Umami, the fifth taste, is no longer a mysterious phenomenon, relegated to dusty textbooks in chemistry labs. Everyone who’s marveled over the incredible depth of flavor of contained in a single drop of soy sauce, or savored the juicy flesh of a ripe tomato knows, just how compelling this sensation is. Coined in Japan over a century ago, umami refers to the taste of glutamate, inosinate, or guanylate, chemically speaking. These components are found in a variety of plant-based foods, which are critical for creating satisfying meatless meals. The greatest wealth of umami, and my personal favorite secret ingredient, is the shiitake mushroom.
Fresh shiitake mushrooms boast approximately 70mg of naturally occurring glutamate per 100g, but drying them increases their umami more than tenfold. Concentrated into an even smaller area, 100g of dried shiitake contain about 1060mg of glutamate AND 150mg of guanylate. I’m not much for math, but it’s easy to understand why even a single small mushroom cap can amplify any recipe to new savory heights.
Of course, not all shiitake are created equal. Like their luxurious fungi brethren, truffles, imposters in the marketplace offer tempting deals, much to the detriment of quality. Small, woody, bland, and muddy, bad mushrooms are the bane of any eater’s existence. Don’t gamble with your cooking; seek out high-quality shiitake from those who know them best. SUGIMOTO sells only premium, forest-grown shiitake mushrooms straight from Kyushu, Japan. Harvested from the natural sweet sap oak log, a collective of over 600 independent growers use 1,000-year-old Japanese techniques to cultivate sustainable harvests, producing the best tasting and textured shiitake possible.
Gently dehydrated over the course of 24 hours, freshness is locked in without the use of preservatives or pesticides, all while developing their distinctive umami essence. Separated into two categories based on size, Koshin are more dainty and delicate, while Donko are thicker and more robust. Both yield an incredible intensity of flavor and aroma, suitable for all sorts of soups, stews, salads, snacks, and just about anything else you want to add a greater depth of flavor or meaty bite. For the best results, both varieties should be soaked in cold water overnight, and ideally 24 hours, contrary to many instructions for a quick dip into boiling water. This slow rehydration process allows for every cell to plump with moisture, making even the tougher stems soft enough to enjoy.
For those who shrink at the sight of fungus in general, shiitake powder will become your new best friend. Mushroom haters needn’t fear these spores; unlike dried porcini, shiitake can enhance the taste of your cooking without adding the funky, earthy mushroom flavor that turns many away. The coarse grind allows for even dispersion through the dish, while lasting longer on your tongue, enveloping your whole mouth in savory flavor.
Umami-rich foods are not only more delicious, but have clear health benefits as well. They’re literally mouth-watering, and that saliva helps with digestion. Recent studies have also shown that they’re more filling, thus helpful for curbing appetite and aiding in weight management. Additionally, shiitake mushrooms are surprisingly rich in Vitamin D, containing your full daily recommended allowance in just 1 gram, or in other words, about 1/10th of a cap. Move over, milk!
Plant-based proteins really shine when the power of umami is applied with a deft hand. You don’t need to be an accomplished chef to harness the culinary capacity of dried shiitake mushrooms, though. As summer approaches, it’s time to dust off those grills and fire up some juicy burgers. Leave the cows out at pasture for this party; mushrooms do all the heavy lifting in these massive, meaty patties.
Chickpeas and mushrooms join forces to create supple yet sturdy burgers that are sure to satisfy the heartiest of appetites. Crisp on the outside, the initial crunchy bite yields easily to a tender interior, bursting with an intense depth of savory flavor.
Melting sumptuously into those supple centers isn’t cheese, but a generous dollop of homemade garlicky aioli, infused with even more shiitake goodness. Further amplifying the bold flavor that can only come from top notch shiitake powder, this spread comes together in mere minutes. I’d recommend making it in advance and keeping it on hand for smearing on all sorts of sandwiches, using as a dip for French fries, or drizzled over salads for a creamy dressing. In fact, you might want to double that recipe right off the bat. It’s irresistibly tempting to pour it on thick.
Where’s the meat? Right here, between two buns! Vegan meat is the new beef, make no mistake. You don’t need to buy into expensive, fancy, or highly-processed alternatives to get the same satisfying experience. Homemade burgers utilizing simple pantry staples are elevated to new heights when umami comes into play. SUGIMOTO dried shiitake mushrooms, in both whole and powdered formats, guarantee an unrivaled taste sensation with every bite. No one will guess your secret ingredient, but everyone will know in an instant that these aren’t your average, humdrum veggie burgers.
No matter how you top them, this entree will secure your spot as the grill master at your next cookout. Relish summer and all the seasons with the richness of umami close at hand!