“On the subject of wild mushrooms, it is easy to tell who is an expert and who is not: The expert is the one who is still alive.”
For quite a while, food scientists in the west believed that we only had for 4 basic tastes: salty, sweet, sour and bitter. The Japanese, however, believed that there was a fifth taste – but didn’t have any scientific proof. Thankfully, in 1908 a chemist named Kikunae Ikeda discovered that Kombu – a seaweed used as the base for almost all Japanese broths and soups – was high in a specific component of protein. This amino acid, called glutamate, is what gave Kikunae the scientific evidence to prove it. Glutamate, he realized, is what creates that fifth taste we know today as ‘umami’ – which literally translates to “deliciousness” in Japanese.
Just like salty, sweet, bitter and sour, our tongues actually have taste receptors for umami. In fact, the desire for umami led us to seek out protein rich foods.
You’ve definitely eaten foods high in glutamate and may have describe them as savoury, meaty and perhaps brothy. Foods that give off the umami flavour include: legumes (like beans and lentils), tomatoes, mushrooms, seafood, cheese (parmesan has the highest amount), miso, chicken and red meat. Think of some of the most delicious cuisines in the world – Indian (lentils), Italian (cheese and tomatoes), French (sauces made from stock) and Japanese (seaweed and mushrooms) – and you can see the link to umami.
However, what you need to be careful of is MSG (monosodium glutamate), or as I call it, “fake umami.” MSG is a chemical form of glutamate made in a lab. It’s used often as a flavour enhancer in commercial broths, restaurants and processed foods. It shows up on labels in different names such as: autolyzed yeast extract, yeast extract and textured vegetable protein.
A while back I shared with you an umami-rich bone broth recipe. This week I’d like to share an umami-rich Immune Boosting Soup given to me by a friend who swears by the recipe. I’ve written about the powerful benefits of mushrooms in this blog here.
Immune Boosting Soup
- 6 cups of mushroom broth *
- 1 white onion, chopped
- 5 cloves of garlic (minced or pressed)
- 3 medium sized carrots, peeled and chopped
- 6-8 fresh shiitake mushrooms, washed and sliced
- 2-3 tbs minced ginger root
- Juice of one fresh lemon
- 4 tbs fresh chopped herbs of choice
- Sea salt
How to Make:
Bring the first seven ingredients to a boil in medium sized pot. Simmer for 15 mins. Add lemon juice and herbs. Pour into bowls and add sea salt to taste, if necessary. You can enjoy the soup with vermicelli or soba noodles.
*Mushroom broth is hard to find for sale, although I suspect you’d find it at vegetarian friendly stores. Making the broth is a little time consuming but very easy. I highly recommend you get your hands on the book Brodo: A bone broth cookbook by Marco Canora. Alternatively you can follow an easy recipe by clicking this link or this one.
Always remember tasty food and healthy food are not mutually exclusive.