Umami. The word has an almost mystical ring to it, but since the Japanese borrowing entered the foodie’s lexicon some years ago, this term for the elusive fifth taste — which translates most closely to “savoriness” — gets bandied about at dinner parties the way “nose” and “mouth feel” used to.
The foods that naturally contain umami — mushrooms, cheeses, and soy, for example — are well known, but sometimes that fifth taste stubbornly refuses to make its presence felt.
Now a new product has emerged on the scene that promises to compensate for where nature left off. Spice maker Simply Organic, which has been around for nearly two decades, recently added a line of umami-infused spice blends to its product line that promise to elevate your dishes to the next gastronomic plane.
There are three blends in all: original, sweet & smoky, and roasted garlic & herb.
The idea of adding flavorings like “sweet and smoky” to the blends struck us as almost antithetical to the whole notion of umami, which is to magnify the natural flavors, but we decided to play along. We prepared two versions of each of three dishes, matching one recipe to each of the blends. We tested the original with a basic recipe for beef stew, the sweet & smoky by sprinkling some of the powder on pan-roasted salmon, and the roasted garlic & herb with plain pan-seared chicken thighs.
The blends did have an impact on all three dishes. The smoked paprika and promised maple-BBQ undertones, for example, changed the flavor profile of the salmon, but again one needs to raise the question of whether that is what umami is meant to do. Of the three blends, the original came closest to the goal of heightening the flavors already present in the dish: The beef stew with half a teaspoon of umami powder sprinkled in was sprightlier than the unaltered version.
The one caveat we would offer is to reduce the amount of salt you normally use in a recipe to compensate for the sea salt included in each of the blends.
The blends come in standard supermarket-sized spice jars, with weights ranging between 2.02 ounces and 3.14 ounces. Each carries a price of $7.99.