Spread It Around

A new wonder paste will save your dish

We've all had the unhappy experience of trying cooking shortcuts that make great claims about enhancing flavors only to find that they're not always trustworthy (ahem, MSG).

We've also been known to use less controversial quick fixes in an attempt to speed the cooking process, then pay the price for such weakness–as though some karmic cooking law were punishing us for our sloth.

We gave Taste #5 Umami Paste a chance, however, partly because it's the brainchild of Laura Santtini, a British cook and food writer, and partly because it captures the elusive flavor of umami–the so-called fifth taste elucidated by Japanese scientists.

The tube holds an earthy amalgam of umami-loaded savories–olive, anchovy, porcini mushroom and Parmesan cheese, among others–in a robustly flavored, concentrated paste.

Sampled on its own, the stuff overwhelmed every last taste bud we had. But it rounded out the edges of many dishes we introduced it to: Rubbed on steak, stirred into a risotto or used as the base of a pasta sauce or salad dressing, it added a nuanced richness that smacked of extra time spent in the kitchen.

We even tried using it as a Band-Aid for a roast chicken gaffe with impressive results–mixed with pan juices, it helped create a gravy that masked dry white meat. And best of all, since the paste is made from actual foods rather than multisyllabic chemicals, there's no reason to fear judgment from the cooking gods.