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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Is Umami Not All That?

Posted By on Wed, Jan 19, 2011 at 6:10 PM

The Umami Burger in question. - JENNIFER CHONG/FLICKR

Today, meat-loving provocateur and Time columnist Josh Ozersky posted a piece on the magazine's website inspired by the nationwide expansion of Umami Burger. The L.A.-based chain is supposed to lard its burger meat with ingredients that boost its umami, a taste that many of us perceive vaguely as big flavor.

You hear a lot about umami right now. The foodista product of the day is Taste #5, a paste said to include porcini mushrooms and anchovies. The ultimate umami-additive, MSG, isn't exactly returning to favor, but dashi and anchovies are certainly showing up on local menus that had ignored them for a while. Ozersky, however, has had enough of this umami talk:

Despite the fact that umami is frequently translated from the Japanese

as "deliciousness" or "savoriness," it's really neither; like salt, it's

best used as a flavor enhancer. Salt doesn't taste good by itself, even

in its most expensive and exalted volcanic-smoked crystal form; but put

it with something else, and it immediately makes that other thing

better.

Furthermore, he says, "Umami Burger isn't savory, or delicious, in my opinion; it just tastes weird."

SFoodie is certainly fond of burgers with roasted tomatoes, Parmesan, mushrooms, and caramelized onions, and the only steak we remember from our 20s was topped with tarragon leaves, black olives, and anchovies: umamaximami. But we can imagine that Taste #5 doesn't make everything it tastes amazing.

Is Ozersky speaking truth to power or simply bloviating? In regards to his opinion of Umami Burger, you'll soon have an opportunity to decide for yourself. The chain's first destination is San Francisco.

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie. Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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Jonathan Kauffman

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