Umami, That’s Good!

UMAMI The mysterious & savory fifth taste

What does umami mean? 

Umami is a word coined by Kikunae Ikeda, the Japanese chemist known for his research into the source of savory flavor. The word is derived from “umai” meaning delicious, and “mi” meaning taste. Umami is often defined in the English translation as “pleasant savory taste.”

What are umami flavors? 

Umami is the term used to describe the fifth sense of taste. The four basic tastes had been identified for a long time; sweet, sour, bitter and salty. It wasn’t until the beginning of the 1900’s that a Japanese chemist by the name of Kikunae Ikeda unearthed the fifth taste that we now know as -- UMAMI. Ikeda’s research led to the discovery of the source of this savory flavor: glutamic acid.

Because of its savory qualities, glutamic acid is processed and used as one of the components in the controversial seasoning MSG, which is used as an additive in certain foods to enhance the flavor.

But don’t get glutamic acid and MSG confused. Glutamic acid itself is not MSG. In fact, it’s a naturally occurring amino acid and a building block of protein that aids in transmission of nerve impulses in the brain.

By seeking out foods that are naturally rich in glutamic acid, you can enjoy rich, savory, umami flavors while avoiding chemical additives.

Umami foods 

There are many umami foods naturally rich in glutamic acid. For example, green tea, shiitake mushrooms and tomatoes. Another excellent example is dashi broth, which is made with kombu and rich in umami flavor. (In fact, it was kombu that inspired Ikeda’s research).

Other foods where you can enjoy that savory flavor naturally include fermented foods, like tamari, miso, and kimchi.  Aged cheese such as parmesan are also well-known umami foods.

You can even amp up an old favorite like potato salad by using a savory condiment such as HealthSavor Miso Mustard, which contains 26% chickpea miso.

Miso Mustard Umami Potato Salad
Miso Mustard is the perfect ingredient for adding umami to classic summer dishes, like this savory potato salad.

Umami ramen 

One of the easiest ways to make a delicious umami ramen is to use miso in your broth. Ramen broth recipes vary widely, and often have a vegetable, pork or chicken stock base. To make your broth blast off with flavor try adding three tablespoons of Miso Master Organic Traditional Red Miso paste per quart of liquid to your recipe.

To add miso paste to your broth, first mix the miso paste with warm water and stir until the mixture is smooth. Then add the mixture to your broth. This helps the miso incorporate better into your soup base. (NOTE: To maintain the integrity of the healthy bacteria in miso paste, refrain from boiling.)

You can also substitute soba noodles for ramen if you’re looking for a buckwheat alternative.

Umami seasoning

Perhaps the most famous method of adding umami flavor to dishes is the inclusion of MSG. However, many individuals avoid added MSG in their diets, meaning they must find their savory satisfaction elsewhere.

Miso is one of the easiest and most versatile ways to add a savory element to foods. Miso comes in multiple varieties that range in concentration of flavor meaning there’s an option for everything from salmon and sauce to bread and dessert.

Make it umami with miso

Miso Master Organic Miso comes in six different varieties for a range of flavors. Here’s a quick breakdown of what to use when.

Short-term miso varieties

Our short-term miso is aged for thirty days. This produces a lighter color and milder flavor. Short-term miso is excellent for adding to desserts, baked goods, salad dressings, and vegan cheeses. Our short-term miso varieties are:

Long-term miso varieties

Our long-term miso is aged for a minimum of one year.  This produces both a darker color and a more concentrated flavor.  Long-term miso is exquisite in stews, soups, sauces and marinades. Our long-term miso varieties are:

What is Miso

Great Eastern Sun May Blog -What is Miso

More and more Americans are embracing the power of natural foods and discovering the correlation between what we eat and how we feel. As these trends shift, miso is becoming increasingly popular, showing up in recipes for everything from cookies to vegan cheese.

And while we have been handcrafting Miso Master Miso in North Carolina for more than 40 years, it is not a traditional American food. If you’ve recently come across a recipe that calls for miso, and you’re not sure what that is, we’ve got you covered.

Here are the miso basics!

What is Miso Paste?

Miso paste originated in Asia and has been used as a flavorful ingredient for more than 1,000 years. This savory paste is made by combining a cooked base ingredient, such as soybeans or chickpeas with koji, rice, water and salt. Though there are many different varieties of miso paste with varying ingredients and ratios the production process for each is essentially the same, with the primary difference being the length of time the miso is aged for.

What is Koji?

Koji is a cooked grain such as rice or barley, that has been inoculated with Aspergillus oryzae, a fermentation culture. After inoculation, the koji is stored in a warm and humid place for up to two days.

During this time the Aspergillus feeds on the grain, using enzymes to break down carbohydrates and proteins. Koji isn’t just used to make miso. It is the fermentation catalyst for sake, mirin, soy sauce, and rice vinegar as well as other traditional Japanese foods.

