Skip to main content

The secret of Umami: Unlocking the fifth taste.

This week I received a little present from the Michelin starred chef, Ricard Camarena. Apparently he has spent the last few years developing a new product called “Letern” and he very kindly sent a nicely packaged bottle to all the Michelin starred chefs in Spain. Ricard Camarena has been using this anchovy essence for the last six years as a taste enhancer and as a substitute for salt in his stocks and broths, whether they contain fish, meat or vegetables. “Anchovy brine is my salt”, he states, “It’s the umami of the sea and has everything the sea contains: salt, iodine, oxide and the salting of fish over time”. I must admit that I liked it a lot and it has inspired me to make my own mix.

So what is umami and why are chefs obsessing over it?

Basically umami is the enigmatic fifth taste, a rich, meaty flavour and a catalyst that unlocks and defines the deliciousness in certain savoury foods. About 3,000 years ago, Greek philosophers came up with the concept of our four elemental tastes: sweet, salty, sour and bitter. Their theory remained intact right up until the early 20th century, when a scientist in Japan discovered a fifth taste: umami. But unlike the traditional four tastes, umami it seems, is a bit more complicated. In Japan, people have for years used dashi, an umami-rich stock made from kombu (seaweed), to illicit the best flavour from food. The concept of umami has been recognised in the East for a long time, but only over the past decade or so has umami started to play an increasingly important role in the West. Now obsessive chefs believe that if you can find the perfect balance of the five basic tastes: sweet, salt, bitter, sour and umami, you’ll have some sort of culinary utopia!

Thankfully for those who don’t want to douse all their food in soy sauce, fish sauce and glutamate there are some naturally occurring umami rich foods such as sardines, mackerel, oysters, mushrooms, truffles, soy beans, potatoes and tomatoes out there.

Tomatoes actually take on an intense umami flavour when they are dried and there are a number of reasons why the flavour of tomatoes changes during both the cooking and drying processes.
The first is that the tomatoes are sprinkled with fairly high levels of salt to help to remove moisture. During the drying or cooking process this causes all of the flavour molecules to become more concentrated. The resulting flavour is more intense and without getting too technical, the glutamic acid breaks down over the course of the drying process - due to the evaporation of water and introduction of salt - and changes into different aroma molecules. That’s why a basic tomato sauce or ketchup has lots of umami, but when you dry tomatoes, they have considerably more and they can also flavour so many dishes. Now is the perfect time to try your own sun- dried tomatoes and unlock all that hidden umami!



2kl         ripe plum tomatoes
6         garlic cloves, crushed
6tbsp         chopped oregano
1tbsp         sea salt (flor de sal)
         freshly ground black pepper
         Extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to the lowest heat setting.
Slice the tomatoes in half horizontally and scoop out most of the seeds.
Salt the insides and turn the cut side down on a wire cooling rack- leave for half an hour, then rinse and dry.
Mix the crushed garlic with the oregano and black pepper. Spread this mix over the cut side of the tomatoes. Place the tomatoes cut side up in a roasting tray and dribble over olive oil into the tray. Cook in the oven for 4-6 hours or leave in the sun for up to two days, taking them in at night. Place the tomatoes in a sterilized kilner jar and cover with extra virgin oil. Use in any recipe that requires sun-dried tomatoes. Store in a cool, dark place, the tomatoes should keep for 6 months. Refrigerate upon opening and keep for 1 month covered with olive oil.

Sun dried tomato pesto

*Pesto rosso is a variation on traditional green pesto. The addition of sundried tomatoes gives it a distinctive, milder flavor. Try it with pasta, smeared on bruschetta or brush it on a chicken before roasting.

2 cloves of garlic, peeled
100ml olive oil
150g sundried tomatoes
1 Tbsp. pine nuts
2tbsp. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
A twist of black pepper

Place all the ingredients except the oil into the container of a food processor; blend and gradually add the oil with the processor running on high speed.
Store the pesto in a tightly closed jar in the fridge.


Prep time: 20 mins
Cooking time: 40-50 mins

250g sun dried tomatoes, chopped
4 fresh tomatoes, deseeded & chopped
2tbsp tomato puree
1 red onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic
a small piece of fresh ginger, peeled & chopped
2tbsp olive oil
1 red chili, deseeded & chopped
2tbsp red wine vinegar
1tbsp brown sugar
1tsp paprika
Sea salt

Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan and add the onion, garlic, ginger and chili. Cook gently over a low heat for 5 to 6 minutes until softened, stirring every so often. Add the tomatoes; sun dried tomatoes, sugar, vinegar, paprika and 300ml of cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 10 minutes.
Blend the ketchup in a food processor until smooth. (Add a little water if necessary). Season with salt & pepper.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Turn the other cheek

At our restaurant, we love to slow cook delicious, tender beef cheeks until they practically melt in your mouth. They are consistently popular with our guests; especially during the winter months when there is a little chill in the air. I would argue that stewing and braising are the quintessence of good home cooking. Rich comfort food with robust flavours in the shape of pot roasts, casseroles, hot pots and stews, cooked slowly to create memorable dishes that are not only delicious but also economical.
There is a myth that slow cooking is a lot of bother and takes too much time. The reality is that braising can be quick and easy to produce, leaving you time to get on with other things while the meat is cooking and tempting you with all those fabulous aromas that float around the kitchen.


Serves: 4
Don't be put off this recipe by the number of ingredients. The spice mix is simple to make…although you can buy it. It keeps well in a jar and can be used so many other dishes. It lends a wonderful aromatic flavour to the lamb.
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
4 teaspoons coriander seeds
16 cardamom pods
2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
4 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 cinnamon stick
1⁄2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons turmeric

How to make the Perfect chocolate brownie

Dark chocolate Brownie Ingredients. 200g unsalted butter
 200g dark chocolate 250g light brown sugar 50g peeled almonds, chopped 80g cocoa powder, sifted
 65g plain flour, sifted
 1 teaspoon baking powder
 4 large free-range eggs Zest of 1 orange
 Preheat the oven to 190°C Prepare an 18cm square, deep tin by lining with nonstick baking paper. Melt the chocolate & butter together in a bowl. Mix the eggs and sugar in a food processor. Slowly add the almonds, orange zest, baking powder, flour and cocoa.
Finally add the melted chocolate, transfer mixture to the prepared tin and bake for 30 minutes. When cooked, leave to cool in the tin, before cutting into 12 bite-sized squares.