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The Gossiping Gourmet: You'll be won over by Umami Burger

February 19, 2014|By Terry Markowitz
  • Umami Burger's original that started it all, made with a Parmesan crisp, shiitake mushroom, roasted tomato, caramelized onions and house ketchup, all stacked neatly and melded together at their Laguna Beach location.
Umami Burger's original that started it all, made… (Don Leach, Daily…)

About five years ago, Adam Fleischman, an unsuccessful screenwriter and owner of a wine bar called BottleRock, decided to open a burger joint.

He sold his share in BottleRock and started concocting burgers in his home kitchen. His idea was to try to infuse the umami flavor into a hamburger sandwich. This involved mixing things such as soy sauce, miso, fish sauce, dried fish and cheeses in search of that elusive fifth taste, umami.

I will try to explain the unexplainable, that is to say, umami. For a very long time, only four basic tastes were recognized: sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Of course, it is equally difficult to describe these basic tastes in any other words: Salty is …salty.

In Robert L. Wolke's book "What Einstein Told His Cook," he says, "Today, it is generally recognized that there is at least one other primary taste, known by its Japanese name, umami. It is associated with MSG and other compounds of glutamic acid. Umami is a savory kind of taste associated with protein-rich foods such as meat and cheese."

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However, it is not palatable on its own and really acts as a flavor enhancer.

The first time it was isolated was in 1908 by a Japanese chemist named Ikeda. Umami is called aji-no moto in Japan, and it means "the essence of taste." It wasn't until 1985 that it was finally recognized as a fifth taste, with receptors in the tongue.

It lends a meaty or brothy flavor with a mouth-watering sensation. It is said that this taste is achieved by aging or fermentation and can be found in things like seaweed, fish sauce, mushrooms, Parmesan cheese and asparagus.

So back to the burger joint. I know that most people have a favorite burger place and will insist, sometimes vehemently, that theirs is the best. Well, I will now enter the fray and say Umami Burger has the very best burgers I've ever tasted.

Several weeks after Umami Burger opened its first little café on La Brea, just south of Wilshire, I got a call from my daughter, who lived a block away. She said, "Mom, we just had the most amazing burger. We have to go there when you are next in town."

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