Thursday, December 15, 2011

Umami

By now most of you have probably heard of umami, the scientifically proven fifth taste.

Salty
Sweet
Sour
Bitter
Umami

Umami can best be described as savoury deliciousness, with its flavour due to in part to the amino acid glutamate. Umami was discovered in 1908 by a Japanese scientist, who wanted to uncover the source of deliciousness in dashi stock (made with kelp).  He isolated glutamate and coined the term umami to describe its distinct taste.  In the 1980s umami, found in glutamate, was scientifically accepted as the fifth taste.

Umami increases salivation, palatability, and reduces the need for salt. It has been referred to as the "perfect quality" in taste, or the reason you describe a particular meal as the "best thing I have ever tasted."

If you haven't heard of umami, you most likely have heard of MSG, which is a chemical flavour enhancer used to add glutamate to dishes.  Although the glutamate in MSG and umami is the same, umami is a natural taste, just like sweetness and bitterness, whereas MSG is artificial.

Foods with natural umami include, but are not limited to:
  • Parmesan cheese (cheese is umami in general, but Parmesan in particular because it's low water content allows for concentrations of glutamate which are visible - ever notice those small white crystals in parm?  Umami at its finest and highest levels).
  • Egg (especially yolk)
  • Soy
  • Fermented foods
  • Beef (especially aged beef, like jerky)
  • Pork (bacon anyone?)
  • Chicken (chicken bones are packed with it - may be why chicken soup is so comforting)
  • Mushrooms (both mushrooms and tomatoes appeal to our taste for protein, thus making good meat substitutes)
  • Tomatoes (add parm and you have a real kicker!)
  • Truffles
  • Potatoes (including potato chips)
  • Many sea foods
Some restaurants are catering to everyone's love for umami, and I hope to make it to one of these places in my travels: Umami Burger (LA, with one opening in NY late 2012), Umami (San Fransisco).  

Mmmmmm!

Until then, I will have to make my own umami dishes at home, and this stuff might help:


It is like natural MSG, adding pure umami deliciousness to any food I desire.  I picked it up while traveling in April but have yet to try it.   

The ingredient list includes: tomato paste, garlic, anchovy paste, black olives, balsamic vinegar, porcini mushrooms, Parmesan cheese, wine vinegar, olive oil, sugar and salt.  

What is your ultimate umami dish?  

12 comments:

Jessica @ Dairy Free Betty said...

this was very interesting! I had no idea about what it was?

I know I love the MSG flavor because I love savory, but I know it's not good for me!

Very interesting, I'll have to look for one without the paramasan!

Simply Life said...

I didn't know about this- interesting!

mymarblerye said...

shit. anything with truffles is delicious. truffle parm pizza? mmm. anyways, dying to go to umami burger in LA!

Kacy said...

Woah, I had no idea about this! I only know that MSG gives me the worst migraines. It is sad.

Laura said...

This Umami stuff is ne to me, but I'm going to look up that restaurant when I'm back in San Fran this spring!

suki said...

i still don't get it, but i'll go with it. :P i do love parmesan and truffles. i can't do msg though. alllleeergggic. good thing there are natural ways.

Madeline- Greens and Jeans said...

Whoa, I didn't know about this at all! Looking at that list, I am a HUGE umami fan without even knowing it!

Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

I actually did not know about this 'taste'. I have seen it in the title of dishes, but had no idea what it meant!

Hmm... favorite umami dish might be this sushi roll that had an umami sauce drizzled over it. I wanted to lick the plate!

Allysia said...

And beans, too! When I first learned about umami it was like a revelation, and it explains the notion of comfort food so well. Mashed potatoes, spaghetti, grilled portobello...mmm.

mostlyfitmom said...

I bet that paste would be amazing in any pasta sauce! My ultimate umami dish - that's tough. I do love parmesan, though, especially on roast cauliflower. Yum!

Yelena said...

Very cool! I have to say I love everything with tomatoes and mushrooms. I can also see how people are drawn to comfort foods- they just taste better!

kale @ tastes good to me! said...

Oh what I wouldn't do for some boursin right now..!