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What is umami? It was probably on the tip of your tongue last night, whether you grilled a steak, fixed spaghetti or ordered Chinese take-out. Umami is the taste of protein.
- You can find some great protein-packed beef recipes here.
Umami creates satiety — the feeling that you've eaten enough and that you've eaten the right things. This feeling of satisfaction can help you better control food proportions.
What the beef industry has learned about umami explains why certain flavors taste so delicious with beef.
“When you combine umami-rich foods, it's not like one plus one equals two in terms of flavor,” Zino says. Instead, a 50-50 mixture of two umami compounds can produce eight times as much flavor as either one of the compounds alone. So, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
This synergy is part of umami's crave-creating power, and it explains why certain flavors pair so well with beef.
Aged cheeses, bacon, barbecue sauce, mushrooms, red wine, sour cream, soy sauce, tomatoes and Worcestershire sauce are among the top flavors to pair with beef, and they are all rich in umami.
These top flavors were revealed in checkoff-funded research conducted by Foodwatch, and were published in “Creating Crave,” a checkoff-funded publication. Foodwatch reviewed more than 1,700 beef recipes from 33 U.S. magazines and newspapers and categorized the most frequently used ingredients. Umami-rich ingredients were also featured in the 2,400 beef items on the menus of the 400 restaurants that Foodwatch analyzed.
Also, according to NCBA's 2005 checkoff-funded Beef Flavor Preferences Study, the top five sauces and accompaniments that respondents strongly liked with beef were high in umami: sliced cheese, barbeque sauce, mushrooms/mushroom sauce, tomato sauce and grated cheese.
“Beef tastes beefier when there are other umami ingredients,” Kasabian notes, pointing to the “Maxed-Out Meatloaf” recipe in his cookbook. The dish is made with ground beef, mushrooms, tomatoes and soy sauce.
Knowing the right ingredients to pair with beef is pivotal to recipe and product development, Zino says. Some flavors that work well with chicken and pork — like sweet and sour sauce or perfumey herbs — actually compete against beef.
“Chicken and pork have softer flavor profiles,” he says. “It's easier to develop products around those because you can basically do anything you want.”
Beef, on the other hand, has its own unique, great-tasting flavor, so chefs must be careful what they pair with it.