26 October 2011

Enhancing Umami

After our initital post on umami we came to realise that there is still a hell of a lot of information to sift through. After much deliberation we decided that another post was in order. ....... and maybe another one a little further down the line.

This time round we focus on how you can increase Umami, or deliciousness, in certain foods or liquids and think about how some of these processes can be harnessed for our purposes.

We inherently find Umami appealing. We have come to associate it with gustatory and health benefits, as well as that satisfying feel and taste that we get from certain ripe foods. This has lead to methods of cooking and preparation that increases this sensation. Some specifically to increase Umami and others serve a practical function i.e. preservation.

Ripening is the first naturally occurring way of increasing Umami. As foods ripen they gain flavour. This much is obvious but illustrated very well by tomatoes. When they are green and unripe there taste is unappealing. As they ripen the natural levels of glutamates and amino acids increase and so does the deliciousness.
The same can be seen in various other vegetables most notably mushrooms. The insufficient ripeness is often displayed through bitter flavours while if something is over ripe or off we sometimes taste that as sour.

Ripeness is often measured through palatability.
In this method of increasing umami we see something which is completely practical and serves both a function of deterring people from eating to early or too late. Similar to fruit, we have learnt that certain flavours are unpalatable or poisonous.

With fruit, especially this is often displayed as sourness.
In cheese's we see what is a similar process to ripening however it is often referred to as maturation. In many foods, the moisture present can often be one of the main hurdles to cross when attempting to increase Umami. Drying in many instances can be the easier way of getting around this problem.

The simplest method is to use sunlight, however with England being the temperamental climate that it is, a dehydrator can also be a simple method.

Curing is a very similar process to drying, however it includes the addition of salt or smoke being applied to the product. This method is both practical in that it preserves the food and also sensual in that we can see an increase in Umami.

Fermentation is arguably the most useful for our purposes. It is also slightly different from the other methods in it's use of enzymes, bacteria and other living organisms to break larger molecules down into smaller compounds or convert one compound into another. Many Umami rich compounds use this technique.

For instance, soy sauce, miso, mirin, sake, shochu, wine. These result in high levels of glutamate and a satisfying Umami feel. One avenue interesting to explore is the use of mirin in drinks. Although very sweet, in small amounts it could add interesting dimensions and potentially act as an alternative for sugar but adding a prominent Umami feel and interesting flavour profile.

Also, in theory wine can potentially posses very high levels of Umami and mouth feel. Also if U
umami is as much as sensation as it is a part of a food we can begin to work out ways to re-create it artificially in products for our own benefit.

1 comment:

Kevin Liu said...

added this post to the week's roundup of food science news!

this is great - I know that bloody mary's are umami-bombs, containing both tomato and Worcestershire sauce.

any other ideas about using umami in cocktails?