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« Soup in a Hurry | Main | Eggplant Parmesan »

Umami Generation

By Andrew Hunter

Ben and Nick are my best taste testers. Their young palates are sensitive and bright. They are Generation Z…a generation of young foodies who unknowingly love bold flavors and appreciate the umami sensation. Even though they giggle when Marilyn and I say that “silly word!” So what does this silly word mean?

We all taste sweet, sour, salty and bitter, and the fifth taste is umami. A Japanese scientist who was doing research on amino acids and their effect on flavor discovered it. Commonly described as brothy, meaty or delicious, umami is difficult to explain, though you know the sensation when you eat a gorgeous tomato, aged Parmesan, stir-fried mushrooms or just a whisper of naturally brewed soy sauce. Then you know umami.

I often explain umami to other chefs as the thing that transforms taste into flavor, which is taste and aroma experienced at once. Foods high in amino acids, specifically glutamic acid equals flavor. Foods that are aged, dried, fermented, roasted, caramelized or grilled are typically high in umami. So while Ben and Nick might giggle when they hear the silly word, they crave umami-rich udon noodle soup with the wiggly bonito shavings and naturally smoky aroma.

Adding umami to food is as easy as a dash of soy sauce, a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese or an oven-roasted tomato instead of a fresh one.

Here is a very simple recipe for udon soup using a store bought soup base and fresh udon noodles, available at select grocery stores and Asian markets.

Simple Udon Soup

1 small package of fresh udon noodles with soup base included, approximately 7 ounces
Dash of naturally brewed soy sauce
½ cup your choice of veggies (such as thinly sliced mushrooms, carrots or snow peas)
½ cup your choice of cooked meat (such as thinly sliced pork, chicken or beef)
1 tablespoon chopped scallions, as garnish
Pinch of bonito flakes, as garnish

Follow package instructions to make the soup. Add the veggies and/or meat and soy sauce and reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Garnish with chopped scallions and bonito flakes and serve.

Makes 2 servings

For more cooking with udon, try Joy’s easy Stir-Fry Noodles.

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