The Simple Reason Darker Mushrooms Pair Best With Steak

The flavor sensation of umami is most closely associated with the salty, savory essence found predominantly in foods like beef, mushrooms, fish sauce, and seaweed. Although it was identified in the early 1900s, Umami officially joined the four classically recognized tastes almost 100 years later and has been taking the culinary world on a flavor adventure ever since.

It can be hard to pin down the true flavor of umami, and whether or not there is a difference between the taste of salt and umami is often called into question. The taste of umami indicates the presence of glutamate within a food; It's a compound that signals to the brain that a high-protein food is being consumed. Considering the flavor of umami, it is unique in that it stimulates receptors all across the tongue instead of being limited to one area like other tastes. That's why umami can taste savory, sweet, and tangy all at once.

Few foods exemplify the taste of umami more than the nutrient-rich, flavor-packed mushroom. The delicate earthiness, mild hint of sweetness, and notably meaty essence of a fungi's signature flavor profile check most of the umami boxes. Darker mushrooms indicate a higher glutamate content, with shiitakes boasting 1,060 milligrams per 100 grams compared to 180 milligrams per 100 grams in white button varietals. High glutamate levels in dark mushrooms create a bolder umami flavor that compliments certain foods more than others.

Dark mushrooms enhance flavors with more umami

Darker mushrooms like shiitakes and portobellos are a go-to source for cooks who want to infuse their foods with a robust umami flavor. Mushrooms are often used as a substitute for meat because of their similar savory essence and substantial texture, but when paired with steak instead of substituting for it, these fungi prove to enhance the spectrum of flavors with their umami-forward essence.

When dark-toned, umami-rich mushrooms hit the mouth, they activate a range of receptors that coincide with tastebuds in the tongue's salty, sweet, sour, and bitter zones. Their mild sweetness lessens bitter flavors while their natural saltiness sharpens and enhances surrounding flavors. Umami is the ultimate flavor enhancer as it brings balance to a range of tastes, and dark mushrooms are chock full of it.

Because umami covers the gamut of tastes, it naturally plays well with other umami-forward foods like a savory cut of beef. When paired with steak, darker mushroom varieties rich with umami will showcase the salty flavor of the meat while balancing bitter flavors with a hint of earthy sweetness. It's an umami match that satisfies cravings for any taste.