Sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami? It may be new to you (and me), but umami, another taste experience for the human tongue, has been around since 1908. Let’s start with the basics, what are taste buds? Taste buds make up most of the little bumps on your tongue, specifically referred to as papillae. Taste buds have tiny hairs on them which send messages to your brain after eating something to let you know what taste buds it actually hit. Interestingly enough, your taste buds, all 10,000 plus of them, turns over about every two weeks. So for those of you who say you don’t like vegetables, eat them a few times so that your taste buds adapt and learn to like those nutrient dense foods.
While eating dashi, a Japanese based soup, chemistry professor Kikunae Ikeda from Tokyo detected a new taste on his tonge. Professor Ikeda was determined to figure out what the dominate taste in this soup was as it did not catch any of the original 4 taste buds. After a few classical chemical procedures, Professor Ikeda discovered another taste. It was from glutamic acid (also known as glutamate). He named it “umami” based on the Japanese adjective “umai” meaning delicious.
Umami can be described as a mild flavor. Foods such as aged cheese, seafood, tomatoes, beets, corn and soybeans all carry the signatures of umami. Here is a Five-Spice Shrimp & Vegetable Packets recipe to test those taste buds out!
- 3 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil, (see Shopping Tip)
- 3 tablespoons rice wine, (see Shopping Tip) or dry sherry
- 1 1/2 tablespoons honey
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
- 1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder, (see Shopping Tip)
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper, (optional)
- 1 1/4 pounds raw shrimp, (26-30 per pound; see Note), peeled and deveined
- 1 cup fresh corn kernels, (from 1 large ear; see Tip)
- 2 cups sugar snap peas, trimmed
- 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
- Combine soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine (or sherry), honey, garlic, ginger, sesame seeds, five-spice powder and crushed red pepper (if using) in a large bowl. Add shrimp and mix well. Marinate in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 400°F
- To prepare packets, start with four 20- to 24-inch-long pieces of parchment paper or foil. Fold in half crosswise. With the parchment or foil folded, draw half a heart shape on one side as you would if you were making a Valentine. Use scissors to cut out the heart shape. Open up the heart.
- Combine corn with snap peas and bell pepper in a medium bowl.
- Using a slotted spoon, transfer one-fourth of the shrimp to one side of each open heart fairly close to the crease and leaving at least a 1-inch border around the edges for folding. (Reserve the marinade.) Place one-fourth of the vegetable mixture (about 1 cup) on top of each portion of shrimp.
- Close the packet to cover the ingredients. Starting at the top, seal the packet by folding the edges together in a series of small, tight folds. Twist the tip of the packet and tuck it underneath to help keep the packet closed. Place the packets on a large rimmed baking sheet (packets may overlap slightly). Bake until the shrimp are just cooked through and the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, place the reserved marinade in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high and boil until reduced slightly, 3 to 5 minutes.
- Let the packets rest unopened for 5 minutes. Serve the shrimp and vegetables drizzled with the reduced marinade.
Written By: Brittany Schneider