You may not always be able to place it.
It's that hit of I don't know what that elevates a dish to out-of-this-world, can't-stop-eating bliss.
And it means "pleasant savory taste" in Japanese.
Of course, we're talking about umami--the fifth taste that eludes and enchants us.
So much so that a few weeks ago here at TT HQ, we slipped into our lab coats (lie) and conducted a totally nonscientific tasting of 10 umami-rich ingredients (truth), then ranked them on a scale of one to infinity on our Umami Spectrum, above.
Move through the scale from left to right to go from a hint of intrigue to mind-blowing savory flavor.
1. Bomba! tomato purée: Not your average purée. Laura Santtini adds a sofrito of carrot, celery and onion to her tomatoes, and then stews them in red wine.
2. Toasted pumpkin seed oil: Use this oil in place of plain old extra-virgin for slow-roasting fall vegetables or making an earthy pesto.
3. Parm: Salty Italian goodness. Enough said.
4. Dried shiitake mushrooms: The low water content in these mushrooms translates to a more concentrated flavor.
5. Soy sauce: The O.G. of the umami world, versatile soy sauce (shoyu) simply cannot be ignored.
6. Fish sauce: The Condiment of 2011 is still one of our go-to's.
7. Taste #5 Vegetarian Umami Paste: Sub Nobu Matsuhisa's vegetarian miso-and-shiitake paste for anchovies.
8. Shio koji: This super-funky Japanese seasoning, made from fermented rice, is just catching on with chefs in the States, like Nick Balla at San Francisco's Bar Tartine. Use it in grits or savory porridges.
9. Soy salt: Shoyu dried into crunchy flakes. Sprinkle it over crudo or a grilled steak for pure bliss.
10. Smoked shoyu: Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the umamiest of them all? This cherry-wood-smoked soy sauce. Use it as a marinade or glaze for supremely smoky flavor.