Wake Up Call

Umami Burger Condiments Bring the Fifth Flavor to Your Cupboard

Umami Burger is something of a California icon. The restaurant has more than a half-dozen locations in L.A. and scads of accolades including GQ's "Burger of the Year." By most accounts, it makes a fine burger for two main reasons: 1. It uses quality meat in its ground. 2. Those burgers feature unique flavors focused on "umami," the mysterious fifth flavor.

We'll probably be waiting awhile until Umami Burger corrects its obvious oversight and builds a branch here in the Valley. But in the meantime, some of those flavors are available for purchase through Umami Burger's website.

Umami is difficult to describe, although "savory" may be the easiest way to think of it. Umami is found in everything from fish to mushrooms, and it largely imparts a well-rounded flavor to food, particularly broths and soups. The Japanese, who first identified that umami was a taste separate from salty, use the L-glutamate in seaweed to act as the base for virtually all their broths. If you've ever wondered why tofu is bland but miso soup is delicious, now you know. It's the umami/L-glutamate in kombu.

Kombu appears to be the linchpin of Umami Burger's line of condiments. If you're looking for an easy way to add a savory flavor to pretty much anything, umami dust might fit your needs perfectly. If you're looking for expensive ketchup, perhaps their truffled umami ketchup will be more to your liking. It also offers barbecue sauce, a master soy sauce, and a so-called "umami reserve" Red Boat Fish Sauce. Given: the restaurant is charging you $10 for around two ounces of fish sauce, so it better be brewed with the tears of fish angels. For comparison you can pick up two, 8-ounce bottles for a couple bucks more.

Of course, if you don't buy the hype and its branded products. You could always try making your own umami dust at home. Considering how common umami is to Asian cooking it shouldn't a surprise that the recipe is so simple.

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