With nine different formulations made worldwide, this umami seasoning adds a layer of funky, fermented flavor to all sorts of dishes.
Traditional versions of Vietnamese dishes such as shaking beef and red rice call for Maggi Seasoning, a flavor enhancer with a huge global following that's only recently begun to gain traction in the United States. Made from hydrolyzed wheat and/or other protein sources and chock-full of glutamic acid, it packs an umami punch on a par with that of soy sauce, though its flavors are quite different. The seasoning, which can take liquid, powder, or paste form, was invented in 1886 by Swiss concentrated-soup magnate Julius Maggi. European chefs, including Auguste Escoffier, quickly adopted it, and eventually its use spread worldwide. Today nine different formulations cater to the tastes of cooks in countries as far-flung as Poland, Pakistan, Mexico, China, and Vietnam.
When we compared batches of shaking beef, red rice, and our Best Vegetarian Chili (November/December 2012) made with soy sauce to batches made with Maggi Seasoning, we found that each ingredient contributed a comparable saltiness and savory depth to the dishes. But Maggi Seasoning (ours was made in China) also brought an intriguing layer of funky, fermented flavor hinting at oil-cured olives and fermented black beans.
If it's not there already, make room in your umami-enhancing toolbox for Maggi Seasoning and use it to boost the flavor of everything from soups, stews, stir-fries, and noodle dishes to scrambled eggs, mayonnaise, and even Bloody Marys.