Umami. Nucleotides. Glutamates. And what cheeseburgers, anchovies and soy sauce have in common.
It’s BBQ time and Dad’s proud of the cheeseburgers he’s making. But proud as he might be, sorry, it ‘s not him, but umami that makes the yummiest bacon cheeseburger!
Umami is the fifth primary taste (the others being sweet, sour, salty, bitter). It is used to describe that unique delicious savory sensation that we may be familiar with when we have sushi with soy sauce or cook our meats with soy sauce.
This sensation is trigged by the combination of foods rich in glutamates and nucleotides, such as soy sauce and seafood/meat respectively, on our tongue’s umami taste receptors (read all about about why it needs to be a combination in the 1-Minute NomNom “Once you meat me, you will be soy turned on“).
“… [glutamates] parmesan and cheddar cheese, fish sauce, soy sauce, tomato paste, cured ham, bacon, anchovies, beef, green peas and Worscestershire sauce…
[nucleotides] anchovies, dried shiitake mushrooms, pork, beef, dried porcini mushrooms.”
No wonder then our bacon cheeseburgers are so umami! It has beef which is rich in nucleotides, and bacon and cheese which are rich in glutamates. Throw in tomato ketchup and double the beef and bacon and no wonder the double bacon cheeseburger packs such a wallop!You might have noticed that some foods are rich in both glutamates and nucleotides, such as beef and achovies. We can take these foods and “add them to any dish to amplify the [umami]“, to instantly give our dishes a big flavor boost! That explains why anchovies, also rich in both, are often used in stews (“you’ll say this is the best beef stew ever“), salads (such as Caeser salad), and pizzas (can you spot the anchovies in the marinara pizza above?).
In fact, anchovies are used in many parts of the world to give the umami boost. In parts of Southeast Asia for example, they are called ikan bilis (Malay for “fish small”). They are used as flavorful toppings (see photo above of Malay nasi lemak), put into soups, and even fried with other foods into snacks.
So you see, it isn’t Dad but umami who can make our food super yummy. And different cultures and cuisines around the world have all found their own ways of doing so, from soy sauce to bacon to anchovies!
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