We've all been around long enough to have heard the word umami, the Japanese term for the sensation of "meatiness." It's one of the five basic tastes that are sensed directly on the tongue (the others being salty, sweet, bitter, and sour), as opposed to the vast majority of what we perceive of as "flavor," which is actually created by aromatic compounds stimulating receptors in our soft palates and nasal passage. Glutamates are the molecules that lend this umami sensation to foods, and are a salt of glutamic acid, an amino acid found in abundance in certain things like seaweed and cheese. It can be bought in crystal form as monosodium glutamate (aka Ac'cent).

Like salt and sugar, glutamates have the ability to enhance certain qualities of foods without actually changing their flavor profile, making them the ideal candidate for—pardon the expression—beefing up my turkey burgers.

  • Hon-dashi: A dried, powdered form of dash, the Japanese broth made with sea kelp and smoked bonito flakes. While sea kelp on its own can contain up to 3200mg/100g of glutamates, the amount in powdered dash is considerably less—closer to 1,000mg/g.
  • Pure MSG powder: To be used sparingly. By the way, any time someone claims to be allergic to MSG, just point out to them that Parmesan cheese is about 1 percent glutamic acid—a far higher concentration than is in your typical container of take-out Chinese food.
  • Dried porcini mushrooms: While mushrooms themselves only contain about 180mg/100g of glutamates, drying them concentrates this amount.
  • Parmesan cheese: This is a heavy hitter, with around 1200mg/100g.
  • Marmite:. The most concentrated of the lot at 1900mg/ 100g. Marmite (and vegemite) are made with yeast extract, the same ingredient that food manufacturers add to canned beef broth, allowing them to create soups that taste meaty, even when they contain almost no meat at all.
  • Soy Sauce: Asides from high salt levels, soy sauce has got around 1,000mg/100g.
  • Anchovies: A common addition to French stews, anchovies are on the same level as soy sauce, with about 1,000mg/100g.
  • Worcestershire Sauce: Remember the old Lea & Perrins commercials? "Lea & Perrins—for a better steak." Well, it's the 800mg/g of glutamates that do the bulk of its work.

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