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Umami…the 5th taste, Selfridges and more on Baker Street

by on December 3, 2009

IMG_1672As soon as I stepped off the bus, heading for the FBC, the first thing to ‘appear’ right in front of me was Selfridges….and not just any section but the FOOD HALL of Selfridges. I put it on my to-do-list, which I was making up as I went along. Then I made a promise to myself to return – which I did.

IMG_0716Now, London, no doubt has its share of food halls but it is agreed that Selfridges’s foodie haven affords the woman on the street the chance to sample gourmet, and not have to give up all her bling!

IMG_0780Months ago when I finished my sushi workshop and did some research, I discovered the wonderful concept of ‘umami – the 5th taste’. After the 4 we know: sweet, sour, salty and bitter! I was taken in…only to find it on the shelves of Selfridges! Of course I bought a pack, for a couple of pounds only too!

IMG_0776Right next to the umami paste, there was gold and silver leaf….which, I held off buying this time.IMG_0779So what is umami? Recognise its Japanese roots? Yeah? Spot on. You probably eat it every day – that bowl of pasta with its fair share of grated parmesan….some wild mushroom soup. Oven-roasted/sun dried tomatoes….red wine poached pears….shall I go on?

Umami is a pleasant savoury taste imparted by glutamate, a type of amino acid, and ribonucleotides, including inosinate and guanylate, which occur naturally in many foods including meat, fish, vegetables and dairy products. As the taste of umami itself is subtle and blends well with other tastes to expand and round out flavours, most people don’t recognise umami when they encounter it, but it plays an important role making food taste delicious!

Generally speaking, the more “mature” a food is (say, Parmesan cheese versus “younger” cheese like mozzarella), the more umami flavor it will have!

It came as a suprise to me to find that umami is in many common foods…namely breast milk (now I understand why babies almost pull their hair out while receiving sustenance…..and I’ve seen that time and time again in my 6 years as a  mum!). Umami! Mama Mia!

And I now also understand why people love Marmite….(or hate it) and yes, it is high in umami, about 1960mg free glutamic acid levels/100g….that’s like….very, very high! Not sure though that my desire to apprehend umami will lead to love @ first sight for Marmite but…..I’m ready to try! Not just yet.

IMG_0730So if you’re neither a baby or a marmite lover, you can also find umami in

  • Tomatoes (particularly sun-dried and ketchup)
  • Wild mushrooms (dried shiitake)
  • Rich bouillons
  • Cured and smoked meats
  • Cheese (particularly Parmesan and ripe blue cheeses)
  • Fish and shellfish (particularly anchovies and tuna)
  • Seaweed
  • Soy sauce
  • Oriental fish sauces
  • Saké

And so, what’s the big deal? Well:

  1. Umami-rich food creates satisfaction – when we eat foods that have umami, we find them very delicious and very satisfying. Foods that don’t have umami we tend to find very insipid and very thin and not very satisfying, and as a result we eat more food.
  2. Umami also makes salt taste saltier. So, if you want to reduce the amount of sodium that’s in your diet, you make sure you have a lot of umami in your food and you don’t have to salt it as much.
  3. It  creates a sensation that chefs call mouth-feel. We tend to think of mouth-feel as the sensation we get from eating fat. So, again, we can reduce the amount of fat that’s in our food by making sure that we’ve got enough umami in that food.

The ingredients in my umami paste included a lot of the ‘umami-rich’ foods and after squirting tiny blobs into pasta sauce and cheese sauce 2 nights in a row….I’m a convert!

IMG_1660But umami paste wasn’t my only discovery. I was encouraged to try some octupus and olives by a girl who looked like she knew her food. It tasted ok, a bit like squid to me!

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Now when we talk of diversity in foods, you’ll find that at Selfridges.

Everything from Kosher,

IMG_0866to American.

IMG_0725Gourmet water, (reminds me of my VOSS),

IMG_0881to Japanese,


more umami-rich foods….and

IMG_0758a very exciting fruit and veg section with kumquats…. and cow’s hearts…..not the pumping sort but red too!

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Did I mention ice-cream?

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Specials like patridge; Pie, pie, pie…were also on the menu!

IMG_0844 The food hall is also home to numerous confectionary and chocolate shops.


Lola’s of cupcake fame, have a little bit of the world….filled with cakes!


And people waiting to buy them.


In various sizes too…big and small!

IMG_0791I was glad to see both Macarons (which I tasted for the 1st time a few weeks ago when I asked myhusband to bring some back from Paris!) and Macaroons. For a long time, I was confused about both of them, till I realised a rather obvious difference in the way they were spelt.

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Chocolate and sweet lovers will be in obvious heaven!

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As well as those passionate about YOing….complete with instructions (for first timers).

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And then I bid it good night, 120 minutes of walking back, forth and across.

IMG_0918It was amazing!

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And that was how Day 1 ended.

And on Day 2,while I got set for the FBC walk to Marylebone farmer’s market, I stopped by to see Sherlock.

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I went a few doors down when I was done touring and posed for a photo (which I normally hate, hate, hate doing) in front of the Beatles store on Baker street. I cast all reservations aside, even begging strangers to do the honours…a couple of times!

IMG_1143And later that night, I stopped by Abbey road, which was super close to where I stayed with friends.

So what if I’m not exactly a Beatles fan….the fact that we both have history in Liverpool (I went to uni there) makes them brothers in arms.

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Boy….I love London! With all my heart…..Do I echo familiar sentiments?

IMG_0909So, only one more to go- the farmer’s walk and some very interesting phonetic lessons for you….and me!

[wpurp-searchable-recipe]Umami…the 5th taste, Selfridges and more on Baker Street – – – [/wpurp-searchable-recipe]