Umami

When I first set off to learn the art of creating vegan cuisine, I knew that it would be a challenge.  I was giving up animal proteins, dairy and other ingredients that I had come to know and learn to create with, and exchanging them with quinoa, flax seeds and tofu! 

As a chef, I had come to know and love these traditional ingredients, and how to create a depth of flavour with them.  Depth of flavour is the addictive quality that food has. After you take a bite of something, it’s the reason you sit back and say “wow, that is good!” and then you go back for more!  In the animal foods world, a rack of ribs, an ice cream sundae, or even just a juicy burger all generally contain a good amount of depth of flavour, or something called UMAMI.

Umami is a savoury taste that is most well-known for being present in animal foods, especially meat.  What is Umami?  Umami is now considered to be the fifth sense; just like sweet, sour, salty and bitter, umami is now considered one of the senses.  Umami is tasted through receptors on the tongue that react to something called a glutamate.  Since umami has its own receptors, rather than arising out of a combination of the traditionally recognized taste receptors, scientists now consider umami to be a distinct taste. Pretty cool eh!

As I was growing my vegan cooking career, I knew that I would need to make my food taste really good, I knew that I would need to master some of the most basic ingredients found in the plant world in order to create vegan Umami! 

I read, researched and did all I could to become better and better and I became a pro at working with these ingredients.   Some of my favourite, and the most common ingredients to use to develop Umami in the plant based food world are:

Nutritional yeast 

Tamari or GF soy sauce (or coconut amino acids for soy free version) 

Miso 

Mushrooms 

Onions 

Tomato paste 

I find that applying a low, slow heat to vegetables that contain natural sugars is also a great way to create natural umami in recipes.  A perfect example of this is with my French Onion Soup recipe.  For the recipe you want to make sure to let the onions cook for a very long time, on slow heat.  This brings out the natural sugars and creates Umami in the recipe.

Another one of my all time favourite recipes for creating Umami is scrambled tofu.  Scrambled tofu is the perfect carrier for flavour as it doesn’t really taste like anything!  My recipes for scrambled tofu all use nutritional yeast and tamari to give it the perfect, rich, cheesy flavour! 

No matter what you are making, it has to taste amazing!  Getting in the kitchen and creating is the best way to do it, and don’t worry about making mistakes, these are just successes in disguise! 

From one Plant Addict to another,

Doug McNish

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