Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Umami, anyone?

Make way for umami! Umami is a term used to describe what Japanese cooks call "the fifth taste."

I'm sure you all know the other four quite well: salty, sweet, sour and bitter. Some of them you like better than others....I'm a salt junkie, personally.

Umami is a savory, meaty taste. It's most often used to describe beef, mushrooms, olives and aged cheeses (you know, the stinky ones).

I was flipping though an issue of Saveur magazine and came across a recipe for Umami Ketchup. I was intrigued--could a ketchup make a burger even more beefy tasting than it was already?

We here at the T house are huge ketchup consumers. Miss D. dips her vegetables in the stuff, and I'm pretty sure Miss M. considers it a beverage. I should own stock in the Heinz company, because we go through a ginormous bottle of ketchup every week.

But I've never made my own. Would umami ketchup pass muster with the girls, or would they find it too funky-town for their taste?

I got our Heinz ketchup bottle out of the refrigerator and scanned the ingredient list to see if the recipes had similar ingredients. They didn't.

Here comes the rant: Holy shitty ingredients, Batman! Do you realize what hideous crap Heinz puts in their ketchup!!!?? I was horrified! I have been feeding my kids complete nutritional dreck every week of their lives.

Ingredient list (as seen on the bottle): Tomato concentrate from red ripe tomatoes, distilled vinegar, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, salt, spice, onion powder, natural flavoring.

Not just one but two kinds of corn syrup? You know, that stuff that nutritionists are telling us makes our asses the size of India and our blood sugar blow off of the Richter scale? Yeah, that stuff.

And just what is in that ubiquitous "natural flavoring?" I'm betting nothing natural.

I felt like turning myself in to Social Services. I am Crap Mum of the Universe.

When my heart rate returned back to normal, I proceeded with the recipe.

Turns out, ketchup isn't that hard to make. The recipe in Saveur magazine attributes this recipe to the Los Angeles restaurant Umami Burger.

Umami Ketchup
makes about 2 cups

1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive pil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste
2 tsp. tamari (or soy sauce)
2 tsp. worcestershire
2 tsp. oyster sauce
5 anchovies, finely chopped and mashed into a paste

Puree tomatoes in a blender; set aside. Heat oil in a 4-qt saucepan over medium heat. Add onions; cook until soft, about 8 minutes. Add tomato puree, vinegar, brown sugar, tomato paste and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until thick, about 1 hour.

Puree cooked tomato mixture in a blender. Transfer to a bowl; season with salt and stir in remaining ingredients. Cover and chill before using.

The Verdict:

I will, first off, admit to being a huge loser because I had trouble stomaching the thought of raw mashed anchovies in my ketchup. So I decided to cook the anchovy paste with the onions, let it get that toasty/nutty flavor and proceed with the rest of the recipe.

I also couldn't find the lid to my blender (read: I am a disorganized tool) so I had to throw the ketchup mixture into the food processor. Thus, my ketchup wasn't silky smooth--I'd advise using a blender for that step, for sure.

Taste? YUM.

I decided to have an UmamiFest (why show restraint, eh?) so I sauteed some wild mushrooms with shallot, thyme and a splash of red wine. Then I topped the burger with melted fontina, the mushrooms and the umami ketchup.

We had to eat it with a knife and fork, but boy, was it good.

**Endnote: Daphne liked the taste of the ketchup (no surprise, since she loves olives and all things salty) but she wanted a smoother texture. Note to self: find the freaking blender lid!

***One more thing: Have I decided what I'm going to do about that Heinz ketchup sitting in my fridge? No. But I'll keep you posted.Ketchup on Foodista


  1. Okay, you had me laughing pretty good! Good blog post! You have significantly raised my awareness of our infamous condiment!
    If the worst thing you feed your kids is Heinz ketchup, you are doing pretty good.
    I look forward to your next post.

  2. Huh. That is seriously something I've never paid attention to (why!?). Okay lady, I'm with you...umami-ville, watch out...here I come!

  3. I don't think I would ever be brave enough to make that. But I'm completely impressed by you.
    As for the ketchup, I went through a phase were I monitored what I bought. Everytime I ran out of something, I would check the back of the labels for the best type. And the second best for the price. I did it one ingrident per shopping trip, since I had the boys in tow.

  4. Found you from a comment on Amateur Gourmet - really enjoying your site.

    This recipe sounds great and as for the ketchup I switched to the Heinz Organic. It is only slightly more expensive, contains sugar and is really, really, good - I love ketchup (not quite as much as your girls but do love it) and was very attached to my Heinz regular. The organic is really, so much tastier and while still loaded with sugar, at least I know what sugar is :-)


  5. I've been toying with the idea of making my own ketchup for some time...this recipe sounds really good - I'll have to book mark it! A bit depressing about Heinz...but will it change my habits...? Er...I'd like to say yes...but I can't always be virtuous...

  6. Wait a second, you just happened to have "oyster sauce" on-hand? What is it?

  7. -Elizabeth: Welcome! I am definitely taking your recommendation of the organic Heinz. Thank you! You don't know the guilt I've faced!

    Ck: Oyster sauce is one of those odd asian condiments that go into Chinese dishes that make them salty and addictive. It's usually next to the soy sauce, panko and hoisin in the Asian section of the grocery store. And nope, I had to go out and buy it...even I, the Queen of Condiments, didn't have a bottle of that on hand.

    girlichef: If you make your own, let me know how it turns out.

    cc and faemom and Velva: I am still reeling from the horror of my discovery...and yet...Heinz ketchup=delicious. Sigh.

  8. Very cool....I'm not sure I can get past the Oyster sauce and anchovies...but I may try!!

  9. ck, do you see what I mean about TKW? I wish I had oyster sauce in my pantry! I think I might buy some just to say I have it.

    Anyhow, I was watching some health show a long time ago that talked about how much sugar was in ketchup. I had NO idea. No wonder Hubs loves it so much. And god forbid we have Hunts, it must be Heinz. I am going to look into the organic version that someone mentioned. Of course I would have to switch the labels, though.

    P.S. your kids ROCK for even trying something that has oyster sauce in it!

  10. Sweet Gibs, I certainly did not tell them that the ketchup contained oyster sauce. Or anchovies. They'd never have touched it, otherwise.

  11. I always wondered what umami is....but never looked it up. They mention it in the Barenaked Ladies Snacktime CD (an AWESOME children's cd!)Then I stumbled onto your site. Thank you for filling that void in my life. I've copied the recipe and I'll let you know how it goes. Thanks so much!

  12. You had me right up until the anchovies. I can't eat fish but if I could I wouldn't eat anchovies.

  13. This does sound much healthier than Heinz. There is organic ketchup that is better for you. I tasted it and it's just as good. It costs more though.

    I love your burger too. Yum! It looks very zippy. I love zippy!

  14. Passions: I don't "do" anchovies either...and yet I love Caesar salad and the secret to that yummy dressing? Anchovies. I know, right?

    And you have no clue they are in the ketchup, honest. Just salty delicousness...swear.

  15. You are welcome. And, god, there is so much to feel guilty over (and I dont even have kids), don't burn up perfectly good guilt over ketchup!