So's Umami!

What's "umami?" (Say "Ooo, Mommy!") It's the fifth flavor. No doubt you learned somewhere over the years in science class that your tongue has receptors for four flavors: Sour, sweet, bitter, and salty. Turns out there's a fifth, and the Japanese -- who have been hip to the idea for a long time -- have named it umami, which just means "deliciousness."

Umami is actually the flavor of free glutamates, and it makes any savory thing you eat with it taste better. This is the principle behind monosodium glutamate, but there are many other sources of free glutamate, and it's a near-certainty that at least a few of them are among your favorite foods: Aged cheeses, especially Parmesan and blue cheeses; mushrooms, soy sauce, tomatoes, soy sauce, Worcestershire, fish sauce, anchovies, and bacon all are loaded with the stuff. So are many seaweeds, which explains the use of dashi -- seaweed broth -- in Japanese cooking.

I wanted to develop a sprinkle-on seasoning that would add umami to foods without adding refined MSG. This is my first try. I just had it sprinkled on a nice grass-fed T-bone, and it definitely added something. I'm going to continue playing with this recipe, but here's the first go-round:

Beautiful World Seasoning Mach I

1/2 ounce dried shiitake mushrooms
2 tablespoons celery seed
2 tablespoons onion powder
1 tablespoon kelp granules
1/2 cup salt

First break up the mushrooms and grind them to a powder in your food processor. This will create a regrettable quantity of dust; I had to actually brush some up and put it back in the processor.

Add the celery seed, and grind for another minute, then add everything else, and grind till it's well-blended. Run through a strainer to remove any stray lumps of mushroom (you can save these for the next batch), then store your seasoning in an old spice shaker. Wonderful in place of salt on any kind of steak or chop.

This makes roughly a cup, or about 48 servings of 1 teaspoon, each with: 3 Calories; trace Fat (19.9% calories from fat); trace Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber

NOTES: You'll need a good health food store for these ingredients, or you can order stuff online. I can buy both dried shiitake (the highest-umami mushroom) and kelp granules in bulk at my local health food stores. Indeed, my local health food stores not only are my cheapest source of seasonings, they also have the biggest selection. I used good mined sea salt -- I like Real Salt brand -- and between that and the kelp there should be a few trace minerals in here, too.

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Found: hard boiled egg holy grail

This doesn't really belong under an umami post, but you've not talked much about eggs recently, and I've made an exciting discovery that makes it a *lot* easier - effortless, really - to have hard boiled eggs on hand at any time. You can cook them in your pressure cooker! Even freshly-laid eggs peel beautifully when soft or hard cooked under pressure. Imagine, no more having to plan two or more weeks in advance just to have some eggs in the fridge that will peel nicely when you hard boil them. I'm so excited because I love stuffed eggs, but often wouldn't make them because I didn't have any "old" eggs around. Not a problem any more!
This discovery comes from this pressure cooking website:
Turns out that commercial hard cooked eggs are cooked under pressure and that's why they're so easy to peel.
I use my PC a ton, but even if you don't have one, I think being able to reliably hard cook eggs is a reason to buy one. And practically any recipe that's suitable for a slow cooker can be cooked under pressure as well - it's nice to have that flexibility.
Dana, I just bought the kindle version of 500 Paleo recipes and I really love it. Tons of great new ideas. Congratulations on another fine book! Just one minor quibble: I have some cookbooks on my kindle where, in the index, you can select which letter in the alphabet to go to. Makes it much easier to navigate the index. Maybe your publisher can make that adjustment?
Keep up the great work!

Other umami ingredients

I believe tomatoes and parmesan both have a lot of glutamates/umami, if I remember my Alton Brown lessons correctly ;)
I'm wondering if (and this would be very specialized) tomato powder could be added to your mix (once we're shopping on the internet). I do think this is why parmesan rind is added to some italian soups... not for cheese, but for that depth of flavor. I'm going to give your mix a try! :)

Tomato Powder

Yes, tomato powder could be added, but it has a very distinct flavor, and would change the character of the seasoning dramatically -- whole different thing, really. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, I was just going for a flavor profile that would fit in to a lot of recipes.

I came up with a liquid umami seasoning for 500 Paleo Recipes. Basically, I ground roughly equal quantities of sun dried tomatoes and shirataki together, mixed them with about the same quantity of kelp granules, then brewed it in simmering water. Strained and bottled it. Nasty by itself, but it improves all kinds of things; I find myself reaching for it all the time.

speaking of things nasty by themselves...

Anchovies give a nice umami kick to stuff - in the same way that salt makes things taste more like themselves right up until the point where it makes things taste salty, finely minced anchovies are pure savoriness, until you just go a tiny bit overboard and things taste fishy.

The "Taste #5" umami paste available in upscale groceries is fairly anchovy-heavy, and also delicious (as an ingredient - On its own, it's pretty weird).


Yup. Put anchovy paste in a salad dressing just the other day. Good stuff.

fish sauce

Fish sauce is handier and cheaper than canned anchovies, though anchovy paste is good and keeps well.