Taste Test: Umami Paste vs MSG
Laura Santtini's Easy Tasty Magic is a line of food goodies designed to enhance all different kinds of dishes. The most interesting product in this line is called Taste No. 5 Umami Paste, a concoction which enhances the umami flavor in any (savory) dish. Though it's only available for purchase in the UK, we had to have some, so we, begged, pleaded, and lo! There it was, two weeks later, being held hostage by the Post Office because of its customs sticker.
In order to fully appreciate the flavor-boosting qualities of the umami paste, I thought we'd put it to the test against the original umami enhancer, MSG, to see which would come out on top in terms of pure tastebud-exploding savory enhancement. Four rounds. Only one winner.
Release the Kraken! I mean, Accent.
Round 1: Pure, Unadulterated Umami
Taste No. 5 is a clever amalgamation of foods that possess the mysterious fifth flavor, such as mushrooms, anchovies and tomatoes. It looks like sundried tomato paste once squeezed out of the tube, and the flavor of the paste itself wasn't promising. It tasted like fishy sundried tomatoes, and as the oils of the paste warmed and spread across my tongue, the fishy flavor just got worse, and wouldn't go away.
It was miles better than the Accent, however, which is like the Dementor of the spice world. The minute it hit my tongue, the breath was sucked from my lungs, and my body instinctively started dry heaving to rid itself of the hell my mouth was experiencing. After I washed my mouth out, it kind of felt like my soul died a little.
Round 1: Taste No. 5
Round 2: Chinese Food
In order to fully explore the flavor-enhancing capabilities of our competitors, we needed to try them on what is arguably the perfect (and most popular) vehicle for MSG: Chinese food. Would the umami paste be able to make beef and broccoli taste any more awesome than it already does?
As I was placing my call-in order at my favorite Chinese restaurant, I had to make sure that there wouldn't already be any MSG in my food to ruin the experiment. "No. No MSG," the man on the other end of the line replied wearily, probably for the 10th time that day.
I mixed some of the umami paste with a little bit of the generic brown sauce that had pooled in the bottom of the dish, then folded in some beef and broccoli, and then sprinkled some MSG over another bowl of the stuff, afraid of gagging again. The beef and broccoli with the MSG tasted no different, but the dish with the umami paste actually did taste better. The beef and the broccoli tasted rounder and richer, and there was no trace of fishy or tomato flavor. Yum.
Round 2: Taste No. 5
Round 3: Mushrooms
Since mushrooms are already one of those foods that possess the magical meaty flavor of umami, I wasn't sure how the umami-boosting agents would effect them. Would there be a rip in the space-umami continuum, the mushrooms sucked through a black hole of meaty flavor? Unfortunately, the results weren't nearly that exciting.
The paste clumped up awkwardly when I put it in the pan, and the mushrooms took on an unappetizing reddish, oily appearance. Both batches of mushrooms did somehow taste more awesome, though. As before, the flavor was much rounder, as if the volume on the mushrooms had magically been turned up a notch, and they seemed more buttery. The umami paste was almost imperceptibly better and more flavorful, despite the unappetizing orange oil that was left in the pan after cooking.
Round 3: Taste No. 5
Round 4: Spinach
For the final showdown, I thought I'd choose a vegetable to use the paste on, since the broccoli in the beef and broccoli tasted so much better. I sauteed up some spinach in two different pans, as with the mushrooms, but alas, fate was not on my side this time. I accidentally squeezed too much paste for the tiny amount of spinach I had in the pan, and it clumped to the leaves and refused to melt away. The MSG spinach also cooked weirdly, and I ended up with bits of overcooked spinach in each batch. When I tasted both versions, they were just disappointing, but the umami paste was slightly better than the MSG.
Round 4: Taste No. 5
Victory: Taste No. 5
Even though it seems like putting mushroom/anchovy paste on something won't actually trick your tongue into thinking it's more savory, Taste No. 5 actually does help boost the richness of foods. This paste would be awesome smeared onto a steak prior to cooking, or mixed in with some vegetables before roasting. It was an epic battle, but Taste No. 5's victory is well-deserved.