The Delicious Umami Taste

Fermented foods such as miso are especially high in this key ingredient.

by Karen Bevers and Golda Ewalt
Roasted acorn squash with miso and ginger
Roasted acorn squash with miso and ginger

Umami, commonly referred to as the “fifth taste,” is a Japanese term that translates to “pleasant savory taste.” You can find it in a variety of foods, but fermented foods such as miso are especially high in umami. Miso originated in China around 2,000 years ago and became a key ingredient in Japanese cuisine. 

Miso is a fermented bean paste that has a texture like peanut butter, with a salty-sweet richness. It can be made with chickpeas, black beans, soybeans or other beans. There are numerous varieties of miso, but you are likely to come across shiro and aka varieties in the grocery store. Shiro, or white miso, is made with light rice koji and is fermented three to five weeks. Aka, or red miso, is made with red rice koji and is fermented for six to 12 months. Because white miso has a short fermentation time, it is milder and sweeter compared to the salty, pungent red miso. Koji, one of the ingredients used to make miso, is a culinary mold called Aspergillus oryzea. This fermentation process causes a transformation in flavor and texture that brings us not only miso, but also sake and soy sauce. 

Miso, Tempeh, Natto & Other Tasty Ferments by Kirsten K. Shockey and Christopher Shockey provides a step-by-step guide to fermenting grains and beans. At southrivermiso.com, videos can be found that demonstrate how koji and miso are made. Their miso is available for shipping to Illinois from October to May. Here is a recipe combining miso with ginger and utilizing seasonal produce that features the delicious umami taste.

Roasted Acorn Squash with Miso and Ginger

Makes 6-8 servings 

Ingredients

  • 2 acorn squash, seeds removed and sliced into half-moons
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 3 tbsp tamari sauce or soy sauce
  • 2½ tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 3 tbsp miso
  • ¼ cup toasted pistachios, chopped
  • 1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425° Fahrenheit.
  2. Arrange the cut acorn squash on two baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Brush both sides of the cut squash with olive oil. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes, flipping the squash every 10 minutes, until nearly soft when pierced with a fork.
  3. Meanwhile, whisk together the brown sugar, grated ginger, sesame oil, tamari or soy sauce, and rice vinegar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-low heat.
  4. Whisk the water and miso together in a small bowl and add it to the saucepan. Cook for one minute longer, whisking until smooth. Remove from heat and set aside.
  5. When the squash is nearly cooked through, brush the sauce over the top of each cut squash.
  6. Place the squash under the broiler for 3-4 minutes, until it just begins to brown.
  7. Transfer to a serving platter and sprinkle toasted pistachios and sesame seeds over the top. PM

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