Sampling the umami taste at Umami Burger
When it comes to taste, there is much more than “good” and “bad.”
Several thousand years go, Greek philosopher Democritus derived from his atomic hypotheses the four basic tastes that a human being can sense: we know them as sweet, sour, salty and bitter.
It was Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda who, in 1908, identified the distinct fifth taste, an element which he named “umami” (or “yummy” in Japanese) and which was found to be influenced by glutamate, a substance that can be found in fermented fish sauces and dashi, a classic Japanese broth made from seaweed. The actual flavor induced by umami is hard to pinpoint — there can be a sweet kick here, a sour note there.
Though difficult to describe, umami can definitely be found in the burgers at Umami Burger (432 Sixth Ave., 212-677-8626, umami.com.) The burger chain that hails from California opens its first New York City location on Monday.
The star of the menu is the original umami burger, a house-ground, hand-formed patty infused with their own Umami Master Sauce and topped with shitake mushroom, caramelized onions, roasted tomato and a Parmesan crisp enrobed with the umami ketchup between Portuguese buns made with a tiny taste of honey. The burger is moist, the meat – all natural and delivered daily – loose and the bun airy and soft. And the whole thing is brought together by some miracle in flavor – we guess it’s that fifth taste, that “umami,” as they say.
The Umami Burger is not just a burger, it’s a flavor experiment: one that has proven to be a success on the West Coast. Umami Burger also has one location in Miami.
Also on the menu is the truffle burger, with powerful bites of house-made truffle cheese and the French-Dip sandwich, with pickled, curried cauliflower and pickled wasabi, only available in New York City. There are also thin and crispy truffle fries, made salty with fancy shrooms and cheese. An off-menu secret, tater tots the size of golf balls, should be on every table.
Interestingly, the taste of umami doesn’t really stand alone. It can be a result of a combination of two or more of the other “solid” tastes, or a complementary balance between two juxtaposed ingredients. Whatever it is, it’s working at Umami Burger.