My kids love the boxed rice pilaf that is a mix of yellow rice and toasted orzo. For a long time, I tried to replicate it with a “from scratch” recipe and it just wasn’t quite the same.
What is in the rice mix that makes it so appealing, I wondered–is there the food equivalent of crack in there? I looked closely at the ingredients and noted that there is something called autolyzed yeast extract. That is the main ingredient in Marmite and Vegemite. It is high in glutamic acids and is analogous to MSG. Autolyzed yeast extract, then, is an umami flavor-enhancer. This is the ingredient that amps up the savory taste of the rice pilaf.
I don’t have any autolyzed yeast extract in my spice cabinet, but I can produce the remaining ingredients: parboiled rice, toasted orzo, dried onion, dried onion, salt and turmeric. Using parboiled rice is key to reproducing the distinctive texture of the pilaf, but, if you don’t care about that, you can use regular long grain rice. I found that Hawaijj spice mix, which contains turmeric and other spices (black pepper, coriander, cardamon and cumin), is better than plain turmeric for this rice pilaf.
Slight digression: If you want to make your own Hawaijj, or just want to read an interesting article about Yemenite Jewish cuisine, take a look at this article from Gourmet Magazine. The article is from the website of food writer Adeena Sussman, which has other interesting articles and recipes.