While umami is a relatively new concept in this country, it has been well known in parts of Asia for nearly 100 years. It was identified in the early 20th century by Kikunae Ikeda, a Japanese scientist who coined the name umami (pronounced "oo-MA-mee") using the Japanese term for "deliciousness." He found that foods with the umami taste have a high level of glutamate, an amino acid and a building block of protein. Mr. Ikeda developed and patented a method of making monosodium glutamate, or MSG, a processed additive that adds umami taste to food, much as sugar makes things taste sweet....Includes two good recipes for Very Rich Tomato Soup and Balsamic-Marinated Chicken Stuffed With Green Olives.
For home cooks, umami can open up an entire pantry of ingredients. Just as a few shakes of salt can improve a dish, a correctly applied dash of cheese, wine or even ketchup can pump up the umami, without overwhelming the dish with the flavor of the added ingredient. Cooks skilled in umami can reduce the fat and salt content of foods without sacrificing flavor.... One is to add ingredients rich in glutamate, such as Parmesan (even a rind tossed into the soup pot deepens flavor) or other types of aged cheese; soy sauce; tomato products such as juice, paste or ketchup; and fish-based sauces (like Worcestershire and Thai fish sauce). Another is to use foods high in certain nucleotides, another compound that contributes to the umami taste. These include many kinds of seafood, mushrooms and meat, especially veal and stocks made from bones.
For a more powerful effect, cooks can combine foods from those two categories. For reasons scientists don't entirely understand, when glutamate is combined with certain nucleotides, the umami effect is magnified.
This is part of the new free online Wall Street Journal. Damn you Rupert.