What Happens Next?

The incubated koji spores are combined with the cooked base ingredient, salt and water and put into vessels such as large wooden barrels, where it is left to ferment. During the fermentation process this mixture is broken down by microbes and enzymatic action to create the umami flavor and probiotic bacteria found in miso.

Different miso paste varieties are aged for different periods of time to produce the desired taste.

Lighter misos, such as Miso Master Organic Mellow White Miso are aged for 15 to 30 days, whereas darker misos, like Miso Master Organic Traditional Red Miso, are aged for a year or more. Generally speaking, the darker the miso paste is the more concentrated the flavor will be.

Types of Miso

There are many types of miso on the market and the run the gamut on flavor. Miso is often categorized by color: white, yellow, red, and mixed. Oftentimes color is an indication of flavor, with white miso being mild and red miso having a more concentrated taste. Yellow miso is saltier and more acidic than white miso. Mixed is a combination red and white, which is very popular in Japan.

Short-Term Miso Varieties

Short-term miso varieties are lighter in color and typically have a more subtle flavor than darker, long-term misos. In addition to traditional soup short-term misos are often used to add a savory, umami element to salad dressings and desserts.

What is Mirin?

What is Mirin?

Slightly sweet with a touch of tang. If you’re wondering where that hard-to-place umami flavor came from, chances are it's mirin, a delicate traditional Japanese rice wine packed with flavor. Mirin is a staple in Japanese pantries and a crucial ingredient in dishes like authentic teriyaki, sukiyaki, yakitori, sushi rice and dipping sauces.
Buy Organic Japanese Mirin

What is Mirin Used For? 

In days past, mirin was sipped like sake. But you won’t find sushi lovers sipping mirin in a restaurant today. In modern times, mirin is used exclusively for cooking. Its sweet and savory combo enhances marinades, broths, glazes and more. Add a few dashes of mirin to Japanese soups to boost the flavor, and if you’re looking to create authentic sushi rice at home, mirin is a must. Mirin is also a lovely complement to soy sauce and can be added to stir-fry to help marry all of the flavors together.

Simply put, mirin is the secret ingredient you didn’t know you were missing.

Unless your recipe calls for it, mirin should be considered more of a flavor enhancer rather than a primary ingredient. A few dashes of this seemingly magical umami liquid is all it takes to elevate the flavor profile of a dish.

What Does Mirin Taste Like? 

Mirin is sweet, but not overwhelming, with a slight, pleasant tanginess. Emperor’s Kitchen Organic Mikawa Mirin doesn’t take shortcuts to achieve its authentic taste, but rather is fermented, allowing the flavors to develop naturally over time. Our mirin contains four simple ingredients: organic sweet rice, water, organic rice, and koji (aspergillus oryzae), a common culinary fungus used in the fermentation process. It’s the work of the koji to naturally break down the starchy rice into sugar and provides Japanese ingredients like mirin and miso with their distinct umami flavor.

You may encounter mirin-like products that are not fermented, but rather made by combining alcohol, sugar, and seasonings in an attempt to mimic the flavors natural fermentation provides. These mirin-like products often contain additives like corn syrup.

How to Use Mirin 

It’s easy to incorporate mirin into your dishes. If you’re trying it for the first time, add a few drops to any dish containing soy sauce (mirin both complements and enhances the flavor of soy sauce). If you’re a stir-fry fan, just a couple of dashes of mirin will revolutionize the experience and help to marry competing flavors. And of course, don’t forget to experiment with combining mirin and miso for an added umami punch!

Buy Organic Japanese Mirin 

Check out the recipes below for ideas on how you can incorporate this flavor-enhancing Japanese staple into your culinary creations.

Tempura Dipping Sauce with Mirin

Ingredients

• 1 cup water

• ¼ cup Emperor’s Kitchen Organic Mikawa Mirin

• 2 tablespoons Miso Master Organic Tamari

Directions

1. Bring water to a boil and remove from heat.

2. Stir in mirin and tamari.

3. Serve with tempura shrimp or vegetables.

Check out our recipe for Teriyaki Sauce with Mirin for more inspiration!

Maren Epstein of Eating Works Discusses Unleashing the Power of Miso

Maren Epstein, founder of Eating Works
Photo courtesy of Eating Works

The Miso Master family is committed to spreading the word about the versatility of Miso. We feel so fortunate to connect with Maren Epstein, Founder of Eating Works, a food-based health and wellness company with the mission of helping others feel better by eating well. We had the opportunity to chat with Maren to learn more about her mission, how she’s changing the way people think about food, and how miso has influenced her recipes and wellness journey (recipe included)!

You’re very passionate about the power of food. Can you tell us a little bit about your journey?

