What is in this article?:
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.
Besides added flavors, several other elements factor into creating a great beef-eating experience, and Zino says the chief one is matching the cooking method to the cut, which helps maximize umami.
Kasabian concurs that the cut and the cooking methods are significant. Cuts from muscles that have gotten more exercise tend to have more umami.
Cuts like chuck and brisket are well-exercised muscles on an animal and have more natural umami, but they tend to require slow cooking because they are not as tender. So, for example, braising a pot roast at 200° F for about three hours creates gravy and a tender piece of beef that are both loaded with umami.
In contrast, cuts from less-exercised muscles, such as filet mignon, have less natural umami. So to bring out the umami in filet mignon, you need to sear it and pair it with another umami-rich ingredient, such as a mushroom sauce, Kasabian says.
Another crucial factor in increasing the umami in beef is postmortem aging, Zino says. It's nature's tenderizer.
Dry-aged beef has the most umami because of the enzymatic action that takes place during aging and because the flavors get concentrated as the water evaporates, Kasabian explains. Wet-aged has less because the water tends to dilute the enzymatic action of breaking down the proteins into amino acids. Un-aged beef has the least umami.
Umami isn't a silver bullet, though. For a positive beef-eating experience, the process must be right in every step from pasture to plate, Zino says. Other top factors influencing beef flavor are marbling, quality grade, degree of doneness, marinating, freezing/thawing and feeding practices during beef production.
“No matter how hard the rancher worked, no matter what the packer did,” he says, “if the consumer overcooks the beef, the beef eating experience suffers.”
Aside from making food taste better, umami brings up some dietary implications, as well.
For starters, 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, Kasabian says.
Also, if your food has umami in it, you don't have to use as much salt, because umami actually makes the salt that's already in your food taste saltier.
What's more, you can reduce the amount of fat in your food if you have an adequate amount of umami. That's because umami, like fat, creates a slippery, satisfying feel in your mouth when you chew, he says.
The foundation of umami is really biological. Taste helps draw us to things that are essential for our survival and helps deter us from poisonous things.
“We like foods that have umami, because they are good for us,” Kasabian says. “When we taste umami, we know we are getting protein in our diet.”
Diana Barto is a freelance writer based in Waconia, MN, and a former BEEF senior associate editor.