A fairy tale about umami

For many of us, the fifth flavor is just a curiosity, a nice story about the cuisines of the Far East and dishes on the border of flavors that we cannot imagine. After all, umami in Japanese means a pleasant savory taste. And while that sounds delicious, it doesn’t say much either. We are able to imagine salty cheese, the sweetness of ripe raspberries or the acidity of lemon on the tongue and the shivers that go through the whole body when we taste its juice. Then what do you feel when you say umami?

photo: @javi_cullerdepau https://www.instagram.com/p/CgaDw5IMA8O/

Once upon a time…

In 1908, the Japanese scientist Kikunae Iked, while eating kombu seaweed, realized that he could not classify it into any known flavor. Then he explored the unexplored taste. Initially, he isolated glutamic acid from kombu algae. During the experiment he discovered that this acid dissolves best in soda, hence monosodium glutamate – MSG, or E621.

Since 2002, umami has been the fifth basic taste, along with sweet, sour, salty and bitter. People describe it as a spicy or meaty flavor that adds depth and complexity to dishes. Many cultures have long recognized it as a distinct flavor. Japanese often associate it with the flavor of dashi, a traditional kombu seaweed broth, and bonito flakes. In fact, the word “umami” comes from the Japanese words “umai” (delicious) and “mi” (taste).

In addition to its culinary uses, umami has also been studied for potential health benefits. Glutamate, the amino acid responsible for this flavor, is a key neurotransmitter in the brain and is involved in various physiological processes. Some research suggests that eating umami-rich foods can help reduce appetite and promote satiety, making them a potential weight management tool. In addition, umami improves the taste and palatability of low-sodium foods. It makes them more appealing to people who need to limit their sodium intake for health reasons. More research is needed to fully understand umami’s health implications, but it’s clear that this fifth flavor has much more to offer than just delicious taste.

The quest to find it

Umami is a complex flavor that adds depth and complexity to dishes. We can find it in many natural and processed foods, each with its own unique flavor profile. Some foods that are particularly rich in umami flavor include ripe tomatoes, mushrooms, soy sauce, Parmesan cheese, fish sauce, miso paste, seaweed, and various meats. Tomatoes are especially high in glutamate, the amino acid responsible for this flavor, with mushrooms taking second place. Soy sauce, fish sauce, and miso paste are fermented foods that have a high level of umami flavor. Parmesan cheese and meat are other sources of umami that are commonly used to enhance the flavor of dishes. Incorporating these umami-rich ingredients into your cooking can elevate the flavor of your dishes and add an extra layer of complexity to your palate.


photo: @javi_cullerdepau https://www.instagram.com/p/CgaDw5IMA8O/

And they lived happily ever after

Many of us associate Umami with oriental Asian cuisine. Maybe that’s why we don’t remember the taste and our body doesn’t react like it does to lemon juice – you don’t feel a sudden rush of saliva and a slight muscle tension at the very thought? Let’s have fun in the kitchen, combining not only products, but also flavors. We can enrich dishes with a fifth flavor in a completely natural way through tomatoes, grated parmesan or beef.

Over time, umami has become more than just a scientific discovery. It was a sensation that both chefs and gourmets tried to capture and replicate in their dishes. With the advent of global cuisine, umami has found its way into dishes around the world, adding depth and complexity to everything from burgers to ramen. And while its origins may be rooted in Japanese cuisine, umami has become a universal flavor that transcends borders and cultures. Whether you’re enjoying a plate of spaghetti bolognese or a bowl of miso soup, the taste of umami is sure to bring a smile to your face and warmth to your heart.


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