What is umami?
For centuries we’ve thought that the only tastes are sweet, sour, salty and bitter, but a word we’ve heard more of recently is ‘umami’. Discovered by Japanese scientists over 100 years ago, umami is difficult to translate from Japanese, but can be described as savoury, meaty and complex. It is however difficult to define the taste on its own.
Umami is the taste often associated with roasted meats and long slow stocks made from scratch.
The science part
Scientifically, this intense savoury taste is imparted by glutamates and five ribonucleotides, which occur naturally in fish, meat, vegetables and dairy products. Umami-rich ingredients can be found in cooking ingredients/condiments found in the store cupboard and are part of everyday cooking.
Naturally brewed soy sauce, Marmite, anchovy relish, miso, tomato puree, fish sauce and Worcestershire sauce are all great sources of umami. Other food sources are beef, pork, chicken, mackerel, tuna, crab, squid, salted anchovies, seaweed, tomatoes, parmesan cheese, mushrooms (particularly shiitake & porcini/ceps) & even green tea.
The food enhancer monosodium glutamate (MSG) is also associated with umami. This is mainly to do with mouth feel, adding body to the culinary experience, and in the case of roasted meats, umami has a ‘broth’ like taste. The crusty outside of a browned roast, is a good source of umami. The crux of the umami factor is that, like salt, it not only gives us pleasure in the food in which it is abundant, but it also allows us to gain greater pleasure from other foods on the plate, particularly proteins. At its best, it awakens our taste buds, to appreciate a whole range of flavours
The umami factor
Kikkoman Naturally Brewed Soy Sauce has been appreciated in Japan for over 350 years and is high in umami. It is also the perfect catalyst to stimulate other foods rich in it. Combining two ingredients, each with plenty of umami, does far more than double the umami factor. It can quadruple the specific, gratifyingly savoury element. And the more umami-rich ingredients in a dish can also make a relatively small portion seem bigger that it actually is.
The appreciation of umami is widely regarded by chefs and the food industry for this reason.