I’m passionate about the power of food because I’ve seen it work magic in my life and the lives of my clients. When I first started going for colonics to treat my migraines and digestive issues, I was impressed by how many people saw improvements in their health from the treatments. I couldn’t believe that food and cleansing didn’t only affect your weight, but improved overall body tissue, and therefore function. People with issues from psoriasis to Poly-cystic Ovarian Syndrome saw improvements! While cleansing did its job, I found the associated diet to be restrictive. 

Once I became a professional, I had trouble helping my clients remain psychologically satisfied with the food they were eating.  I personally ate the same thing every day and didn’t have a lot of creativity in the kitchen to come up with recipes.  I went to culinary school so that I could marry my knowledge of healing with that of culinary practices to create health supportive meals that were satisfying. 

No matter how healthy a diet is or how much we need to make a change, if something isn’t pleasurable, we won’t maintain it.  I’m passionate about creating recipes that support whole body detoxification that taste amazing and are easy to prepare.

What is the overall mission of Eating Works?

I believe that a beautiful and healthy body is everyone’s birthright.  I have created this platform to share life changing cleansing and nutritive theory and to further execute these theories through the practice of food knowledge and recipes.  My recipes have a focus on gluten free, dairy free, vegan, vegetarian paleo and alkaline keto.  You will find mostly vegan and vegetarian recipes that are just about all gluten free with some clean dishes that include protein.  

You will never find highly processed ingredients on my blog!

How did you first discover miso?

I first discovered miso when I read, “The Raw Food Detox Diet,” and mellow white miso was an ingredient in raw vegan Caesar dressing.  I was in college and made this dressing in my dorm room.  I couldn’t believe how good it was!  I still remember eating that salad on the steps of my dorm building.  The recipe was made from mostly celery but the miso gave it tons of flavor.  After that I was hooked on all things miso.

When did you learn how versatile miso is?

I learned how versatile miso is when I was in culinary school.  We used miso in grain recipes, protein dishes, soups, plant-based cheeses, dips and more.  There really isn’t anything you can’t improve with some miso.

What are your favorite ways to use miso?

My favorite way to use miso is in soups and dressings.  Like in this quick gluten free miso ramen recipe I shared with you here (see below)! I also love using miso to make vegan cheeses like pine nut ricotta.

We love that you evangelize for Miso Master Organic Miso. Can you share with us why it’s your miso of choice?

Miso Master is my favorite brand.  The first reason I like it the best is the taste!  You can just tell that you put a lot of love and time into the development of your miso.  Miso Master Miso has tons of umami flavor without being overly salty.  I also love that Miso Master makes a gluten free miso.  Many of my readers are gluten free and I’m happy that they can create my recipes with confidence. 

You have a great social media following. What part of your message do you think really resonates with your audience?

I think that people want tasty simple recipes that look beautiful.  People know that when they come to my blog that they’re going to find something unexpected and just as healthy as it is delicious.  I have geared my site to focus on gluten free recipes so I’ve been connecting with everyone following a gluten free diet.  People with a gluten intolerance are usually fighting inflammation so other aspects of my blog also help them with things such as food combining and detox. I carry this messaging over to my social media channels, such as Instagram in order to connect with and help as many people as possible. 

What’s the best way for our audience to connect with you?

The best way to connect with me is to leave a comment on the recipe page of my blog. I answer my comments regularly. They can also follow me on Instagram @eatingworks, where I post regularly, and am happy to respond to any direct messages.

Maren Epstein's Gluten-Free Ramen Soup
Photo courtesy of Eating Works

Maren’s Recipe for Gluten-Free Ramen

Why You’ll Love This Gluten Free Ramen Recipe

• Quick and Easy To Make
• Gluten Free
• Vegan
• Paleo Friendly
• Plant Based
• Great for Work and School Lunches
• Can be Low Carb and Keto Friendly

Ingredients for Gluten Free Ramen Noodle Recipe

• Toasted Sesame Oil
Kombu
• Dried Shiitake Mushrooms
• Onion
• Garlic Cloves
• Carrots
• Celery
• Gluten Free Tamari
• Mellow White Miso
• Lemon
• Nutritional Yeast
• Dried Cilantro
• Gluten Free Ramen Noodles

Ingredient Substitutions for this Gluten Free Ramen Recipe:

Toasted Sesame Oil: Regular sesame oil or olive oil will also work well for this soup.
Nutritional Yeast: You can use bouillon cubes instead.
Carrots: If you prefer not to eat carrots, try using daikon radish instead.
Gluten Free Tamari: You can use gluten free soy sauce instead.
Lemon Juice/Brown Rice Vinegar: You need to use an acid for this recipe, but you can use apple cider vinegar if you don’t have lemon juice or brown rice vinegar.
Gluten Free Ramen Noodles: Other types of noodles that are gluten free including rice, kelp, soba, gluten free spaghetti, shirataki, vegetable or glass noodles.

View How to Prepare on the Eating Works blog.

To learn more about Eating Works and how Maren is changing the way her clients eat and feel, visit www.eatingworks.com and follow @eatingworks on Instagram.