By Rebecca Davies FdSc Archaeology (Plymouth).
Umami is one of the five basic tastes, along with Sweet, Salt, Acid, and Bitter. Popularised in Japan in the early 20th Century, it is triggered by glutamates, hence the widespread use of Monosodium glutamate as a flavour enhancer.
So, what does Umami taste like? Think of Marmite. Foods rich in Umami are things like fish, tomatoes, cabbages, and yeast. This quality is brought out by pickling and preserving. This means Umami products are often sauces, such as soy sauce, tomato ketchup, and Marmite. Victorian recipe books contain many recipes for “Store sauces.” Chutneys were introduced from India by the East India Company and it was found that the leftover juices from these recipes could be used as a sauce. All these recipes have a few things in common; they keep well, indeed many of them are improved by keeping, and they are all high in Umami. From this list, we can see that different variations of fish sauce are popular condiments. A world famed modern day survivor of Victorian recipes is Worcester sauce. The exact recipe by Lea and Perrins is a closely guarded secret. However there are many similar store sauces on the market such as Thai fish sauce and Henderson’s relish. You can of course make your own. Here are just a few examples of Store sauce recipes.
2 oz. Shallots (50g) 4 cloves Garlic 2 tsp fresh grated Horseradish 2 tsp Cayenne pepper 6 Cloves 4 pieces bruised root Ginger 4 Cardamom pods 10 Black peppercorns 2 fluid oz. Soy sauce 60ml 1 pint malt Vinegar 600ml 2 tsp Sugar Chop shallots and garlic, boil for 15 minutes in the vinegar. Add all other ingredients and boil for 30 minutes. Cool, transfer to jar and leave a month, shaking occasionally. At the end of the month, strain and re bottle.
3/4 oz. Cayenne pepper 18g 2 tbs Soy sauce 3 Cloves garlic 1 tin Anchovies 6 Cloves 3 or 4 Shallots 1 tbs Sugar 1 quart Vinegar 1200ml Pound all dry things together. Add chopped onions and vinegar. Put in wide mouthed jar and shake every day for a month. Strain and rebottle.
Quart walnut pickle 1 pint mushroom ketchup 600ml 12 Anchovies 3 tbs Soy Sauce. 1 tsp Mace 6 Cloves 12 Black peppercorns 6 Bay leaves 6 Shallots 1/2 pint red wine or port 300ml Chop shallots and garlic, boil for 15 minutes in the vinegar. Add all other ingredients and boil for 30 minutes. Let cool, transfer to jar and leave a month, shaking occasionally. At the end of the month, strain and re bottle.
For more sauce ideas check out “The Penguin Book of Jams, Pickles and Chutneys.” By Mabey, D: Mabey, D and R (1976) The Penguin Book of Jams, Pickles and Chutneys, Middlesex, Penguin. Beeton, I. (Unknown date) Mrs Beeton’s Jam making; Preserves, Marmalades and Pickles, London, Ward Lock.