Something’s fishy in this taste test! Can you identify the savory taste of umami by sampling two batches of Caesar salad dressing, one that includes an extra umami-packed ingredient and one without it?
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Make 2 masking tape labels. Use marker to write “A” on one label and “B” on second label. Place 1 label on each of 2 small bowls.
In large bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, Parmesan, lemon juice, mustard, oil, Worcestershire, garlic, pepper, and salt.
Use rubber spatula to divide dressing evenly between 2 small bowls. Add minced anchovy to bowl labeled “A.” Whisk to combine.
Make a prediction: Do you think the two batches of dressing will taste the same or different? Why do you think so?
Choose 1 person to give out the samples for tasting (this is a good job for an adult). Everyone else will be tasters. Give each taster a blindfold, a small plate, and a glass of water.
Tasters should put on their blindfolds. Explain that they will taste two salad dressings. Their job is to decide whether the dressings taste the same or different and to describe the flavor of each dressing. Tasters should keep their opinions to themselves until everyone is finished tasting both samples.
Dip 1 lettuce leaf per taster into dressing in bowl labeled “A” and place on each taster’s plate. Tasters should take small bites and chew slowly. Have tasters take a few sips of water to give their tastebuds a break.
Repeat with remaining lettuce leaves and dressing in bowl labeled “B.” Ask if any tasters would like to repeat tasting with either dressing A or dressing B.
Observe your results: Once everyone has finished tasting, ask tasters if the dressings tasted the same or different. How would they describe the flavor of the first dressing they tasted? The second dressing? Did one dressing have more umami—taste more savory—than the other? Which one? Did you like one dressing better than the other?
Eat your experiment: Use dressing to make Caesar Salad! Combine 2 small bowls of dressing into now-empty large bowl. Chop 2 romaine lettuce hearts (12 ounces) into bite-size pieces. Add chopped lettuce to bowl with dressing. Use tongs to toss to combine. Add 1 cup croutons and ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, and toss to combine.
(Don’t read until you’ve completed the experiment!)
In the Recipe Lab, tasters reported that dressing “A” (with anchovies) tasted more savory and had a deeper flavor than dressing “B.” It turns out that a small fish can have a big impact on flavor. (And none of the tasters described dressing “A” as tasting fishy!) The savory taste they described is what’s known as umami (“oo-MA-me”), which translates to “delicious” or “savory” from Japanese.
The tastebuds in your mouth and on your tongue pick up the five different tastes—salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and umami.
Compounds called glutamates are responsible for the taste of umami, which is a meaty, savory taste. You’ll find glutamates in meat of course, but also soy sauce, miso, tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, mushrooms and . . . anchovies!
Anchovies are extra-special in the umami department. They’re not only chock-full of glutamates, but they also contain other chemical compounds, called nucleotides, that amplify their umami taste—talk about small but mighty!
The Caesar salad dressing you made in this experiment actually also includes two other umami-rich ingredients: Worcestershire sauce, which actually contains a small amount of anchovies, and Parmesan cheese. Take a tiny taste of each—do they taste savory to you? Try tasting other umami ingredients, such as tomato paste, miso, and soy sauce. What do you notice?