Amping Up Savoriness in Food | Cook's Illustrated
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Amping Up Savoriness in Food

By Cook's Illustrated Published May 2012

Cooking is often an art, but when it comes to savory flavors, it's a science.

There’s more than one reason that classic combinations like a burger and cheddar cheese or the Parmesan cheese and anchovies in a Caesar salad taste so good: Not only do such ingredients simply go well together but it turns out that they contain complementary umami boosters that magnify flavor by as much as thirtyfold. More and more food scientists are concluding that when ingredients rich in naturally occurring glutamates are paired with ingredients that contain either one of the nucleotides inosinate or guanylate, the perception of umami, or savoriness, is dramatically amplified.

We already discovered this synergy in our recipe for Farmhouse Vegetable and Barley Soup, in which we used a combination of soy sauce (rich in glutamates) with porcini mushrooms (a good source of guanylate) to boost flavor. To further prove the point, we conducted an experiment: We dissolved powdered glutamate in the form of MSG in water and compared it with a solution made with a 50:50 inosinate/guanylate powder that we bought from a company that markets this nucleotide product to the processed food industry. We compared these samples to a third solution made with equal parts MSG and the nucleotide powder. Sure enough, tasters found the solutions with MSG or nucleotide powder alone “moderately” and “mildly” savory, respectively, but the sample with both umami boosters scored a perfect “10” for savory flavor.

Some ingredients are rich in both glutamates and nucleotides; not surprisingly, even when used alone in recipes they magnify the savoriness of the dish.

RICH IN GLUTAMATES

(MG/100 G)
Parmesan cheese1,200-1,600
Fish Sauce950-1,383
Soy sauce800-1,300
Tomato paste680
Cured ham337
Anchovies/sardines280
Beef107
Cheddar cheese78
Worcestershire sauce34

RICH IN NUCLEOTIDES

(MG/100 G)
Anchovies/sardines193 (inosinate)
Dried shiitake mushrooms150 (guanylate)
Pork122 (inosinate)
Beef107 (inosinate)
Dried porcini mushrooms10 (guanylate)