Every culture has its own unique culinary features that are certainly worth discovering. Many cultures make extensive use of spices and seasoning, which give their dishes some of their most recognizable notes. A common feature of many international gastronomic cultures is their universal requirement for spicy and strong ingredients that enhance the taste of a dish and provide a so-called ‘umami’ taste. ‘Umami’ refers to the intensive savoury or even meaty taste sensation which is considered as the fifth taste alongside sweet, sour, bitter and salty. In order to produce this taste, high-protein animal-derived products such as mature cheeses, fish pastes and sauces or meat are often used. However, the “Umami” taste can also be found in vegetarian and vegan products.
Asian cuisine, for example, is renowned for its aromatic foodstuffs that often make widespread use of fermentation. Pastes made using fish, oysters and crabs often feature in these sorts of dishes. But if you want to exclude animal-based ingredients, the dish often loses some of its spiciness with it. A vegetarian or vegan rice dish tastes particularly good when vegetarian foods with a high natural glutamic acid content are used. Fresh or dried mushrooms and tomatoes are ideal for this purpose. Dried shiitake mushrooms soaked in water are one such example. When fully rehydrated, they have a succulent texture and can greatly enhance a dish with their earthy flavour. The leftover water can then be used again as a stock.
Fresh tomatoes lend themselves especially well to being used as a filler. A true insider tip is to add a little tomato purée to a traditional curry paste. Since tomatoes naturally have a very high glutamic acid content in comparison with other fruit and vegetables, they produce a particularly intensive umami taste.
Alternatively, you could use yeast extract to add that sought-after umami taste. This ingredient is derived from natural yeast and has been used as a seasoning for several decades now. It is produced using enzymes which divide the proteins in yeast into their taste-providing elements. The result of this process is yeast extract – a mix of different amino acids, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. Yeast extract lends a dish an extremely savoury, tasty and meaty flavour without the use of a single animal-based ingredients.