About Mastering and Enjoying Home Cooking. Drink, Cook, and Live Well!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Enhancing Savory and Flavor

Glutamate (the Umami taste) has a long history in cooking. Fermented fish sauces, rich in glutamate, were already used in ancient Rome.

Some sauces, ferments, condiments are similar and maybe used together or individually regardless of their country of origin. Monosodium glutamate (MSG), a form of an amino acid called glutamic acid is used in many Asian cultures as a flavor enhancer. While people are quick to point out MSG still has salt, using some MSG reduces the amount of salt needed for the same level of salty taste by 40%. Monosodium glutamate used to be produced by a process involving wheat and formerly was not gluten free giving rise to the urban legend that MSG gives people stomach problems eating at Chinese restaurants. At this point, international and national bodies for the safety of food additives consider MSG safe for human consumption as a flavor enhancer. Aged cheese are high in both glutamate and sodium, so they deliver many of the same delicious effects, without the MSG. Parmigiano-Reggiano is a prime example.

Many of these sauces and condiments are salty as umami is enhanced with salt. Salt varies considerable in many of these products just look at the range seen in types of soy sauce.

Salt in Commercial Sauces
Seasoning or Sauce
Chinese Maggi Seasoning Sauce
European Maggi Seasoning Sauce (from an extract of corn gluten and soy protein mixed with water)
Thai Golden Mountain Sauce similar to Maggi. Uses two flavor enhancers but no MSG. The flavor enhancer disodium guanylate is, according to Wikipedia, "produced from dried fish or dried seaweed" to create the taste of umami.
Bragg’s Liquid Aminos
Knorr Liquid Seasoning
Kitchen Bouquet Browning & Seasoning Sauce
Lee and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce (Anchovy Sauce)
Soy sauce made from soy and wheat (tamari)
Low Sodium Soy Sauce Kikkoman
Black Soy
Mushroom Soy

Here are some of my commonly used seasoner in my kitchen. (If only I had a bigger kitchen sigh...)
In this picture, left to right, Chinkiang Black Rice Vinegar (a characteristic smoky flavor), Black Soy, Tamari Soy, Kitchen Bouquet, Marin (sweet rice wine), seasoned rice vinegar, brown rice vinegar, Mushroom Soy. When buying these, generally the more it costs the better it is. The best brown rice vinegar from Japan is rare and expensive as 100 year old balsamic,and usually taken as a health tonic. Brown and black vinegars have high concentration of essential amino acid. Medical researchers now believe it is the amino acids present in vinegar that are partly responsible for its medicinal effects.

Common flavor enhancers include fish sauces, shrimp sauce, tomato paste, shrimp paste, bean paste, vegetable pastes, dried shrimp, soy sauce, NestlĂ© Maggi seasoning sauce, oyster sauce, dried  mushroom, amino acid products, vinegars, wine, sherry, port, brandies, onion family vegetables including garlic, broths, stocks, demi-glace, fruit pastes, meat extract, cheese, and ground nuts. NestlĂ© Maggi seasoning sauce is a dark-colored, vegetable protein-based sauce that is different depending in which country it being sold. Kitchen Bouquet is a browning and seasoning sauce primarily composed of caramel with vegetable flavorings made in the US and first shown in Europe exhibit at the Paris Exposition of 1889.

A good example of a wide mix of flavors is the recipe for my steak sauce. My recipe uses tamarind paste, orange rind, raisins, lime, Kitchen Bouquet browning sauce, tomato paste, brown sugar, peppers, onions, herbs, spices and vinegar. (See my cookbook page) It shows a complexity but a complimentary result.

Reductions sauces are prime candidates for complex flavor enhancers. For a great steak or chop I often make a reduction that is flavored with red wine, dried mushrooms (prefer porcini), some type vinegar or balsamic, maybe port, herbs, shallots and a demi-glace or stock. A hint of Worcestershire Sauce, tomato paste or some other sauce may also be used. These reductions are easy to make and are not expensive and the result is a high quality gourmet experience.