Makes 1 jar
For many chefs and diners, umami is akin to the holy grail. The so-called ‘fifth taste’ was first identified by the chemist Kikunae Ikeda in 1908, as a way to describe the family of satisfying savoury flavours that seem to sit outside the bitter, sour, salty or sweet categories so familiar to our taste buds. It’s often described as meaty or yeasty, and is present in the taste profile everything from bone broth to breast milk. In Japanese, ‘umami’ translates – with pleasing simplicity – as ‘yummy’.
Despite the astonishing variety of ingredients said to possess it, and the notoriously tricky-to-pin-down flavour characteristics, umami has a firm backbone of science behind it. The taste sensation of umami is triggered by glutamate receptors on the tongue, which respond to certain amino acids and nucleotides found in the chemical make-up of certain foodstuffs, including but by no means restricted to: mushrooms, seaweed and fermented products – all of these cornerstones of Japanese cuisine.
So who better to approach for an umami-laced kitchen tip than Yuki Gomi, globe-trotting Japanese chef, Sushi at Home author, and the founder and tutor of South London cookery school Yuki’s Kitchen?
We asked Yuki if there was a simple way of giving your cooking an umami punch without reaching for a fistful of MSG, and she let us into one of her kitchen secrets: shio-kouji, or umami salt. This jazzed-up seasoning is a sort of salt 2.0. Yuki recommends it for marinades, dressings, stews, soups, roasts, for tenderising meat and pretty much any situation where you might use regular salt. It has all the saltiness of the standard stuff but is both healthier (as there’s less actual salt in it and it’s rich in vitamins, minerals and probiotics), and tastier too. To make it, you need to get your hands on koji – rice fermented with Aspergillus oryzae (the magic mould used to make soy sauce). Ubiquitous in Japan, it’s trickier to find in the UK – but available online from specialist sites such as The Japan Centre.
Prefer to learn direct from the chef? Yuki’s Kitchen courses and workshops include detailed instruction in how to make umami salt, miso and other signature Japanese cooking essentials – view the course calendar here.
35g sea salt
- Combine the koji and salt, mixing it together thoroughly.
- Transfer the mixture to a suitably sized glass or plastic container and pour over the water. Mix well with a spoon.
- Umami salt will keep well for two weeks – just remember to give it a stir every other day.