How To Build The Ultimate Umami Pizza

Recently, we here at The Sauce broke down the basics of umami and how it makes your pizza extra delicious. Now, it’s time to take your fifth flavor game to the next level.

We all know that a well-executed pizza sauce can impart a deep, savory flavor upon your slice, and certain cheeses and crusts can also add some serious umami points. But, the toppings you choose can further transform your satisfying piece of pizza into a handheld umami bomb.

Feeling overwhelmed by the many permutations of pizza delivery options near you? Don’t fret! We cooked up this handy guide to help you build the ultimate umami pie.

Cured ham

Looking for a tried and true topping to add umami value? Pepperoni is an easy and obvious choice that never fails. But, if you want to get fancy, there are innumerable options from which to choose.

Dry-cured hams, such as prosciutto, are not heated during their manufacturing process, allowing their umami flavor profile to fully bloom. After being salt-cured, dried, ripened, and thinly sliced, this majestic ham ranks as one of the culinary world’s greatest pound-for-pound glutamate champions.  

Prosciutto isn’t available on every menu, and its slightly funky flavor might not be your cup of tea. Not to worry. Pancetta (cured pork belly), guanciale (cured pork jowl), Soppressata di Calabria (spicy coarse ground pork sausage), and even old reliable bacon (cured and smoked pork belly) can all make fine add-ons in your quest for umami glory.

Mushrooms

Veggie lovers can also unlock a world of umami flavor by topping their pizza with mushrooms. The small, yet mighty mushroom is packed with glutamate, and, as is the case in the world of Super Mario, each cultivar comes with its own unique power-up.

Mushroom fanatics and umami seeker should give serious consideration to shiitake mushrooms as a topping. When shiitake mushrooms are dried, their glutamate and guanylate levels increase exponentially, which enhances their umami value. And because mushrooms often jive better with a pizza when they’re dehydrated, the shiitakes on a pie will usually be of the dried variety. Shiitakes may not be autentico italiano, but they should not be overlooked.

Not every pizzeria will have shiitakes on the menu, but many offer typical white button mushrooms, which are also high in delectable glutamates.

Anchovies

They’re not for everyone, but they should be. As detailed by Cook’s Country, anchovies are swimming with umami-producing glutamates and other chemical compounds that can “magnify the meaty taste of glutamates by up to 15 times.”

Do you have less-than-fond memories of anchovies from your childhood days? You’re not alone.  Joe Beddia, the renowned chef behind Philadelphia’s recently-shuttered Pizzeria Beddia and the forthcoming Pizzeria Beddia 2, had a similar experience growing up.

“I used to hate anchovies,” Beddia writes in “Pizza Camp,” a colorfully illustrated and written guide to his best recipes. “I can remember as a kid, before I really appreciated them, my parents would get a pizza with half anchovies (for them) and half plain (for us). The problem was that the pizza place would cook the hell out of the anchovies until they had an intense gross fishy flavor that permeated the whole pie.”

Later in life, Beddia realized that the anchovy pies of his youth were gross and fishy because the filets were placed on the pizza before going into the oven. These days, pizzerias tend to add the anchovies after they come out of the oven, enabling them to bestow umami flavor without an overly intense fishy taste.

If you think you don’t like anchovies, but haven’t had them in a long while, we encourage you to take the leap when ordering your next pizza delivery.

Parmesan cheese

Aged Parmigiano-Reggiano has the most umami of any cheese, which is why you’ll be hard pressed to find a pizza parlor that doesn’t have a glass shaker of parmesan next to the napkins at the counter.   

Parmesan cheese typically isn’t offered as an premium add-on to pizza like pepperoni and olives. Instead, it’s usually sprinkled on top, melding gloriously with the primary layer of cheese. But, some pizzas are more parmesan-driven than others. If parmesan is what you’re after, target the pies that have it listed in the description.

It’s umami time.

With a knowledge of umami as deep as the flavor itself, it’s time to apply your booksmarts in the real world. Build your ultimate umami pizza of your dreams at one of the many pizza places that deliver near you.

— Zach Links