adding amazing flavour to any dish, it has the added benefit of reducing the need for salt in cooking. These two tastes cannot replace each other but umami reduces the preference for salt. It is well known that the nation's average sodium intake exceeds the recommended allowance to maintain good health and prevent high blood pressure. Umami is hence a no-brainer on many fronts: flavour enhancement and health improvement.